Israel and Poland need each other. The US needs Poland and I think these three countries together have a critical role to play in international relations right now. (…) My message to Poland and to the other three of V4 countries is: don’t let anyone bully you. You don’t need anyone from Brussels to tell you what to do – said in Idź Pod Prąd TV (Go Against The Tide TV) Tomas Sandell, the founding director of the European Coalition for Israel.

Eunika Chojecka: We’re here with Ivan Belostenko and we have a special guest – Tomas Sandell, the founding director of the European Coalition for Israel, a Finnish journalist, it’s a pleasure to have you here. Could you say something more about the aims of your organization?

First of all, this organization was founded in 2003, at the situation where we saw that antiseminitism was on the rise in Europe again. And then, there’s a particular story that I remember and that was how the late Elie Wiesel spoke at a conference in Brussels and he said: „why is it that still almost 70 years after the World War when there is a rise of antisemitism it’s only the Jewish people who are reacting?” He said: „where are the others, where are the Muslims, the Christians, the agnostics?” And this spoke to me and just a few months later I met him again in Berlin and I was able to announce the creation of what I would call a coalition of all the others. And that means that we who are not necessarily part of the Jewish community, we have a responsibility to speak up and stand on the side of the Jewish people but also the State of Israel. So, the objectives are two things. First of all, to combat the rise of antisemitism not only by being against something but also by clearly explaining how we have been blessed by the presence of Jewish communities in Europe and that’s very easy to substantiate. But then, also not only by saying that we are against antisemitism, because today everyone would technically speak and say that, but also we are very strong on the State of Israel, so we want to promote good relations between Europe and Israel. And obviously, today particularly, from the ill perspective, there are problems and we, in Europe, need to learn history to become real friends with Israel.

Ivan Belostenko: While you mentioned that most of the leaders are against the classical understanding of antisemitism, the question that I have is: we see that they openly commemorate various dates, various events of the antisemitism but we see that while they do condemn antisemitism in its classical form, their deeds, some things they do (the main leaders and also the small leaders of the European nations) they actually are antisemitic. And we can mention the lobbying against moving the embassy to Jerusalem, the failure to condemn terrorism both in the Middle East and in Europe. And also a failure to recognize things, other things like the solid, legal foundation for the State of Israel, which you mentioned as well. Have you noticed this dissonance that while they accept that antisemitism is not okay in this classical form, their deeds don’t follow?

Absolutely and I have a very good example of this. I’m afraid I can’t reveal the identity of the high EU official who I’m going to quote, but this happened on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and I presented myself to a very high EU official and I said my name, that I represented European Coalition for Israel and he looked at me and he said: „what does Israel has to do with any of this?” And I think it’s a ridiculous comment and we spoke about it and I said: „You know, listen, if there would have been a state of Israel created in 1948 as was agreed already in San Remo in 1920, millions of Jews could be alive today”. So I think that people learn and I’m sure he’d regret his comments very much today. But people very often try to distinguish between European Jewry and those in Israel. They say: „you know, we react when Jews are being attacked on the streets of Paris or Brussels”, but at the same time when Jews are being killed in Jerusalem, within Israel, it’s a very different standard and sometimes there’s a cold silence and ignorance. And I believe again, that this, for me, reveals sadly that the European leaders have not really learned the lessons of the Holocaust.

E. Ch.: How can you see the role of Poland in your organization and in general process of developing binds between Israel and Europe?

I think Poland is in a very strategic role, or can play a very strategic role in bringing Europe closer to Israel. (…) I think there is a historical reason why Poland should be the one at the forefront of promoting good relations. And I think also, you know, we watch when the government comes together in the European Council in Brussels and we know that Poland is always one of the strongest friends of Israel when decisions are being made in Brussels. If it wasn’t for Poland and maybe a few other countries from this region, things could be a lot worse in Brussels at the moment. So I have high hopes that Poland would really be the country that would bring Europe and Israel closer together and, of course, the Warsaw Summit is a good first step in this direction. But I think, I hope there will be a good follow-up.

I. B.: What are your impressions so far from what happened there and also from the what followed to the Warsaw Summit?

First of all, I made a video about the preparations for the Warsaw Summit, where I stated very clearly in Brussels: „listen, now is the time to leave conflicts behind and for Europe to really come alongside the US and Poland in this Warsaw summit”, because I remember I made this statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day and I reminded the audience: „you know, today there is still a UN member state calling for the destruction of the Jewish state, you know, using the same language as Adolf Hitler”. And we just seem to not want to hear what he’s saying. And on the contrary, like was in the case of the German President, who sent his congratulations on the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran… how could this be? So I think that this really gave a unique opportunity for the European nations to come strongly together and say: „listen, we had enough for terrorists. This is something we cannot accept. If Poland takes the initiative – wonderful. We should all be there.” But sadly, as we know from the EU sign, Mogherini at the forefront, they did not want this summit to happen, which I think is very unfortunate. I think it was in many ways a good summit. Obviously, the fallout afterwards is something which is problematic and I’m sure we have reasons to analyze that more in detail.

E. Ch.: We want to ask you about the background of the Polish-Israeli conflict, and we are wondering who is interested in starting a conflict between Israel and Poland. What is your opinion?

It’s absolutely true that there were very strong forces at work to, first of all, prevent Warsaw Summit from happening, then to derail it and now to minimize or try to hurt the conclusions of the summit. I also think as we know the media has this tendency to, I think in particular now to be very critical of US president and Israeli president. And I’m sure that there are journalists who are just looking for the right soundbite, even if it’s said and take out of context. Just to be able, in some way to discredit some of these leaders, in this case Netanyahu, the President of the US, but also the Polish government. So, I think it’s very unfortunate what happened. I believe as a very strong friend of Israel that the comments made by the Israeli prime minister and the foreign minister were not helpful, not constructive, not factual. But I’m also hopeful because we’ve seen this before. Lets’ give it a few weeks, a few months and we’ll be able to normalize the relations again. And this is where an organization such as ours wants to be instrumental and try to see what it will take to bring the parties together again because Israel and Poland need each other. The US needs Poland and I think these three countries together have a critical role to play in international relations right now. So we shouldn’t be distracted by this comment, which I think for the moment is very big news but I think we’ll find a solution.

I. B.: Have you noticed any countries or any specific sides that support of this conflict that are really looking for it to inflame and increase?

I would look at member countries. Again, you see the countries who didn’t come. I mean, why didn’t Germany come, why didn’t France make this a priority? I think that’s problematic and it needs to be pointed out. But of course, looking at the European Union with Federica Mogherini at the forefront, I mean, she was clearly very openly against the conference from day one. And anything that would jeopardize the relations with Iran, she would be the first person to be against that – which I think is completely in contradiction with our so-called European values and principles. So I think in this case Poland was on the right side of the history on the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution to be able to host such an important event. And we have to look at it also outside of the context of the EU. I mean, when did we last see Arab countries sit down with an Israeli head of state to break bread and find a common course? I think this is unprecedented and I think it’s been under-evaluated in the media so far. And I want to congratulate the Polish government for having had the courage to take this initiative.

E. Ch.: Let’s talk about the American plan about the peace in the Middle East. We know that Donald Trump is planning to reveal this idea. We don’t know the specific details of the plan but do you have some comments on this? Maybe ECI has its own peace conception for the Middle East?

Always, when we hear these grand schemes, these grand peace plans, I have a tendency to be a bit skeptical. I think there hasn’t been pretty much anything very new or innovative in the last 30 years. When we speak about the peace plan, we basically know to 90% what the parameters are. I know people who have more of an insight into this than I would have as a European about whet the thinking is. There are no reasons to believe that this peace plan would be very different from what has been presented before. So as much as I am a supporter of the current US administration, I think when it comes to the peace plan as it stands now, I would give myself the right to be critical. If it is so for example that Jerusalem would be divided, I think this is unacceptable. It’s illogical, it would go against the values and the principles of the whole international community. It would also go against the legal foundations, legal commitments made to the State of Israel, going back to San Remo of 1920. We’ve always been very open about this. I think this is what distinguishes us as an organization – we always said Jerusalem should stay united. We passed behind the time in history where we would divide cities. You know, divided Berlin, divided Belfast, so on and so forth. I think that a general principle for our organization is to support the State of Israel, to support the democratic process. If there’s a consensus in Israel for a particular peace agreement, it’s not our sake to educate them: „this is the way you should do it”. The Israelis are on their ground, they know what they can live with. But I think, nevertheless, as a matter of principles there are some parameters for us which are a line in the sand, so to say. I think it would be counterproductive to divide Jerusalem. Jerusalem should be the capital of the Jewish state, and it should be the united capital.

E. Ch.: You revealed the secret efforts of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel who suggested that the member countries of the EU not move the embassies to Jerusalem. Could you tell us something more about this? Why did you reveal this?

First of all, it’s like the elephant in the room. I’d spoken to enough government officials from these particular countries and diplomats to hear what was happening and I was even surprised that it wasn’t more widely reported. I don’t think it was big news. I thought everyone knew about it so I just stated the obvious and said „you know, listen, how can it be that the leader of Germany would be the country to take the lead and to block such a move against the interest of the Jewish people?” I think it’s just very, very extraordinary. And I am a bit worried about Germany and the way Germany is going and how it’s putting its past behind. We saw another example just a few days ago with the current president of Germany who had sent his congratulations to Iran again after the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. I mean, how can this be? Well, the good thing is that, of course, in Germany democracy works and media picked it up and I think it was built to really expose it for what it was. And they were ashamed to be Germans knowing that their president is going in this direction.

My message to Poland and to the other three of four countries is: don’t let anyone bully you. I think Poland and these countries here have more moral clarity. They know what it is like to live under totalitarian regime. They don’t need anyone from Brussels to tell them what to do and what to not do. So I think this is something that I’m against to in principle. Honestly, I think that for the European project really to succeed, we have to have a deeper understanding of the lessons of the Holocaust. If any continent should be the best friend of the State of Israel, it should be Europe. Instead of having a policy which we have today, which we are funding, a Palestinian Authority, which is paying pensions to convicted terrorists and funding Palestinian textbooks which are inciting to violence and to hatred. It’s just unbelievable and we are citizens and we have to make our will, leave this accountable and say that this is unacceptable. I hope that V4 and some other countries in Europe are… if not in a complete unity, then at least they should be a strong block that can say that enough is enough.

We’ve seen that there are other countries such as Austria, that are very much on this line and I hope that there could be more, I mean Italy in this respect. It is also reevaluating its policy to itself to see Israel. And ahead of the new elections, I hope that there will be more countries that will the courage just to step out and say: „listen, this is the right thing to do, these are the reasons why we want to do it”. And we didn’t like when Moscow was trying to tell us what to do, what we could not do. It shouldn’t be any different in this respect with Brussels. Not that I want to compare Brussels with Moscow, but to some extent, I think there is a point to be made.

I. B.: Finally, we want to talk about our petition that we started a couple of days ago, to the President the United States Donald Trump in requesting him to assist Poland to obtain reparations for World War 2 from both Germany and Russia, as we all know neither Germany nor Russia ever paid any reparations for what they had done. And we know there had been a pact Ribbentrop-Molotov between them and they invaded Poland together. So we’ve started this petition not just because it’s the right thing to do and it’s moral, but also because we, as you mentioned, want to see Poland become sort of similar to what Israel in the Middle East for the USA in Eastern Europe, in the Eastern block to be a solid partner. And like you mentioned before, Poland needs to take the lead in the embassy move in Israel. So we started this petition to in a way push back on these efforts to destabilize the region and weaken the partners of the US here in this region. What do you think about this idea?

Yes, I think there is a moral case to be made. And I don’t know the history of Poland not being compensated in any way not very well, but this is remarkable and interesting. Of course, we in Finland have an unsettled case with our eastern neighbor as well. I’m not sure there would be anyone in Finland so optimistic as to expect that Russia would acknowledge that they have made mistakes and that there would be something to be paid. It was, of course, the other way around in Finland and Soviet Union – we had to pay a huge war debt which we only managed to do by 1952. But I think it’s good for no other reason than just to bring this on the table as a matter of discussion and evaluation. It would be especially interesting to hear the comments in Berlin. When it comes to Moscow, I’m less optimistic, but we never know.

I. B.: Of course, an important part of our petition as well as our intention (because we are aware that part of these people who suffered at the hands of Germany and Russia were Jews, Polish Jews) is to then share a part of these reparations with the Jewish people both in the direct form and also possibly in some form of purchase of weaponry and military equipment and things like that. So that’s also the part of the idea. I think it might be important to your organization (because you deal with the part of the Jewish people) to bring that up. Because that’s a just thing to do.

I can only say “good luck”.


E. Ch.: Thank you. The last question, maybe a bit personal. You’re Finnish. Can you see some similarities between Polish people and your people? How can we develop friendship between our nations?

Yes, well obviously when it comes to geography we have, I think the faith of Finland has always been in the hands of not Helsinki, but Petersburg at the time and later Moscow. So, of course, we know what it is like to live with a large neighbor and very influential neighbor. I think Polish-Finnish relationships have always been very good. I recall playing ice hockey against Poland and I think we would at least succeed but there are other things where Poland has been more successful. The work we do in Brussels and in the United Nations is also to have a closer link to Poland (we work very closely with the Polish government in New York, in Brussels) and just to see how we could also be a voice for Christians in Poland who care for Israel and that’s partly why I am here this weekend – just to speak with a group of leaders who are interested in these issues. So as much as I like our countries, Finland and Poland to get closer to each other, I hope that in Europe these voices (because there are not too many of whose who have an understanding of Israel) would come together. But also, I applaud you for that – you take it seriously, you have your TV channel and this is very essential to everything you do. But for our voice to be amplified, it needs to be heard in Brussels. It needs to be understood also in the USA that there are still those in Europe that are subscribing to the same Judeo-Christian values as so many other parts of the world that are in high demand. So we need to stick together and become stronger by being united.