European Parliament President Roberta Metsola speech to the Knesset
Dear Mr Speaker,
Erev tov, shalom lekulam,
It is a great honour to be here with you in Jerusalem. In this place of history, of destiny, of hope. In the Knesset, this place of democracy - of liberty and of resilience.
I am here to bring the message of Europe, to underline that the ties between our peoples are deep and the bond we share is one that has been forged in the horror of our common history. A bond made in suffering and in salvation. A bond whose strength lies in its openness, honesty, straightforwardness – even criticism – but a bond that has and will withstand the test of time.
This is my first visit – it will not be my last – and I wanted to come early in my mandate to send a signal of our willingness to engage. To underline the Parliament’s commitment to furthering our ties and to underscore that the European Union and Israel share more than history.
Today I want to focus on the future. About the strong partnership that exists between Europe and Israel and how we can develop this further. About strengthening the links between the European Parliament and this Knesset. I’m here to talk about improving ties in culture, in science, in trade, in education, in arts, in research and in technology. About peace. About facing the future together.
I am an optimist, but I am not blind to the challenges you confront. To the threats – some existential – you face; of the difficulties in supporting a vibrant democracy - I am an optimist because I know that these challenges can be overcome.
It is, to many outside of Israel, inconceivable that Israel’s right to existence is still put into question. Let me be clear: Europe will always back Israel’s right to exist.
It was John F Kennedy who said “Israel was not created in order to disappear - Israel will endure and flourish. It is the child of hope and the home of the brave.”
I saw this for myself when I met young people at Tel Aviv’s university yesterday. Students from different backgrounds who want to live and study, who look to Europe, who share an outlook and who collaborate with Europe. They want to believe peace is possible.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Peace is difficult - but in Europe we know that peace is possible. Peace with security. Peace with liberty. Peace with dignity. Peace with justice.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote “Peace is a paradox, it has none of the purity and clarity of war, in which the issues — self-defence, national honour, patriotism, pride — are unambiguous and compelling. War speaks to our most fundamental sense of identity: there is an “us” and a “them”, there are enemies and friends, and there is no possibility of confusing the two. When enemies shake hands, who is now the “us” and who the “them”?”
Peace is not easy. It must mean living with differences in the mutual respect that coexistence requires. It must mean justice. It must mean equality of opportunity. It must mean parents who can see a future for their children.
Europe is made up of peoples from different communities with different cultures, nations, beliefs and traditions. Our Parliament’s role is to ensure that everyone is included in our Europe – that no-one is left behind. I, like so many here, believe in the power of Parliamentary democracy and in Parliamentary diplomacy to bring about positive change.
It falls to us to ensure that we educate and counter toxic narratives. Ignorance promotes fear and, distrust. Ignorance promotes hate. And education is the best weapon to fight prejudice, to combat extremism.
I had the honour of visiting Yad Vashem today. An emotional reminder of lives lost, of children murdered simply because their grandparents where Jewish, of memories forever saved.
It pains me to say that, today we are seeing anti-Semitism on the rise. We know that that is a warning sign for humanity. It matters to all of us.
I will not be ambiguous: To be anti-Semitic is to be anti-European. Everyday we still witness attacks on Jews, on synagogues....Places of peace, of God, of Worship, still remain targets.
The European Parliament is committed to breaking the cycle. To combating anti-Semitism. To ensuring that we remember the devastation of history and that the lessons of the past will never be forgotten. We have a duty to remember, even when the voices of the survivors are not able to be heard anymore.
The European Parliament understands its responsibility in doing that. The first female President of our Parliament was Simone Veil - number 7-8-6-5-1 - who survived the horror and the evil of Auschwitz to change the face of Europe. Our commitment is as personal as it is institutional. We will not waver.
Dear fellow Parliamentarians,
My message today is about hope. Hope in peace. Hope in healing. Hope in the future. Hope in justice. Hope in the certainty of belief. Belief in the will of people and the ability of our generation to overcome; to address the challenges that have eluded generations past.
It is that sense of hope, that burden of history, that belief, that has led the European Union’s response to the invasion of Ukraine.
Putin brought war back to Europe. An outrageous invasion of a sovereign, independent Ukraine. The very foundations of the world’s rules-based order have been shaken to the core.
Putin now threatens the world with nuclear weapons. We must act together and do everything within our power to prevent Russia from using and other non-democratic actors from acquiring nuclear weapons that would bring more death and irreparable destruction.
The war in Ukraine is not a local or regional one. The impact of what happens in Ukraine is felt in Israel too. Since the beginning of the war almost 6 million Ukrainians had to flee their country - some 27,000 Ukrainians have found safe haven here in Israel. They follow the footsteps of one of the great titans of Israel - Golda Meir- who was born 121 years ago this month in Kyiv.
Russia is threatening the world’s food security, destroying fields, blocking transport routes, inciting artificial food shortage. Food insecurity brings about instability, chaos and forces people leave their homes and countries. It can disrupt sensitive balances far from the origin of the source. This is why the international community must remain steadfast and united in ensuring sanctions on Russia are effective, allowing no loopholes to be exploited.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the past months, I have had to talk about war. Yet, both the basis and the ultimate objective of the European project is peace. Peace, democracy and liberty - objectives central to the future of Europe, of Israel and of this region.
And let me say here: Those who preach violence do not have the answers.
Violence has never been a solution. Terrorism is never justified. There are no excuses for terror. People deserve to go about their lives, send their children to school, walk down the street free from fear. Terror has not and will not break that spirit.
Europe is about bringing people together, about defending the principles that led us from the ashes of war and Holocaust to peace and prosperity.
The European Parliament firmly supports the Middle East Peace Process. We support a two-state solution - with the secure State of Israel and an independent, democratic, contiguous, viable Palestinian State living side by side in peace and security.
I know there are those who do not agree. I know there have been multiple false starts to this process. I know that not everyone sees peace as a goal. And I know how hard it must be to tell a mother whose child has been killed that peace is the answer. And there are too many such mothers. Far too many.
But Peace is the only way forward. The only way for Israelis and Palestinians to live in safety and prosperity.
Progress is possible. The Abraham Accords may well have seemed inconceivable only a short while ago, but they proved that history does not always have to repeated. That the cycle can indeed be broken.
Let me end by underlining that the European Parliament will always be a strong ally in the search for a way forward, in the quest for peace and all the resources at our disposal will be made available for that aim.
The story of your great nation is one of hope, of perseverance, of faith and of overcoming adversity. This is the moment that Israel can lead the world in not only seeking but in finding that elusive peace.
If I have learnt one thing it is that how the next generation lives and what they learn is not yet decided. That the future is unwritten.
Ben Gurion spoke about the chronic idealism of the Jewish people. A trait that I recognise around this great hall in this sacred city. The world needs a dose of that idealism now.
We can achieve the impossible together. The story of Europe, the endurance of Israel, is proof of exactly that.