Netanyahu laid into European criticism of Israel in private talks with leaders

An unvarnished critique of the European Union by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a private meeting with Central European leaders was picked up on an open mike on Wednesday, as the Israeli leader accused the EU of “undermining” Israel and assailed as “crazy” Europe’s conditioning of cooperation with Israel on the Palestinian peace process.

The remarks were made at a summit in Hungary with the prime ministers of Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland, as Netanyahu lobbied the leaders to persuade other EU member states to ease the group’s criticism of Israeli policies in the West Bank.

The leaders were unaware that Netanyahu’s remarks were being transmitted to headphones distributed to journalists at the summit, and that Israeli reporters had started to record the conversation.

“There is no logic here. Europe is undermining its security by undermining Israel,’’ Netanyahu said. “Europe is undermining its progress by a crazy attempt to create conditions.”

Netanyahu was referring to an EU policy to link talks on enhancing economic ties with Israel to the county’s progress on relations with the Palestinians and on Israeli settlement policy in the West Bank. Several years ago, the EU held up an agreement on funding research in Israel, insisting that none of the money be spent in Jewish settlements.

EU and Israeli disagreements concerning Israeli’s policies in the West Bank have been the source of ongoing diplomatic tension for years. Netanyahu said his country’s relations with China and India are better than those with Europe because those countries are less interested in the peace process.

The prime minister argued that Israel is the one country in the region that “defends European values” and stops “mass migration” to Europe. European “progress” depends on enhancing ties with Israel’s technology community, he said.

“Europe has to decide whether it wants to live and thrive, or whether it wants to shrivel and disappear,’’ Netanyahu said. I’m not very politically correct … but the truth is the truth.”

Netanyahu told the leaders that American policy in the Middle East has improved under the Trump administration, with the U.S. boosting its presence in Syria and taking a more aggressive stance toward Iran.

Israel had “a big problem” with U.S. policies, but now “it’s different,” he said.