Slovenia parts company with CEE with criticism of Israel

Slovenia parts company with CEE with criticism of Israel
The approach of the green-left coalition to Israel differs both from the previous Slovenian administration under Janez Jansa and leading CEE countries such as Poland, Czechia and Romania. / bne IntelliNews
By Clare Nuttall in Glasgow April 7, 2024

The Slovenian government has parted company with most of its neighbours in Central and Southeast Europe in its position on Israel, and is now pushing for the recognition of Palestine. 

The approach of the green-left coalition currently in power differs both from the previous Slovenian administration under Janez Jansa and leading CEE countries such as Poland, Czechia and Romania, which are strongly pro-Israel. 

Since the renewal of fighting in October 2023, Slovenia has been active in sending humanitarian aid to Gaza, while at the same time condemning terrorism and attacks by Hamas. 

However, alongside Ireland, Malta and Spain, Slovenia has now agreed to take initial steps towards recognising a Palestinian state, as announced by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez at the end of March.

"We are agreed that the only way to achieve lasting peace and stability in the region is through implementation of a two-state solution, with Israeli and Palestinian states living side-by-side, in peace and security,” said a joint statement issued by Ireland, Reuters reported.

Critical attitude

Previously, Slovenia decided in January to join the proceedings in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) seeking an advisory opinion on Israeli control of, and policies in, the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. 

Slovenia was the first European nation to formally request the ICJ's opinion on the conflict, which to date has resulted in the deaths of around 33,000 people. 

Foreign Minister Tanja Fajon spoke at the time of a “very broad spectrum of alleged violations that have been committed in the region for decades and whose horrific consequences are still visible today”.

Meanwhile, Slovenian government officials continue to strongly criticise Israel’s actions in Gaza. 

Slovenia, alongside Algeria, Guyana and Switzerland, has requested a meeting of the UN Security Council regarding the role of humanitarian workers in providing aid in Gaza, and at the same time has condemned attacks on humanitarian and health workers and workers in the region. 

Slovenian Ambassador to the UN Samuel Zbogar spoke out on the issue on April 5, calling for an immediate ceasefire. “We … know very well that looming famine in the north of Gaza, and the risk of famine across the rest of the Gaza strip, can be prevented. Conflict induced and man-made famine means the absolute failure of the international community and gross violation of international humanitarian law. Starvation is used as a weapon of war. Waiting for a famine declaration will not change anything on the ground, unfortunately. But we know what will: an immediate ceasefire." 

comment from the Warsaw-based Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW) notes the “critical attitude towards Israel” from Prime Minister Robert Golob's government. 

According to an analysis by OSW research fellow Łukasz Kobeszko, Ljubljana’s participation in the ICJ proceedings was the first instance of the cabinet taking a stance which differs significantly from the EU’s dominant foreign policy line. 

“Until recently, the government strongly supported ideas such as closer European integration and the reform of the EU voting system. Its attitude towards the present stage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict results from the views held by the coalition’s left-wing electorate. These include a critical stance on the foreign policy pursued by the US and Israel, which is referred to as neo-colonial; a positive attitude towards societies of the Global South; and pacifist ideas,” Kobeszko wrote. 

Regional outlier 

Slovenia stands out amidst a region where robust backing for Israel is prevalent. As a comment by bne IntelliNews explores, contemporary attitudes toward Israel are heavily influenced by a sense of culpability for the Holocaust, coupled with a deliberate divergence from the post-war communist regimes' stances.

Many nations in the region feel a profound obligation to reconcile with their past, marked by predominantly right-wing authoritarian regimes and pervasive antisemitism during the interwar era. Even post-World War II, the communist regimes, orchestrated by the Soviet Union, adhered to Moscow's ‘anti-Zionist’ foreign policies, distancing themselves from Israel and fostering ties with its Arab adversaries, notably the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), though there were exceptions such as Romania. 

Following the collapse of communism in 1989, Central and Southeast European countries sought to redefine their foreign policies, aligning themselves with the United States and the Western world. Admiration for Israel's resolute stance on security matters and its military capabilities further solidified support from the region.

Slovenia's position

When it comes to why Slovenia has charted a different course, OSW’s Kobeszko points to the different Cold War experience of Slovenia and other former Yugoslav countries to the Eastern bloc. Yugoslavia was a leader of the non-aligned movement during the Cold War, forging strong ties with developing countries. 

OSW also considers the government’s approach was “likely influenced by pro-Palestinian demonstrations held in Ljubljana, which gathered several hundred protestors”. 

This included a pro-Palestine demonstration at the Slovenian parliament on March 25, when a session convened to deliberate on border changes with Croatia has to be suspended. It followed several previous protests in support of the Palestinian people held in Ljubljana.

Critics of the country’s Israeli policy include prominent politicians and intellectuals, although public opinion is divided.

Moreover, says Kobeszko, “The approach of Slovenia’s government and a portion of its elite to the conflict in the Gaza Strip is also a manifestation of their strong intention to distance themselves from the previous centre-right government led by Janez Jansa, which emphasised Slovenia’s political and economic partnership with Israel, as well as its close relations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”  

Jansa, for example, had ordered the Israeli flag to be flown at the headquarters of his Slovenian Democratic Party during an earlier crisis.

In autumn 2023, he caused a political storm by urging Slovenians to arm themselves ahead of an expected new influx of migrants via the Balkan route after the outbreak of fighting in Israel. He made the initial comment after a pro-Palestinian rally in Ljubljana in October 2023, then followed it up with a lengthy appeal on social network X (formerly Twitter). This was in line with his frequent descriptions of Arab organisations fighting against Israel as terrorists.

However, after months of fighting, and the emergence of a severe humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Slovenia’s position may become increasingly in tune with other major states. 

On April 5, UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution (not legally binding) calling for an arms embargo on Israel. Moreover, US President Joe Biden reportedly warned Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu on April 4 that Washington may change its policy on Gaza, leading to the opening of food corridors the following day.