So how’s Europe doing?

It is well known how deeply concerned European states and the EU are about anything Israel is doing. The Europeans worry about every apartment building approved in a Jerusalem neighborhood, they worry about the treatment of Israel’s Arab citizens – indeed, their “to worry” list is so long that even the way chicken are raised in Israel is considered a newsworthy topic by a major media outlet…

It is in no small measure due to Europe’s keen interest in every Israeli move that, as Alan Dershowitz recently noted, the “sad reality is that there are no purely domestic issues in Israel.” In part, the lavish attention Europe devotes to Israel is motivated by Europe’s desire to be a player at the world stage.

Arguably, Europe is not just engaging in empty talk: as noted in a recent Jerusalem Post editorial, European governments reportedly “spend more on left-wing NGOs operating in Israel – between $75 million and $100m. a year – than their total contributions to nonprofit human rights groups in other Middle East countries.”

How’s that for priorities?

Unfortunately, it seems that in their dedication to keeping Israel on the right (i.e. left) political track, Europeans haven’t gotten around to dealing with some very worrisome developments closer to home.

As Walter Russell Mead writes in a recent essay under the ominous title “‘Fascist Zombies’ From Hungary Threaten EU”:

We already have 1930s style economic problems in much of Europe; is fascism next?

If the current Hungarian government gets its way, maybe so. The government of Hungary, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz Party, is pushing the country away from democracy and toward authoritarian nationalist rule with anti-Semitic undertones. […]

These developments are troubling in themselves; even a mild and watery form of fascism should have no place in Europe today. But the problem with Hungary is more than a local problem. It testifies to the impotence and weak governance of Europe as a whole. The laws and regulations of the EU fill thousands of volumes and binders and the lush growth of its many institutions and bureaucracies is the envy and inspiration of civil servants around the world.

But as we have seen, Europe is incapable of managing the problems of monetary union; and as we are learning in Hungary, its resources to defend democracy in an erring member state are not great. The EU is better at writing laws than enforcing them, better and enunciating grand principles than at working things out on the ground. […]

Hungary could be to Europe’s political project as Greece has been to its economic goal — a small country whose failures exposed the weakness of the wider European agenda. The rise of fascism in a European country is a greater threat to the EU project than the prospect of bankruptcy in some peripheral economies; it is not at all clear that the EU could do anything at all about the destruction of what remains of Hungarian democracy.



Commenter N.Friedman provides a very interesting link to a 2006 article by Richard L. Rubenstein who argues that European policies towards Israel have been heavily influenced by “Europe’s surrender” in the face of the 1973 Arab oil embargo.

In his conclusion, Rubenstein writes that “Europe’s new anti-Semitism is the result of a foreign policy rooted in European dependence on Arab oil.” While I think there is much merit to this argument, I believe there are additional factors that are entirely independent of Europe’s energy “Realpolitik”. Rubenstein himself quotes the results of a German study conducted by the University of Bielefeld that showed in 2004 that 68 percent of native Germans believed “that Israel is waging a war of extermination against the Palestinians, while 51 percent believe there is not much difference between what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians and what the Nazis did to the Jews.”

In order to appreciate these results, it’s important to note that in German, the term “war of extermination” clearly refers to the “Vernichtungskrieg” conducted by the Nazis; another point to keep in mind is that the results must be evaluated against the background of the media coverage on the so-called “Al-Aqsa” intifada, which was arguably also reflected in the results of a 2003 Eurobarometer poll that found that 59 percent of EU citizens regarded Israel as the greatest threat to world peace.

While embarrassed European officials tried to dismiss these poll results as some kind of aberration, subsequent polls showed similar results. To quote just one example: A BBC poll published in March 2007 revealed that Israel was viewed as the country with the most negative influence in the world; interestingly, Germany was the European country with the largest percentage of respondents who viewed Israel in these terms: 77 percent of Germans rated Israel’s influence as negative — even in some Muslim countries, Israel actually fared slightly better.

For Europeans, and Germans in particular, there is an obvious psychological “benefit” to viewing Israelis as comparable to the Nazis, because it helps to retroactively cast the victims of European and German antisemitism as people who might have done a lot of harm had they lived to get the chance.

In other words – and to put it bluntly – there is a “politically correct” translation of the Nazi slogan “die Juden sind unser Unglück”, i.e. the Jews are our misfortune: unfortunately, even without Arab prodding and irrespective of Muslim sentiments, all too many Europeans are inclined to believe that the tiny Jewish state that, ever since its modern rebirth, has been surrounded by implacably hostile neighbors should be compared to the Nazis and be seen as a frightening threat to the world.

This is arguably one major reason why criticizing Israel is much more popular in Europe than paying attention to some of the alarming developments in Hungary.  


6 responses to “So how’s Europe doing?

  1. Reblogged this on Basil Wheel.

  2. That the EU countries spend more on NGO’S in your country than on such things in other countries is a telling fact. By way of analogy, when the Ottoman Empire was rapidly weakening in the 19th Century, the European colonial powers devoted substantial attention to championing the rights of Christians in the regions (see, The History of the Armenian Genocide, by Vahakn Dadrian), for example, France supposedly on behalf of the Maronite Christians in what was then a Syrian province of the Empire but is now Lebanon. The thought was to gain a foothold in the region and, with some patience, that is what occurred, with France using the terrible massacre of Maronites by Druze, with the help of Ottoman soldiers, as a means to gain a foothold of direct power in the region. Of course, it was not wholly self-serving politics but that was an important part of it.

    It strikes me that the European goal is to use the issue of the Palestinians as a means to garner support in the Arab regions, not primarily to help Arabs (although, no doubt, some involved, as in the 19th Century, were sincere in their stated aims) but, rather, to secure the supply of oil from Arabs and lucrative contracts to, for example, build things in Arab countries. Otherwise, there would be reason for Europeans not to single out your country.

    As for Europeans having their eyes off the ball – failing to notice the demise of their currency and the rise of unsavory political parties while they focused on your country’s supposed sins, exaggerating them beyond any imaginable reality, which, in turn, prevented European governments from standing up to bigots who had nasty things to say about Israel, thus helping cause the obsession with your country to metastasize.

    Now, Europe is going to have a lot of problems going forward. These have been well described in a series of very interesting books: The Last Days of Europe, by Walter Laqueur; While Europe Slept, by Bruce Bawer; and even – albeit more of a Casandra type book – Eurabia, by Bat Ye’or. Bat Ye’or book discusses in considerable detail quasi-secret (or, at least, relatively unknown) agreements reached between the EU and Arab League to take the Arab League political line on the Arab Israeli dispute in exchange for secure oil and lucrative agreements. The same arrangement is discussed in general in the liberal Jewish magazine, Reform Judaism Magazine, in an article by well known scholar Richard Rubenstein, titled Pipeline to Peril ( ).

    Which is to say, none of this is an accident – except for the latent consequences in Europe.

  3. Hi Petra,

    Bat Ye’or’s book is an extended and detailed discussion of the same topics discussed by Rubenstein. In fact, it is my impression that they are friends. As you may be known, Bat Ye’or is vilified as being an Islamophobe when, in fact, her argument that raises the vilification is that the failure of European countries to integrate their Muslim immigrants will lead, in her view, unfortunately to the rise of fascistic parties that will want to stand up to Muslims (or, in the alternative, to appeasement leading to “native” Europeans being controlled by supremacists among the Muslim population in Europe). In any event, the research showing everything in Rubenstein’s article and then some comes from Bat Ye’or.

  4. One further point, which addresses your update – and thank you kindly for your reference to me -, I think the issue raised by the Rubenstein Bat Ye’or argument concerns which Europeans will stand up on Israel’s side. Which is to say, if the European governments are, in considerable measure, in bed with the Arab League and, given the availability of lucrative contracts (e.g. building nuclear power plants, building skyscrapers, etc., in various Arab countries, to the tune of trillions of Euros), the governments simply cannot stand up to those in Europe who hate Jews and Israel but, instead, since part of the deal is to take the Arab League line on Israel – something which Bat Ye’or indicates does not really have majority support in Europe -, they must basically act as an amplifier of the demands made by the Arab League.

    In the US, by contrast, where there are also groups which strongly oppose Israel and Jews, the government (even under Obama, who seemed to want more or less to adopt some of the European line on Israel, but without signing on to the entire line – for a while but was basically shot down by party elders among the Democrats) stands in opposition to such groups along with most of the public and there is no fog horn – except in those parts of the press which want good relations in the Arab regions (e.g. Tom Friedman, who has consulted with at least one Saudi King). Hence,when groups vilify Israel, there is strong opposition including from the government. In Europe, those in power have a vested interest in not undermining anti-Israel talk and, since a lot of nasty talk is coming from immigrants from the Arab regions, talk that is nasty towards Jews generally.

    • I’m aware that Bat Ye’or has been vilified, but I also have to say that I have some reservations about her writings — not because I reject her scholarship on the subjects she writes on, but because I feel she tends to adopt a too strident tone and to focus too single-mindedly on her specific subject, without always keeping in mind the bigger picture. That is ultimately also the point I’m trying to make in my update: whatever the undeniable role of Realpolitik interests re. Europe’s desire to make nice with the Arabs, there is also an undercurrent of European antisemitism that doesn’t make it hard to find some common ground with the Arabs against Israel — and that is very different in the US.

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