The EU and Israel: Radically Different Worldviews

, January 1, 2005

“There is a radical difference in basic culture between the European Union and Israel. The EU is a new, unprecedented type of entity unless one goes back to the Roman or Holy Roman Empire. It eludes the ideas of nationalism, cultural uniqueness, and separate states. This results from two devastating wars that ruined Europe’s culture. Germany, a supposedly highly cultured European country, engaged in unprecedented crimes of which the Shoah was the absolute low.”

Yehezkel Dror, an expert on strategy and governance, is the founding president of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute. In his view: “European governments focus on their citizens’ welfare while neglecting security risks. Europe is busy with current issues and therefore cannot devote adequate attention to the long-term future. It is, though, very positive that today’s Europe supports human rights.”

Dror points out that: “Israel, on the other hand, is a country based on an ideology. It is faced by multiple enemies, many of which wish – or at least dream – to eliminate it. Israel is situated between Europe and the Islamic world. The former is currently peaceful though starting to face up to the new external terrorism. The latter is in turbulent transformation with much violence.”

 

Radically Different Value Systems

“The EU and Israel have radically different worldviews as well as value systems. This leads to fundamental disagreements. A typical illustration is the mid-2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice in The Hague against the Israeli separation fence. All the Court’s European judges supported this. While not a decision of the European Union, the judgment reflects European culture and radically contradicts Israel’s view of its existential needs and of the world in general.

“Many Europeans consider the Islamic fundamentalist terror attacks, including those in Europe itself, a temporary phenomenon resulting largely from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The same is true concerning claims of various Arab states about destroying Israel. Israel considers these in part as profoundly true intentions, which Arab countries will try to realize if they have the opportunity to do so without paying a high price.”

Dror says he agrees with the European position that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is an additional factor in Islamic fundamentalist attitudes. “It is not, however, its profound reason, which derives from the confrontation between Islamic traditionalism and modernity’s globalization.”

 

The Middle East: Unstable for One Generation

“Israel is correct in its appreciation of the security dangers it faces. Israel’s perception that the Middle East is undergoing historic transformations, which will result in ongoing instability – for at least one generation and maybe more – is also correct. This leads to the inevitable conclusion that any peace agreement with the Palestinians is at least to some degree unstable.

“Europeans are probably right that a modus vivendi between Israel and the Palestinians will reduce the probability of terror against Europe. This may, however, be a very limited and temporary decline. Europeans do not realize that major sectors of Islamic society have a strong memory of the ancient confrontation between Western Europe and Islam. Historically Islam was a thriving civilization, which built empires until Europe conquered it. The latter was not more civilized but had better war technology.

“There are not a few references in contemporary Islamic literature both to regret over not having conquered Vienna several centuries ago and to the need to reconquer southern Spain, where Islam thrived. This desire is an element of some Arab ambitions and has to be seen in context with the population increases in the Arab world and the growing number of Muslims in Europe. There is substantial potential, though no certainty, for a long-term, long-lasting conflict between Europe and Islam. Irrespective of whether the Israeli-Palestinian conflict quiets down, Europe will have to continue to be alert to possibilities of Islamic fundamentalist and even more widespread hostility.

“Europe should not underestimate the dangers posed by Islamist fundamentalists. Thanks to modern science and technology, these Muslims can kill more and more people with less and less effort. They also have more opportunity to do so in liberal societies. Their attitude should not, however, be considered the dominant one within Islam. Many Muslims live in nonfanatic countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia.”

 

Europe: Committing the Greatest Crimes Ever

Dror counsels: “When assessing Islam one must be aware that the greatest crimes against humanity have been committed by European countries in the Shoah. These crimes were not only perpetrated by the Nazis but also by many other Europeans who provided various types of help in the persecution of the Jews. Nothing in the history of Islam is comparable to that.

“One cannot assume that Islam will try to do what the Nazis have done. A past phenomenon does not have to occur again in the future. Nor can one assume that Islam will commit crimes similar to the communist ones. Islam is incomparably different from the two totalitarian European movements.

“One should not confuse totalitarianism with all nondemocratic rule. There was much progress in Europe’s period of enlightened absolutism. In certain phases of development nondemocracy can make contributions, as is well illustrated by the modern history of Singapore. Perhaps in today’s China it is useful. That I don’t want to live in a nondemocratic country does not mean that it always causes damage. Hitler, on the other hand, was voted into power democratically. Anti-Semitism historically has been based on fervent mass support. Correlations between democracy and humanitarian values are not necessarily simple.

“When confronting today’s anti-Semitism in Europe, one has to understand how deep its roots are, particularly in Christianity. This despite the radical change of views by the Vatican initiated by the present Pope, which constitute a break with historic continuity. In addition there is the long-term impact of ethnic-racial anti-Semitism as sponsored – but not invented – by the Nazis. This hatred still hovers in the background of some parts of European society.

“Few people realize how difficult it is for Christians and Muslims, deep down, to wholeheartedly accept the idea of a Jewish state that emerged after almost two thousand years of nonexistence. How should they understand Israel and cope with it? The more so when this state has to engage in statecraft, including dirtying its hands as all countries do. When the Jews do so, however, the Europeans think it is shocking. The prior image they had of Jews was of persecuted and powerless beings. A powerful Jewish state shatters their expectations and stereotypes.”

 

Extremists Need Enemies

“There is yet another reason for European anti-Semitism. Like all extreme movements both the radical Left and Right need enemies. They have found a convenient one in Israel. This is another anti-Israeli force in addition to the aforementioned rise in the number of Muslims in Europe, and the mistaken European perception that Islamic terrorism derives mainly from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All these factors together create significant hatred. Those who are surprised by it lack strategic insight.

“This definitely does not mean that the entire European Union or its majority is anti-Semitic. Both in the EU and in some national governments there are people who confront anti-Semitism vigorously. Israel is not the prime force to fight anti-Semitism in Europe. It is not a matter to be addressed mainly by hard power but requires political, cultural, and educational action involving soft power, together with legal and public-order measures. The Jewish community in Europe is poorly equipped for this purpose. The soft power the Jewish people have is concentrated in the United States.

“Many aspects of current anti-Semitism mainly target Israel. The Israeli government is falling short since its information policy and public relations are not very effective. But even if they were as perfect as humanly possible, it would not make a great difference. Much anti-Semitism is not a result of lack of information but a mindset based on deep emotions, not ‘thought.’ Prejudices are not influenced by talk and explanations. Perhaps these can be influenced by education at a young age. Once the mind is set, talking to a prejudiced person will not do much to change his opinion.”

 

Europe and Turkey

“Future developments in the Middle East and the world of Islam are more critical for Europe than for the United States. The U.S. is geographically distant and has a much lower percentage of Muslim immigrants. Europe is on the borderline of the Islamic world yet does not comprehend very well that helping Muslim countries to develop and move away from militancy and fundamentalism is in the long run critical for European welfare and security.

“This incomprehension is also evident when one looks at the EU promise to Turkey to become one of its members. The initial European decision-makers did not understand the consequences of this promise. The EU has now worked itself into a corner because it made this membership conditional on Turkey meeting certain conditions. The hour of truth is approaching and now the EU has little choice but to go ahead with this membership if its conditions are met, but hesitates to do so – with the danger of undoing the reforms of Ataturk and potentially pushing Turkey into the arms of militant Islam, with dire consequences for Europe and the Middle East.

“Having Turkey as a full member of the EU changes its nature. The EU was an attempt to culturally unify Western Christian Europe. The admission of a major Muslim country, even if moderate, ruptures Europe’s historic base. The latter is already being tested through major Muslim immigration.

“Yet saying to Turkey now: ‘You are a Muslim country, you cannot be admitted,’ is a declaration of culture clash with very serious dangers. If Turkey is pushed into the arms of Islamic fundamentalism, this will destabilize the Middle East further and make the Arab-Israeli conflict even more radical. This will have very serious repercussions for Europe that its citizens are presently unaware of. To sum up: due to its lack of strategic thinking while it had other options, the EU has to admit Turkey as a member despite the high cultural cost.”

 

Giving in to Threats

“Another major mistake was committed by the Socialist Spanish government, which was elected after the murderous attack by Muslim terrorists in Madrid in March 2004. The Socialists had promised in their election campaign to withdraw Spanish forces from Iraq. After the attack, their policy should have been to proclaim that they had previously committed to a withdrawal, but were no longer able to carry it out. They should have reacted by saying something like: ‘We are going to double the number of Spanish troops in Iraq for some time in order to show the terrorists that our country does not cave in.’ Giving in to terror invites more of it. Terrorists’ demands must never be accommodated.

“Once people see that Europe reacts weakly to threats, more will follow. Thus, in the future some fundamentalist black African groups may demand reparations from Europe for its role in the slave trade. This is a much more justified claim. I wonder how Europe would respond to such demands backed by credible threats of megaterror? There are many frustrations and causes as well as justifiable historic demands that cannot be satisfied. In the eyes of ‘true believers’ these may justify violent threats. The world is in for much armed extortion leading to mass killings. Appeasing terrorism will not work.

“There are many high-quality strategic thinkers in European who are not caught in cultural blinders. Most European policymakers, however, are poorly aware of probable future developments.”

 

More European Mistakes

“Many Europeans are mistakenly convinced that the world is moving toward peaceful coexistence. Humanity is, however, moving into a period of instability. Europe continues to believe in present public international law as being able to regulate international relations. This is absurd because international law lags behind social realities and is entirely unable to cope with global terrorism.

“International law is not a main driver of the transformations taking place in the world. These are influenced by other factors such as the development of science and technology, the growing gap between rich and poor, the reluctance of the West to transfer resources to poor countries, and the inability of the global governmental system to deal with increasingly acute issues.

“In view of these realities, Europe should change its policies. A very minimum action is to transfer more resources to poor countries. But the mindset of European populations does not permit this. Politics is always saying one thing and doing another. Doubletalk is a basic feature of public life also in democracies.

“Europe claims to be much more moral than the United States. Yet it does not provide adequate assistance to poor countries. Not so long ago the Europeans said that the United States was na?ve, while they claimed to understand politics. Today many Europeans say that the United States is wedded to the use of force while ‘we Europeans’ are moral. This is an interesting mutation in perception and I wonder what the next one will be in the coming decade.”

 

What Should Israel Do?

This brings Dror to the question of what Israel should do for the future. “First, Israel should not let itself be carried away by exaggerated views of Europe. It should, for instance, assess European anti-Semitism realistically without overdoing it, because otherwise it will mislead itself and be unable to cope rationally with the situation.

“The probability that many European Jews will leave the continent because of anti-Semitism is low. Their decision to emigrate will also partly depend on whether countries such as Australia, Canada, and the United States will let them in. If conditions for Jews in Europe become dire, they will also be bad for Europeans. Then Europe will have to take counteractions and will do so.

“Second, Israeli relations with Europe have to be put in the context of the far more important relationship Israel has with the United States. Perhaps even relations with China may become more important for Israel in the medium-term future. This should be a fundamental consideration in a global strategy for both Israel and the Jewish people.

“Third, Israel has a lot in common with European culture, but not more so than with American culture. There are shared economic interests with Europe, common venues, and joint science and technology endeavors. Many common European-Israeli activities take place. From the Israeli perspective these should be promoted as much as possible.”

 

The Shoah

“Fourth, Israel has to keep the European guilt for the Shoah alive, whether the Europeans like it or not. Otherwise the Europeans will further falsify history. A recent phenomenon in some German writings is the claim that Germany was conquered by the Nazis. This is historical nonsense because the German people voted for Hitler in democratic elections and afterwards supported him.

“The present German generation is not to blame as individuals for what happened during the Shoah, but historic culpability for it rests on Germany and Europe. The more so as there is now major evidence that other countries gave substantial support to the elimination of the Jews. This historic guilt should accompany Europe for a long time as a morally compelling burden. It also means Europe has a moral commitment to help and ensure the future of the Jewish people, and that of Israel as the Jewish state, to make up, though only a little bit, for their terrible crimes.”

Dror clarifies that this should be understood as a positive statement and not as an apocalyptic prediction. “It concerns making up for past participation in one of history’s greatest crimes. The Shoah is Europe’s sign of Cain, even if historic accounts cannot be kept up forever. Reparations and apologies do not eliminate historic guilt. The reparations are for what has been stolen and the damage done. The apology of the Pope, for instance, is in order to close a historic debate. It doesn’t take away the Catholic Church’s historic guilt.”

 

Verbal Morality

“Europe’s problem is that while it proclaims its morality, its statements are not accompanied by a willingness to pay a price for it. Europe’s attitude voids its moral claims. How many European countries are willing to send soldiers to kill and be killed to save human lives?

“Yugoslavia is the most extreme example of a conflict area where Europe was unwilling to make an adequate effort to protect human lives, while talking much about humanitarian values. Such an attitude reflects an unacceptable double moral standard, even if it is easier to take care of your neighbor’s problems than of people in danger elsewhere.

“The Europeans emphasize that they are adhering to international law in contrast to the United States and Israel. They attack the United States for its actions in Iraq, yet do not undertake any lifesaving actions in Sudan. It is one more example of the European claim to morality while not being willing to pay the price for really caring for others. One might sum this up by saying that Europeans are not conscious of their hypocrisy.”

 

Not Understanding the World

“One can only rate human societies very broadly. The United States, China, Europe, and Israel are all mixed societies, which each have their strong and weak points. Nazi Germany was the bottom of the world’s antimorality. Such extreme cases are easy to judge but most are in-between ones. Countries should face their weak points and try to rectify them. Europe is weak, for instance, in understanding the moral and realpolitical needs of a world facing atrocious terrorism.

“One should not single out Europe for all its failures today. Humanity continues to be immature and immoral in many respects. What set Europe apart was the Shoah. In recent years, however, many people have been murdered in Europe, Africa, and Timor. China acts in some matters in doubtful ways but at the same time it acts very positively in eliminating famine for its population.

“There is one characteristic for which Europe, as far as one can generalize on overall mindsets, should be singled out: its lack of understanding of the world-in-the-making. One paradigm of this is the failure to comprehend Israel’s predicaments. These do not fit Europe’s worldview. The majority of Europeans think that Israel is a danger to the world. This, in my mind, is more a matter of European populations being blind to realities than an expression of ill will.”

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Prof. Yehezkel Dror is professor of political science (emeritus) at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and founding president of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute. His experience as a strategic planner includes two years at the RAND Corporation, senior advisory positions in the offices of the Israeli prime minister and defense minister, and two years working on EU policy issues at the European Institute of Public Administration in Maastricht.

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is emeritus chairman (2000-2012) of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. The author was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, and the International Leadership Award by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. His latest book is The War of a Million Cuts: The Struggle against the Delegitimization of Israel and the Jews, and the Growth of New Anti-Semitism (2015). His previous books include Europe’s Crumbling Myths: The Post-Holocaust Origins of Today’s Anti-Semitism; Judging the Netherlands: The Renewed Holocaust Restitution Process, 1997-2000; and The Abuse of Holocaust Memory: Distortions and Responses.