Europe’s Failure to Exercise the Diplomacy of Truth
The surrender to threats, economic opportunism, and hypocrisy.
The chilled relationship between Europe and Israel arises from a fundamental European misunderstanding and ignorance of Israeli national needs. In every critical political decision, whether supporting the Iran deal, condemning U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, supporting UNESCO dangerous revisionism of Jerusalem’s Jewish cultural history, or refusing to identify the true source of European anti-Semitism, Europe has consistently taken the antagonistic position towards Israel. Despite this, the general European conclusion is that the unfriendly relations are Israel’s fault due to its right-wing policies led by the nationalistic Netanyahu government. Pretending that the relationship is strained because of a right-wing Israel, allows Europe to shirk its own responsibility for the decline of EU popularity in Israel.
In Europe, a sympathetic automatic switch clicks on when the Muslim world is involved, especially when it came to the Iranian nuclear deal. This sympathy goes together with Europe’s incomprehension of Donald Trump’s personality and actions, seen as anti-liberal and extreme right-wing. Coherent criticisms of the Iranian deal are ignored. This allows Europe to avoid any honest discussion and to marginalize and personalize the review of the Iran deal that Trump advocates. Actually, the European Union’s position, instead of serving its real interests dangerously looks at the past. Business interests and political correctness must not be more important than enforcing anti-proliferation, no more serious than finally visiting Iranian military sites that hide the real secrets of Iran’s non-compliance, and most of all, considering the dangerous essence of the Iranian threat. All this poses a threat, first and foremost to the Middle East, and immediately after that, to Europe.
Instead of facing the real and present dangers of anti-Semitism, Europe is focused on fighting its past “ghosts” of anti-Semitism. Today, the “new Jew” – the Israeli, along with his proxies, the diaspora Jews – are condemned in a way that has nothing to do with the tradition of right-wing political parties. Today, the Jews are not seen in the same way, as they were 90 years ago. The face of anti-Semitism has changed, and therefore widespread right-wing anti-Semitism is quite improbable. The general perception of the Jew is no longer that of a cosmopolitan parasite and traitor of Western values, but quite the opposite. The Jews and Israel, in fact, wholeheartedly embrace Western values and customs, and this “original sin” is more likely to be readily employed by the European Left than by the Right.
The option of speaking the truth is the only way for Israel to establish a new relationship with Europe. European leaders showed that they could easily vote for the worst lies about Israel (in the General Assembly but also in other UN bodies). UNESCO, for instance, regularly votes on resolutions which deny any Jewish ties to the Western Wall and recognizes it as an Islamic heritage site. Their voting against Israel and choosing an absurd lie like denying Jerusalem ties to the Jewish People and Israel defy reason and history. And then the European leaders feign friendship to the Jewish state.
Why does Israel have a difficult relationship with Europe? Why is Europe so tough on Israel? And how do we find the way to correct this sour relationship?
Europe’s Politicized View of Israel
The respected Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) foundation issued a report in September 2017 entitled “Israel’s Views of Europe-Israeli Relations.”1 The study is based on a poll of 1,000 Israelis, but the analysis produced has the flavor of a very personal and political viewpoint.
The thesis of the KAS study, in brief, is that the difficult relations between Israel and the EU are due to a growing right-wing influence in Israel. It reveals its aim of showing a lack of understanding of Europe by quoting the leader of “extreme right” Bayit haYehudi Party, “President (sic) Naftali Bennet, who said that ‘Europe is an old continent rooted in the past incapable of innovation.’” The study reinforces its point of view by quoting Prime Minister Netanyahu on an open microphone with a sentence not intended for the public ear: “Europe undermines its own safety by undermining that of Israel.”2 The study cherry-picks two sentences to show invented Israeli malevolence.
The Foundation considers the Prime Minister and his government as the “driving forces” of the process of detachment from Europe, alluding heavily at the prime minister’s “political scandals and corruption allegations confronting him” as a rationale for his siding with the extreme right. The study notes that the right-wing is gaining power as the Israeli religious forces grow bigger and stronger, with the trend to replace the old Ashkenazi ties with Europe with “Mizrahi” (Sephardi) Jews originating from the Near and Middle Eastern countries.
The reason for this conclusion remains quite mysterious: why should the supposed larger influence of the right-wing necessarily push Israel to antipathy toward Europe?
As the polls of the KAS foundation explore the difference of opinion between Jews, Arabs, and other groups, it is so easy to understand why, as the study points out the Arab-Israelis are more “open-minded towards the European Union”: simply because the EU is very sympathetic toward their Palestinian brothers. With several other hypotheses, KAS has to admit, “The high number of [European] projects in the Arabic sector and the advocacy for a Palestinian state seem to pay off in favor of the EU.”
When the BDS movement’s actions damage the Palestinian economy, as demonstrated by studies and local comments, the KAS report attributes the phenomena to the “argument voiced by the (Israeli) rightwing political spectrum.”
Misreading the Data and Misreading the Israeli Public
Strangely, the KAS analysis attempts to wash Israeli opinions that reflect poorly on European policy. Only 44 percent of Israelis see the EU as a strong advocate of Israel’s right to exist – a “notable rise” from 33 percent.
According to the study, 69 percent of Israelis see the EU as a strong supporter of a Palestinian state (compared to 73 percent in an earlier survey). While the Israeli public realistically observes what is going on around them in the Palestinian arena, the study claims that the lopsided opinions are positive “from a European perspective, since as a whole the consistently high agreement on this question means that the EU is seen as connected to the solution, which they have consistently advocated for centuries (sic).”
When the decline of popularity of the EU is seen by the KAS as “a symptom of a general abandonment of international organizations,” it’s quite evident that the truth is the opposite. This abandonment is tied to a negative attitude toward Israel emanating from the international organizations themselves, partly due to the insistent hammering of the nail of the “territories” as the EU’s main issue. Israel announced its intention to leave UNESCO on December 22, 2017,3 in response to “systematic attacks” on the Jewish state that ignored or diminished the Jewish connections to Jerusalem. UNESCO, notably backed by European nations, renamed ancient Jewish sites as Arab ones.
The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini’s promise to return to normality with the comprehensive agreements between Europe and Israel that started in 1995, actually always collide with the conditional demand to give the Palestinians the “Territories.” As a matter of fact, for Europe Israel today is a state under sanctions. Why should Israelis like it?
The relationship of Europe toward Israel must be studied, and not that of Israel toward Europe. Consider Europe’s denial of Israel’s right of self-defense during the wars in Gaza; the aggressive futility of the “non-paper” calling for sanctions leaked to Haaretz in November 2014; or the International Court of Justice’s deliberations of 2010; or the letter by 19 distinguished officials like EU Special Representative Miguel Moratinos or EU High Representative for Foreign Policy Javier Solana of May 11, 2015, about how to increase pressure on Israel to surrender “occupied territories” to the Palestinian Authority. For sure, the number of pages reserved for EU attacks on Israel with the intention of breaking its will and obliging it to surrender territories is more than all the treaties on trade, science, and cultural relations between Israel and Europe.
The KAS study suggests that the problem is connected to Netanyahu’s government! Too right-wing, too many religious people, too many easterners compared to the Ashkenazi Left of the good old times.
The KAS study also tortuously attempts to show via poll data that the Jewish population in the country is much less “open-minded” than the Arabs and other citizens of the country toward the European Union. The temptation to conflate Israel’s animosity with the European surging right-wing movements is hidden throughout the text.
Incredibly, the KAS paper argues that “skepticism and disillusionment about the new President [Trumps]’s unclear course are also starting to take hold in Israel again.” The report then asks, “Do Israelis favor the estranged yet dependable relationship with Brussels as opposed to the unpredictable friend in Washington?”
The paper fantasizes an Israeli disappointment toward President Trump, foreseeing a disillusionment – just weeks before the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Why would Europeans be so delusional? It reflects the not so subtle hope of a common European-Israeli political rejection of Trump himself.
Real Israeli Attitudes to Europe
The truth is that the Israeli citizens love Europe, many have European origins and culture, and they are proud of their European ancestry. They are simply disheartened and angry at Europe’s failure to understand their country, Israel.
That’s why Israelis, even “right-wing” and religious Israelis “have a great deal of admiration for the democratic constitution and the respect of human rights in the European Union,” according to KAS. Contradicting its own claim of a “detachment” of Israel from Europe, the study admits that “an astonishing 63 percent of the Israelis highly value that the European Union is built on democracy, the rule of law and the respect of human rights as well as the respect and protection of minorities.”
“Remarkable and surprising” to the Europeans is that the Israelis rejected the “special privileged partnership… offered” by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in 2013 if Israel achieved a permanent peace settlement with the Palestinians.
What is so remarkable? Israelis understood the dangers of the times and the area?
“Don’t Take Our Sanctioning Israeli Products Seriously”
About BDS and labeling Israeli products, the study claims a misconception by the Israeli Jews and even the Israeli Arabs, who don’t like it. They took it too seriously; they are “influenced by media reporting,” KAS wrote. BDS is only briefly mentioned: “Labelling is in accordance with general European law and is not a ‘boycott,’ and hence clearly distinguishable from the measures of the BDS movement.” Few Israelis believe that.
Other damaging polices of the EU are omitted from KAS discussion, such as the EU policy of illegally building for Palestinians in Israel-controlled Area C on the West Bank, knowing that Israeli authorities will remove such structures so that Israel could be condemned. Also not mentioned is the EU’s massive funding for NGOs, known detractors of Israel like Breaking the Silence and B’tselem.
The alarmed Israeli reaction to European labeling and BDS are considered by the KAS as a consequence of “the argument voiced by right-wing political spectrum.” Namely, “this decision caused alarm because they are hurting only those who they want to protect, the Palestinians,” according to the supposed lies of the right-wing press, but, KAS continued, “in a situation where the Israeli turn their back on Europe and the West quite irrespective of the historically problematic implications, these result should be seen in the contest that the fact caused by this decision is limited.”
It is so strange that looking into the reasons of the sour relations, the foundation didn’t feel the need to ask in-depth questions about the influence of ant-Semitism and the attitudes toward terrorism, BDS, support for biased international bodies like the UN’s UNESCO and Human Rights Council, the relationship with the Palestinian Authority, the two states solution, and the territories.
Did the singling out of the activities in the territories disturb the Israelis? Yes, it did. Did it create problematic relations when “labeling” of products brought back bad memories of the historic boycott of Jews? Of course, it did. Did the European assumption that it holds in its pocket the answer for the long-standing Palestinian-Israeli conflict, namely Israel’s immediate withdrawal to the ‘67 borders, and the arrogant demand that as a precondition, Israel return to an indefensible border? Yes, of course.
Is it disturbing for the Israelis that few tears were shed during the second Intifada for the more than 1,000 victims? Nowadays the terrorism against Israeli civilians is still considered by the EU to be much less tragic and in any case different from the terrorism that invaded their countries.
The apparently neutral questions put to people interviewed by the AKS do not put a new light on the real reasons why Israel has a problem with Europe, and therefore, doesn’t suggest solutions.
Actually, there are many reasons why, since the 1980 Venice declaration, Europe decided to become the sponsor of the Palestinian cause, viewing the Palestinians as the epitome of the violence of capitalism and imperialism against innocent victims. Europe has embraced this cause to the point of being a major contributor to the corrupt Palestinian economy, the same that incentivizes terror by paying salaries to terrorists in jail and to their families.
Europe has an open account with the Jews that occasionally reappears in the most surprising way. Since the 1967 Six Days War, General Charles De Gaulle declared that the Jews are an “elitist and domineering people,” a premise to the French ambassador to the United Kingdom Daniel Bernard’s comment in 2001, “All the current troubles in the world are because of that shitty little country, Israel. Why should the world be in danger of World War III because of those people?” Other European leaders like Sweden’s Olaf Palme and Greece’s George Papandreou compared Israel to the Nazis, and the president of the EU foreign affairs commission Carl Bildt, once said to me, “I don’t see any sign of anti-Semitism in Europe.” Bildt’s comment came after the Swedish newspaper “Aftonbladet” wrote in 2009 that Israeli soldiers kill Palestinians to harvest their organs, and I, as the deputy president of the Italian Commission of Foreign Affairs, interrogated him at the EU Foreign Affairs plenum about the matter.
The intellectual and political backing given to the “Palestinian Resistance” by the European Commission has become the cover for the rampant anti-Semitism and terrorism endemic in Europe today in the most brutal way – from the torture murder of Parisian Jew, Ilan Halimi (2006), to the slaughter of three Jewish school children and rabbi in Toulouse (2012), to the attacks on synagogues and Jews in Sweden (2017), and other European locations. Faced with this anti-Semitism – not “anti-Israelism” – Europe has failed to confront the phenomenon, fearing that the problem of Islamic terrorism and Islamic anti-Semitism is too weighty and profound.
Europe and its institutions consistently identify themselves as the primary denouncer of the “Israeli occupation” and has devised all kind of sanctions for its labeling Israeli products (2015); legitimized under the table the BDS campaign; issued in 2013 a new regulation according to which no Israeli body can collaborate with Europe if it operates or has any links beyond the 1967 “Green Line.”
Europe has denied Israel the right of self-defense despite the rain of Hizbullah missiles on its innocent civilians in the north. Europe even legitimized the “political side” of Hizbullah, branding only its “military side” as a terrorist organization. Israel’s wars of defense in Gaza were always met with tough disapproval. Europe applied double standards and condemned Israel’s security fence in 2004 even after Israel suffered more than 1,000 killed in terrorist suicide attacks between 2001 and 2004.
The European United Front against Israel Showed Fault Lines
Why does Israel have a difficult relationship with Europe? Why is Europe so tough on Israel? And how do we find the way to correct this sour relationship? This is a much more intriguing question.
The Revolutionary/Conservative U.S. President
Even prior to President Donald Trump’s December 6, 2017, landmark decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, he had taken several major policy decisions that defined his foreign policies and changed American direction. The first was his withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, followed by his October 13, 2017, decertification of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
These three decisions represent an amazing “revolutionary/conservative” attitude of the new president, which has gone hand-in-hand with his defiance of the internationally politically-correct mindset of institutions such as the European Union, the United Nations, UNESCO, the UN Human Rights Council, and more.
Trump and his incredibly forthright UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, have made it clear that U.S. interests greatly coincide with Israel’s. The reaction of a large part of the international community to their simple reality, particularly after Obama’s contrarian presidency, has been nervous and aggressive.
The December 21, 2017, General Assembly vote, in one of its typical “emergency special sessions” against Israel, passed with 128 votes to declare “null and void” the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Nine countries voted against the motion; 35 abstained, and 21 were absent.
The vote represented the traditional automatic majority in the General Assembly against the United States and Israel.
The vote and the reaction to the decertification of the JCPOA remind me of the European Union’s relationship with Israel. It’s more than a well-motivated political attitude; it’s an instinct, a kind of Pavlovian reaction, and moreover, a measure that ignores the ramifications of the decision to the political and economic realities.
There is a lot riding on this international roulette table, but the game is dangerous, and its outcome is thoroughly uncertain.
Europe’s Iranian Illusions
In Europe, a sympathetic automatic switch clicks on when the Muslim world is involved, especially when it came to the Iranian nuclear deal. This sympathy goes together with the incomprehension of Donald Trump’s personality and actions, seen as anti-liberal and extreme right-wing. Coherent criticisms of the Iranian deal are ignored. This allows Europe to avoid any honest discussion and to marginalize and personalize the revision of the Iran deal that Trump, for very good reasons, advocates.
Even the brutal Iranian repression of Iranian protestors elicited no European condemnation out of fear of harming the JCPOA deal with Iran.
This automatic switch also comes on whenever Israel is obliged to defend itself (like in 2014 during the Gaza war) or when the United States takes military action, such as the Iraqi war.
The rejection of Trump’s decertification decision is part of the pacifist-neutralist obsession to which the EU is ideologically committed. Logical discussion, study, and deliberation have no place.
But today that position can no longer be considered as one of the factors for debate within the European Union. Affirming its disapproval as a united position of the EU ignores the very concrete division that characterizes every aspect of its political life today. Europe is divided, and it would be better for the EU to seek unity on issues such as the economy and taxation, as well as immigration and security instead of Iran.
Actually, its unity is a facade: in the midst of heated discussion on October 16, 2017 European Union leaders reaffirmed their full commitment to the 2015 nuclear deal, but at the same time, European officials from England, Germany, and France are considering stepping up criticism of Iran’s ballistic program and its role in fomenting instability in the Middle East. There are good reasons to do so, and they’re exactly the same ones that Trump stresses. Even if it is impossible to know whether Iran has breached the agreement because it forbids international inspectors to visit its military sites, there are many reasons to believe that the agreement’s spirit has been violated by Iran’s perpetual atomic and ballistic activities. At the same time, Iran brazenly defies the West and increasingly dominates the Middle East.
On October 12, 2017, German security officials accused the Iranian regime of pursuing its goal of building missiles armed with nuclear warheads, the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel reported, according to Benjamin Weinthal of The Jerusalem Post. In July and October, Iran made more than 30 attempts to obtain equipment for its nuclear missile programs in 2016,4 and it is clear that new heavy penalties should be imposed on Iran for not only investing in a ballistic missile program but also engaging in dangerous and destabilizing regional activities.
Europe is well aware of this, but nonetheless prefers to be alarmist concerning Trump’s decision, exactly as it does when the question of Israeli “territories” arises, i.e., it has always dealt with it as if the peace process is simply a problem for the Israeli leadership, unconnected to Palestinian terrorism and the dangers that derive from it.
Europe sees the aggressive drive of the Islamic Republic as solely the psychological problem of the American president. There is no rejoinder from the European leadership apart from its repeated commitment to the 2015 Iran deal.
Yet the reasons for that – in this Europe of Brexit and never-ending internal discussion – are not adequate. While standing against Trump as if she were Joan of Arc defending the agreement, Mogherini knows very well that this didn’t work, and that her fellow Europeans are aware of it. Iran’s failure to comply with the agreement is ignored in the search for sympathy with the Muslim world, an appeasement ideology, and the traditional return of anti-Americanism at a time when the presidency is no longer presided over by a left-winger. The backdrop is uncertainty and division about the main issues on the table: Islam’s concrete dream of conquering the West, terrorism, the realm of Iran, Muslim aggression, and the horror of the Syrian war where Iran has provided support to Assad, who has killed more than 400,000 of his compatriots, including women and children.
European public opinion is divided, and Europe’s interests don’t coincide with the Iranian agreement. The tone of the reaction has been exaggerated: the European media have found a new raison d’etre in its tough opposition to Donald Trump’s decision to decertify the Iran deal. The way Federica Mogherini reacted to the announcement was desolated, incredulous, and mournful. “We cannot afford as the international community to dismantle a nuclear agreement that is working,” she declared. She opted for a “moral” pronouncement in favor of international legality, pretending that Iran is respecting it, and urging respect by the signatories of the JCPOA and the EU altogether. It is a matter of honor: “This deal is not a bilateral agreement. The international community and the European Union with it has clearly indicated that the deal is, and will continue to be, in place.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May, French President Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel released a joint statement affirming their support for the deal, confirming what the EU’s foreign policy chief said: that the agreement not only was working well but also helping to prevent Iran from developing atomic weapons.
Everyone knows that they are also searching for a way to enter into new business ventures, and the numerous trade delegations and entrepreneurs know that the billions that should have improved the economic well-being of the Iranian people go instead towards destabilizing regional ambitions by heavily financing its terrorist proxies and the ballistic missile enterprise. The missiles are the third part of its nuclear program of enrichment and weaponization, and it grows day after day in the run-up to the conclusion of the 15 years when the restrictions will expire.
The commercial risks of engaging Iran are considerable: like inadvertently supporting state-sponsored terrorism, permitting money laundering by banks, and unconsciously fueling the omnipresent Revolutionary Guard.
When Mogherini called for a collective process to preserve the historic accord, she got her answer from Russia’s foreign minister, who reiterated her call for all sides to stick to the original agreement and claimed that Iran has strictly complied with the deal. However, the front that was formed doesn’t agree on anything else – from economic ventures to immigration, and to the role of Russia itself, which is directly involved in the Syrian war.
Europe is deeply divided and surely aware of what Iran is currently doing. In particular, the security crisis connected to immigration, the rightward shift that goes hand in hand with the crisis of identity, and the division with its eastern EU counterparts, doesn’t allow us to imagine a united continent capable of raising the issue with America. Moreover, its relationship with the Muslim world has changed: the jihadist factor, the terror attacks in the European cities, Islamic butchery, and the waves of Muslim refugees pouring into Europe have made it very hard for us to imagine that Iran can be considered a beacon of stability and balance throughout the Middle East or that the agreement reached in 2015 has brought some fruitful gains from a humanitarian perspective. The Iranian alliance with Assad and the cynical slaughter of children go together with the shocking images of homosexuals in Tehran hanging from cranes. Moreover, the slaughter of Syrian children with sarin gas by Assad is similar to how the Iranian regime sent its own children to death on minefields with a plastic key to paradise hanging from their necks during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88). Iran and Zarif’s cat-like smile first with Baroness Ashton and later with Mogherini no longer invoke a sense of “moderation.” When Iran is number one on the list of states sponsoring terrorism, this can’t be ignored by the Old Continent that is tormented by numerous terrorist attacks.
Europe also knows that the alliance with the Muslim world has two sides, that the Sunnis will be angered by Europe’s support for Iran, and today the Sunnis are more eager to be pro-West than the Shiites. Anti-Americanism will not get the applause it received up until some years ago; on the contrary, it will create problems for the Sunni Arab side.
Today, whether Mogherini knows it or not, things have changed. The undeniable growth of a conspicuous right-wing in France, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Greece, Hungary, and the countries of the Visegrad group can’t be halted simply through social disapproval or by raising eyebrows when looking at Putin.
Actually, the European Union’s position, instead of serving its real interests looks at the past dangerously. Business interests and political correctness must not be more important than enforcing anti-proliferation, no more serious than finally visiting the Iranian military sites that hide the real secret of non-compliance, and most of all, than considering the dangerous essence of the Iranian threat. All this poses a threat, first and foremost, to the Middle East, and immediately after that, to Europe.
Is Anti-Semitism Left or Right?
The growth of right-wing parties in Europe is an old/new and worrying concern not only for Israel but also for Jews across the globe because it carries undeniable signs of collateral anti-Semitism. One of the theoretical pillars of history suggests an eternally intimate connection between right-wing political parties and anti-Semitism whose traces can be found in Germany, Austria, France, etc., but this connection today is not part of the traditional anti-Semitic narrative vis-à-vis the Jews or fit into the general perception of the “bad Jew.” Today, the “new Jew” – the Israeli, along with his proxies – the diaspora Jews – are condemned in a way that has nothing to do with the tradition of right-wing political parties. Today, the Jews are not seen in the same way as they were 90 years ago. The face of anti-Semitism has changed, and therefore widespread right-wing anti-Semitism is quite improbable. The general perception of the Jew is no longer that of a cosmopolitan parasite and traitor of Western values, but quite the opposite. The Jews and Israel, in fact, wholeheartedly embrace Western values and customs, and this “original sin” is more likely to be readily employed by the European Left than by the Right.
The dramatic growth of right-wing parties in Europe poses a dilemma for Israel. And it’s an important historical and ideological dilemma with enormous intellectual and political consequences for the entire Western world. The EU has generally been hostile towards Israel, accusing it of cruelty and oppressing the Palestinians. The eastern European countries, along with many right-wing parties throughout the continent, now view Israel with admiration for its ability to combat terrorism. They don’t share the EU’s current line of labeling Israeli products or its demand for a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders.
In short, these states are friendlier toward Israel than the rest of the European Union. But will Israel embrace states such as Austria where right-wing parties recently won or forming a right-wing coalition; or if Israeli officials meet representatives of right-wing parties, will this then legitimate them, confirming that they’re not anti-Semitic?
A relationship with the Jewish State will undoubtedly prompt a new reflection about anti-Semitism and shift the focus from right-wing parties to a wider discussion about anti-Semitism’s new modern sources, namely its prevalence on the Left, as well as among Muslim populations in Europe. The idea that the new Right can be considered as an interlocutor for Israel and the Jews will bring about a change in Israel’s approach vis-à-vis Europe, reducing its need to search for the Left’s approval, i.e., convincing it of its genuine wish for peace.
Almost all of the Jewish communities across Europe have expressed their alarm about the rise of right-wing parties. Actually, they’re extremely critical of those who are even mildly Right like Sebastian Kurz, 31, who won the October 15, 2017, parliamentary elections in Austria with 31.5 percent of the vote. The fear is that his coalition government will include, along with his OVP, Heinz-Christian Strache’s FPO, a far right-wing party that came third with 26 percent of the vote behind the socialist SPO. But Strache has on several occasions pledged his sympathy for the Jews and Israel. However, the latter doesn’t diminish several slips of tongue and gaffes or the fact that his party includes a bunch of nostalgic Nazis. But in Austria and Germany, this happens on all sides of the political spectrum. Manfred Gerstenfeld recently wrote in his article on November 4, 2017, in The Jerusalem Post that Bruno Kreisky, a Socialist (whom I interviewed in Vienna back in the day when he was an Arafat-loving chancellor) appointed four former Nazis to his cabinet, whitewashing them.
It is certainly true that inside several of the new right-wing political parties there are those both within their leadership and rank and file who have nostalgia for Europe’s past. In Germany, a desire to reconstruct the past can destroy the necessity of remembering the Shoah. Alexander Gauland of the AfD praised German soldiers who did their duty during World War II while he simultaneously affirmed he doesn’t deny the Holocaust, which objectively conjures up the most horrific period of his country’s past and diminishes the importance of the Shoah. Still, this man has affirmed many times that he has absolutely nothing against the Jews and abhors anti-Semitism. So, where’s the truth? The truth is in the marginal strength of his anti-Semitism compared to the huge strength of de-legitimization and incitement that derives from left-wing movements and Muslim immigration. The latter truly constitutes an overwhelming movement.
In France, as Robert Wistrich vividly described in his unforgettable 2014 article entitled “Summer in Paris” about an attack on a synagogue in Paris, France’s rabid anti-Semitism De Gaulle style can still be seen. The late French president once characterized the Jewish people as “elite, self-assured and domineering,” which evokes the papal persecutions against those “dura cervice,” hard-headed people; in Eastern Europe a host of populist fantasies (as the recent demonstrations in Poland show) about Jewish wealth and hidden interests connected to Israel (in Hungary they proposed a law to kick the Jews out of parliament); in Italy a widely concealed anti-Semitism still circulates. There are many forms of European hatred towards the Jews, which have transformed into anti-Zionist rhetoric over the past few years. Its strength and danger springs from the shadows of Muslim anti-Semitic hatred, which has provided it with an umbrella of protection, precisely at the moment when Europeans tend to avoid blaming Islam for anything. Worse still, today they pretend that Islamophobia is intimately connected to anti-Semitism, so much so that fighting for Islam’s legitimation in Europe today is equivalent to fighting against anti-Semitism.
Why have right-wing political parties become so strong in Europe? There are numerous reasons: Europe’s ideological crisis over its raison d’etre, the refugee crisis, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Brexit vote, Catalonia’s secession, and the terrorist attacks that have occurred in Paris, Brussels, London, Barcelona and so many other European cities. These problems have filled many people with feelings of great resentment. Therefore, the political balance within the EU has changed: Marine Le Pen obtained 34 percent of vote in France; Geert in Holland with his Freedom Party is the second largest party in parliament; the Austrian election in October 2017 saw a strong shift to the Right, and Sebastian Kurz clinched 36 percent, and Heinz-Christian Strache’s FPO came in third with 26 percent; Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and some of the Baltic States also have strong right-wing parties.
Are all these right-wing parties anti-Semitic? Only the Jobbik party in Hungary, Golden Dawn in Greece, Croatian apologists of the Ushtasha regime, and Ukrainian nationalists are in large part Nazi anti-Semites. The rest have traces of anti-Semitism that don’t appear to be coming to the fore, even if the Left continually highlights them for its own political aims. Unfortunately, few commentators emphasize the Left’s political responsibilities and openly anti-Semitic attitudes vis-à-vis the Jews and Israel.
The right-wing parties of eastern Europe don’t chant words of hate or demonstrate prejudice against Israel. In fact, during a recent meeting held between Netanyahu with the eastern Europe group, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, along with some of the Baltic States and the Czech Republic expressed only friendship. They are all affable towards Israel and it can’t be denied that in this new friendship there are several underlying factors: a wish to fight the past of communist hostility towards Israel, an appreciation for the strength and determination that this little country demonstrates within the sea of Islamic hate that surrounds it, and its ability to combat terrorism. Also, there is also great admiration for its sense of identity (that can erroneously be identified with proud nationalism), and for its contributions to both science and technology, as well as its strong economy.
While the diaspora expresses strong signs of concerns about the new Right in Europe, Israel wisely refrains from doing so, preferring to wait and see. It formerly expressed its shock and total refusal of ties to Haider’s Austria, but today seems ready to recognize that Kurz’s Austria isn’t the same.
This isn’t the first and only time when Israel and the diaspora have chosen different paths, and these differences can become dramatic when they relate to a core issue like anti-Semitism. For this reason, Israel, representing Judaism and world Jewry – and despite having a bitter relationship with Europe for quite some time – has a duty towards itself and the diaspora to evaluate carefully what dangers right-wing parties may pose to the Jews and Israel. It must differentiate between nations, choose wisely, and decide without rhetoric and prejudice who are Israel’s – and therefore the Jews – friends and enemies.
A basic question for a balanced and reasonable answer is to delve into the nature and the origins of this large shift to the Right.
My impression is that it has a lot to do with many phenomena that have nothing to do with a rise in Fascist and Nazi anti-Semitism. This shift is mostly tied to a series of practical questions connected to failures made by the European Union. Today, Jews are neither mentioned nor considered responsible for problems occurring on the continent as they were during the rise of genocidal Nazi-Fascism.
The way the new Right expresses itself as a populist critic to the traditional political parties is sometimes very disturbing and even vulgar, but this is not new in politics, and often has nothing to do with either the Right or Left. The Five Star Movement is a political party in Italy that can’t be defined as right-wing. Nonetheless, it’s one of the strongest populist forces in Europe today, and its vulgar anti-Semitic discourse is apparent. The Secretary of the Labour Party, James Corbyn, is more than a populist and has made disturbing remarks – first and foremost declaring his sympathy for Hizbullah and Hamas – and he is an overt anti-Semite, not a right-wing politician. Islamic immigrants’ anti-Semitism is exemplified by one of Ilan Halimi’s assassins: “I have killed my Jew,” he said.
What all the different right-wing parties have in common is that they are capitalizing on the following concerns: the future of the EU; immigration; the rise of European Islam; terrorism; and the EU’s character. What must be noted is that they became increasingly relevant during the wave of immigration from Syria that occurred in 2015. Their growth slowed down particularly in Holland and after Macron’s victory in France. However, right-wing – but not extreme – parties rose in other countries such as Austria. In this up and down, particularly in France, we don’t see much anti-Semitic rhetoric in their election campaigns. It remains a fringe issue, which only a few are willing to raise.
At its zenith in the 1930s, anti-Semites accused the Jews of being ruthless cosmopolitans, parasites of Western society, and secret enemies of the countries in which they lived, as well as exploiters of its riches. Today, they are considered by some as perhaps too Western, as critics of Europe’s mentality, which is globalist, pacifist, ideological, and with aims to create a world without borders and wars. Meanwhile, Israel is fighting, building a nation, proud of its identity, and constantly improving its self-defense.
The Jews are perceived as Israel’s “right arm” and therefore are accused of being nationalist, imperialist, colonialist, and militarist. Israel, and therefore the Jews in general, are considered by Europe’s mainstream ideology (not the right-wing) as the antithesis of a world without borders and of a pacifist, globalist, and internationalist system.
Therefore, the Jews’ demand for the right to their state, to their own identity, to self-defense (and therefore to war), is quite disturbing for the European mentality. The de-legitimization of Israel belongs more to the Left than the Right. The de-legitimization and incitement connected to left-wing anti-Semitism have not only become a major European problem but also has made Europe a difficult place for Jews to live.
The rise of the Afd in Germany, which is certainly one of the most serious cases that needs to be carefully considered, must be seen in the context of a strong anti-establishment movement that is currently sweeping across Europe, and which reached its peak in the UK’s refusal of the EU. Afd is meaningful because its growth happened in the country where anti-Semitism reached its most monstrous pinnacle. The danger is that the new nationalism will cause a revision of Germany’s historical memory.
But the Jews are not the enemies of those who protest the Euro, the EU’s expansion or its bloated bureaucracy. They are neither responsible for the failure of the EU’s open door immigration policy nor its generous aid distribution policy. Moreover, the Jews have nothing to do with the dramatic demographic decline of native Europeans and their fear that their cities and employment will be taken over by immigrants.
Old nationalisms have remerged because Europeans have become increasingly disillusioned not only with pan-European identity but also the EU’s refusal to consider Islam’s responsibility in the wave of violence that currently grips their continent. All of these reasons, together with the fear of terrorism, are more than enough to explain why right-wing parties are winning at the ballot box throughout Europe.
Will this lead to a new wave of anti-Semitism? My impression, holding to the fact that there are very different situations and each has to be considered as unique, the ideological side that nowadays fosters dangerous anti-Semitism in Europe doesn’t come from the Right, but instead from the Left.
It’s about time to examine the family album that we try so eagerly to forget: Marx, Proudhon, Lenin, Stalin, and afterward minor but still relevant people like Bruno Kreisky or Hugo Chavez. Their extreme anti-Jewish attitudes have mutated into anti-Israelism, many books (among them several of my own) have been written about this phenomenon. It became extremely aggressive in 2001 at the UN World Conference against Racism in Durban, where I personally witnessed as a journalist the turn of this event into an Israel hate-fest, friendly to Islamic extremism. There I witnessed a large procession marching behind posters of Osama Bin Laden. It was just days before 9-11. At that time, the “anti-racist camp” accused Israel of war crimes, genocide, racism, apartheid, humanitarian violations, etc.
This system of total misinformation became widespread and well organized. Within institutions, left-wing forms of anti-Semitism take the form of sophisticated political proposals that give the illusion of being “moderate.”
This “moderate” request has invaded the diplomatic sphere with the BDS campaign. Its intent isn’t that of damaging Israel economically as much as a powerful, worldwide attempt to delegitimize Israel as the State of the Jewish People. The education system, the cultural sector, the legal arena, the religious institutions, and the trade unions were invaded by the request hidden inside the BDS’s false moderation of the replacement of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. The de-legitimization of Israel is inspired by the idea that the Jews are horrible people who kill children (a new edition of the ancient blood libel), seek war and violence because of their inherently violent nature, conspire for world power and are ready to commit the most abominable crimes in order to secure the strength of their nation. I remember German author Gunther Grass declaring that Israel wanted to exterminate the Iranians, an ironic upside down view of reality, the same that transforms Israel’s efforts for peace while fighting against jihadist aggression into a warmongering attitude. Many important left-wing intellectuals have expressed overtly anti-Semitic views, and I don’t recall their political side ever being excluded from a relationship with Israel.
This camp’s anti-Semitism connects naturally to the Palestinian rejection of the Jews as a nation, which has affected Arab attitudes for the past 100 years, and today is spread through social media to millions of people throughout the world. The long-held culture of anti-Semitism, along with the Muslim’s increased presence in Europe, have led to murderous terrorist acts, particularly in France and Belgium. There are many cases where it has led to ferocious homicides, like the one of Ilan Halimi in Paris or that undertaken by Mohammed Merah in Toulouse.
This kind of anti-Semitism doesn’t have a direct relationship with Europe’s new right-wing parties. Instead, it’s left-wing anti-Semitism, which is exerting its power within European institutions and becoming increasingly dangerous. Public opinion, according to polls, doesn’t have much sympathy for Israel and legitimizes the EU’s continuous aggression vis-à-vis Israel. A Belgian, French, or Italian citizen’s feelings are ingrained within the EU’s political line when, for instance, it labels products from the West Bank. Therefore, they feel it’s legitimate to say, as they often do, that they prefer not to live next to a Jewish family.
Neo-Nazi and neo-Fascist hatred of the Jews is a minor problem without an ideological motor that can lift it to the heights of the extreme Left’s anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism.
This doesn’t relieve Israel from the responsibility it has towards all Jews throughout the world. Israel must ask the new parties, of course after a careful selection of its interlocutors, to toss anti-Semitism once and for all to the curb. This must be a prerequisite in order to engage with the Israeli government.
How Israel Should Respond to Europe’s Cowardice and Hypocrisy
The most striking event about the December 21, 2017, UN General Assembly vote that condemned President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital –despite the fact that it has been the capital of Israel for decades, and that of the Jewish people for 3,000 years – has been how the Europeans voted. Britain, France Germany, Italy, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Sweden and other “beacons of democracy” joined Iran, Russia, North Korea, and China in voting against the United States.
There were 128 votes against recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and only nine defended the decision, but 35 abstained, and 21 states sat on their hands. Therefore, 65 nations decided not to vote against the United States, President Trump, and Israel, and that is not a small number.
Furthermore, what must also be considered is that the EU chose, notwithstanding pressure from French President Emmanuel Macron, not to vote as a united front. Many of the continent’s eastern countries abstained, and one in particular, the Czech Republic, even expressed the desire to transfer its embassy to Jerusalem as well.
The European Union Is Not United
What is abundantly clear is that European unity is a farce, a fabricated political attitude, because there is not an important single issue on which France agrees with Germany or Germany thinks like Italy, or the Netherlands is close to Hungary. Disagreements over the continent’s policies about economy and immigration have created secessionist movements – the foremost example being Brexit.
Actually, the only issue where the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini can always expect European consensus is vis-à-vis Israel. The insistent, exaggerated intervention in the so-called “peace process” through a constant condemnation of Israel’s “occupation” and of any building in the territories has always been voted upon unanimously.
While attacking Israel, Europe takes a strange stance insisting that its action is just a public palliative for some Israeli illness. The ambassadors of European countries repeat privately that their condemnations of Israel do not inflict serious damage to Israel’s economy, nor do they interfere with good economic relations. They ask that Israel avoid dramatizing the European actions. But the continent’s anti-Israel acts do inflict damage and create tension between the Israel and the continent.
Europe attempts to dance at two weddings simultaneously. This can be seen in the public diplomacy of the new EU Ambassador to Israel Emanuele Giaufret. While he was writing his optimistic op-ed in the Jerusalem Post on December 24, 2017, The Real Story of the EU-Israel Relationship,5 the EU sponsored an art exhibition in Tel Aviv, which featured the works of Palestinian photographers who documented “life under occupation.”
This attitude, the diplomatic refrain on the sins of Israel repeated in conferences, documents, congresses, and assembly meetings is very dangerous. Moreover, the continuous substrata of prejudice that Europe applies to Israel are the worst damage that can be done because it supports an alienated public opinion that becomes very extreme when it intersects the ultra-left or Muslim communities. As a matter of fact, Europe promotes Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) and terrorism. (For the relation between the two, see Dan Diker’s study, BDS Unmasked.6) Europe’s ideological attitude lacks the sense of history, balance, and modesty that a complicated process like this should inspire.
It is crazy to see how Europe proudly proposes, again and again, the policies of concessions that have repeatedly failed. Europe’s contempt for Israel, in general, incites the anti-Semites and Islamic terrorists who use the issue of Israel to justify more aggressive actions toward their own citizens.
How Can This Vicious Circle Be Broken?
Today, we can find noble inspiration not only from the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, but also from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, because both of them have defended and promoted the truth of their positions in front of very aggressive audiences without being intimidated.
Theirs is the diplomacy of truth, just the opposite of the traditional model. Haley demonstrated from day one of her appointment the resolve to break the United States’ silence as the useful idiot among a majority of aggressive and deceitful states at the UN. She exposed their real attitude: “You are not a friend of democracy, you are not a friend of freedom,” she said while declaring that her country was “taking names,” namely, taking a severe attitude to those who show disrespect and enmity to the United States and Israel.
Netanyahu has gone to great lengths and demonstrated incredible courage in confronting countless attacks at the UN and the P5+1 JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran, ceaselessly denouncing the onslaught of Iranian lies and drive to become a domineering world power through the acquisition of nuclear weapons and by sponsoring terrorism.
Wall Street Journal writers recently recalled7 how U.S. Ambassador to the UN Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s forcibly rebutted and condemned a 1975 resolution passed by the UN declaring Zionism a form of racism. Like Moynihan, Haley addressed the UN General Assembly by announcing that the United States will not be an accomplice to a decision that undermines the credibility of the UN itself. She outlined simply and very straightforwardly the truth: the basis of her criticism was the organization’s “disproportionate focus on Israel.” Haley then stated the consequences: “We have a legitimate expectation that our good will is recognized and respected. When a nation is singled out for the attack by this organization, that nation is disrespected. What’s more, that nation is asked to pay for the ‘privilege’ of being disrespected.”
Following Haley’s Example
The option of speaking the truth is the only way for Israel to establish a new relationship with Europe. European leaders showed that they could easily vote for the worst lies about Israel (in the General Assembly but also in other UN bodies.) UNESCO, for instance, regularly votes on resolutions which deny any Jewish ties to the Western Wall, an Islamic heritage site, in UNESCO’s eyes. These resolutions have secured important backers such as France’s Emmanuel Macron, Germany’s Angela Merkel, the United Kingdom’s Theresa May, and Italy’s Paolo Gentilon. Their voting against Israel and choosing an absurd lie like denying Jerusalem ties to the Jewish People and Israel deny reason and history. And then they feign friendship to the Jewish state.
Israel should follow Amb. Haley’s example and “take names” and sully European policies. It is evident that for the next few years several European countries will work against open and friendly relations with Israel. But other countries in Europe are open to dialogue and admire Israel as a democratic and flourishing nation, able to defend itself albeit facing many pressing problems.
Israel must pick and choose, exploring not so much the moral attitude of those countries as much as their interests and these countries’ fear of their Islamic constituents. Look at the fact that Emmanuel Macron, the leader who called for “unity” from the European nations that abstained at the UN, spent several weeks in December 2017 in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar where he signed contracts amounting to 12 billion Euros – “lavish contracts, apologetic words to Islamists, repentance of the French colonial past, and silence on anti-Semitism and radical Islam,” according to Il Foglio’s Giulio Meotti.8
All of the countries cited here are directly influenced in their attitude toward Israel by the presence of a growing, uncontrollable Muslim presence whose hatred for Israel and the Jews is one of their main issues. But national leaders absolutely refuse to define the Islamic presence as a threat or even a problem. More than 1,000 cars were torched in France on New Year’s Eve this year, but rarely is the ethnicity of the vandals mentioned. Similarly, the origins of perpetrators of large-scale sexual assaults in European cities often are not revealed.
Therefore at first glance, all the countries with a high percentage of immigrants are tangentially anti-Israel. When Jewish Ilan Halimi was kidnapped in France in 2006 by a group of Islamic thugs who tortured him for three weeks and killed him, the police refused to recognize their anti-Semitic motives, focusing instead on criminal intent. Incidentally, all members of the gang that kidnapped Halimi have been released from prison.9
The EU always has feigned solidarity after any attack against the Jews or any extreme action against Israel by stating that they won’t tolerate anti-Semitism and are actively fighting it. Israel must be very clear on this point by presenting an updated definition of anti-Semitism, to include, beyond its traditional characteristic of “Jew-bashing,” anti-Israeli incitement, delegitimization, intrusion, and financing. Also, Jewish communities must be sensitized about this issue, as they rarely talk about it in detail.
Anti-Semitism on the international stage must become an issue widely discussed since the hatred is part of the daily activities and agendas of the right- and left-wing anti-Semites who expand their prejudice to the issue of Israel. Truth must be told: the mayor of Berlin must be defined as an anti-Semite when he allows Hizbullah members and sympathizers to demonstrate in his city’s streets and shout “Death to Jews!” The retreat from UNESCO’s biased decisions has been a good step against anti-Semitism, but now another diplomatic issue has come to the fore: Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Israel should “take names” when Europe insists on Israeli concessions as the only path to peace and Israel must return to the 1967 borders. Israel must stand up to European threats of sanctions of the Jewish products from the territories because they are imagined to be obstacles to peace. The Israeli side must transform and tell the truth: the Palestinian’s “No” to peace is the main obstacle to progress and Israel must repeat it and spell it out everywhere, especially in diplomatic forums.
The successes of Israel in avoiding war while being constantly attacked inside and outside of its territory must be highlighted as an incredible pacifist achievement. Israel has maintained peace despite threats from Syria, Hizbullah, ISIS, Iran, and Hamas at its borders. It has lifted its GDP by 4.3 percent, more than that of the UK or Italy. Its scientific, high tech, and artistic achievements are a tribute to its vibrant society. Its democracy and humanitarian attitude is evident everywhere, for instance, in treating thousands of Syrians injured in war without any reward. Israel helps Asian and African countries to solve their economic, water, and health issues. These values and achievements must be highlighted in the international arena. To the confused world, Israel must portray itself as a winner and a just nation on the right side of history
Israel’s message must be: “They lose if they refuse us.” This is evident in Israel’s resilience to terrorism when Europe has had to find its way in the face the growing terrorism threats.
Europe’s lost sense of reality has dangerously been overtaken by ideological positions. During the weeks following Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem, the Arab and the Palestinian streets were relatively quiet while the European leaders shouted and screamed that the Middle East was going to explode. Actually, Europe’s “sky is falling” warning exhorted its citizens to demonstrate and riot in London, Paris, Berlin, and Stockholm against Israel and the United States. In Gothenburg Sweden, a synagogue was firebombed; two days later a chapel in Malmo was hit. In Amsterdam, a Jewish restaurant was attacked by a man shouting “Allahu Akbar.”
If Europe doesn’t want to recognize the anti-Semitism of its Muslim population, the problem will not go away. The lax attitude toward violence and extremism will go unchallenged, and this will certainly result in increased terrorist attacks throughout Europe. The expanding BDS movement with its extremist connections is another indication of European indecision. Israel cannot ignore Europe’s financing of Palestinian groups within Israel like Adalah and Massowa that propagate hatred and delegitimization of Israel. These problems have widely been scrutinized by organizations like NGO Monitor, and must still be confronted.
Israel Must Be Clear and Loud
Israel must make its demands on Europe: recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, combat incitement and anti-Semitism, halt the financing of many anti-Israel enterprises, ban the textbooks that encourage incitement in schools, end the EU’s illegal building of Palestinian houses in the territories, refuse boycotts or discrimination of Israeli products, deny trade and common scientific work with countries that discriminate against Israel, and promote relationships with those sincerely friendly toward the Jewish state.
The European Union is still made of states, and differentiation is nowadays more and more required. Some want Israel’s help in the field of immigration, terrorism, scientific promotion, and medical advancement.
Another issue that must be highlighted is Europe’s attitude toward Iran. European positions vary from the cynical attitude of EU Foreign Policy head Federica Mogherini who seeks recognition of her success in reaching the P5+1 JCPOA agreement, and those who realize that Iran’s imperialistic ballistic missile efforts are interlinked with its lucrative trade contracts.
When Macron was initially elected in France in May 2017, he seemed like the new young star that could bring hope to a process of friendship with a reinforced, more courageous Europe. Actually, he has shown himself to be the king of old diplomacy, failing to understand that the strength of any diplomacy today must be predicated on the choice of a “diplomacy based on truth,” tough as it may seem. That kind of diplomacy, not the old lies, is the only one, which can truly pave a path to peace.
1 Israel´s view of Europe-Israeli relations, September 2017, http://www.kas.de/wf/doc/kas_49967-1522-2-30.pdf?170905170514
7 Wall Street Journal, “Next Year in Jerusalem”https://www.wsj.com/articles/next-year-in-jerusalem-1513984384
8 Gatestone Institute, https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/11599/france-macron-arab-world
9 Le Figaro (France), Dix ans après, que sont devenus les bourreaux d’Ilan Halimi? February 13, 2016.