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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

European-Israeli Relations: Between Confusion and Change? Part I

Filed under: Europe and Israel

Where do the relations between Europe and Israel stand and how will they develop? In a preceding book, Israel and Europe: An Expanding Abyss? I wondered whether Europe’s political attitude would also impact relations in areas such as trade, science, culture, and sport.

Since then less than two years have passed. In the dynamics of contemporary world politics, realities, perceptions, interactions, and prospects evolve rapidly. This not only pertains to the Middle East but to Europe as well. Hence it is difficult to assess whether shifts in European-Israeli relations are permanent or short-term.

Forecasting has become even more uncertain in a globalizing environment. How does one mitigate this uncertainty in a book that photographs a situation at a given moment in time but also analyzes an evolving relationship? One helpful approach is to identify some key issues that can serve as indicators for following important changes in the future.

Besides change, political dynamics often create confusion. For many years a key Israeli claim against Europe has concerned the latter’s frequent double political standards toward Israel. This accusation is based on comparisons with how Europe judges itself, how it acts toward Israel’s enemies, and how it regards third parties. Several interviews in this book provide insights on these major aspects of European-Israeli relations.

This book was concluded shortly after the end of the war in Lebanon in summer 2006, and there is now even greater uncertainty about current interactions. The Lebanon confrontation adds several new sensors for those following the European-Israeli relationship. These include how the European attitude toward Hizballah will evolve and how the UN troops in Lebanon will function: will they defuse tensions in the area or add further strain to the European-Israeli relationship? In addition to existing sensors such as how Europe’s attitude toward Hamas evolves, these may become powerful indicators of the course of the relationship.

In the background hovers an even more complex question: to what extent does Europe’s behavior toward Israel manifest problems in Europe’s own identity and values? Although this introduction and some interviewees occasionally refer to this issue, the subject in its entirety is beyond the scope of this book.

Has the Abyss Widened?

The preceding book was completed at the end of 2004. A rapid way to understand part of the dynamics of European-Israeli relations is to read it with the knowledge and perspectives of 2006. This sheds light on how the views of the two protagonists have changed while the global and Middle Eastern environments have mutated.

The title of the previous book begs the question of whether the abyss between Israel and Europe has widened since that time. This invites another question: what indicators should be used for this purpose? Although some were mentioned above, it may well be that confusion will become a dominant aspect of the changes in political discourse. If so, it may make assessing the “state of the abyss” extremely difficult.

The following pages describe the main recent political changes in Israel and Europe and analyze their possible significance for the future of the relationship. Some attention is also given to major transformations in other societies that influence the Israeli-European interactions.


One major development since the beginning of 2005 has been Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, including the destruction of its Jewish villages and the dislocation of their Jewish population. As time passes and in particular after the armed confrontation in Lebanon, it appears that Israel has again given up territories in return for less hostile publicity for a limited period. This seems another example of Israel’s de facto policy of the past decades: trading territory for time. The future will tell whether that is indeed the case.

Both the social and economic costs of the disengagement were substantial. Moreover, for over a year since it was carried out, many more Qassam rockets than before have been fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip.

Now, in addition to the civilians of Sderot, those of Ashkelon are also in the rockets’ range. Meanwhile the Palestinian terrorists are building up their infrastructure for the next battle. Israel’s head of domestic intelligence Yuval Diskin said that in the year since the disengagement and the transfer of control of the Egypt-Gaza border to Egypt, large quantities of weaponry have been smuggled into Gaza from Sinai.[i] Egypt has been ineffective in controlling this border on its side.

There has, however, been a sharp decline in Palestinian suicide and other bombings. Some Palestinian organizations have largely maintained a ceasefire while others have continued their attacks. Israel has reacted with incursions into Gaza that have substantially diminished the number of rockets fired.

Ze’ev Schiff of Haaretz, probably Israel’s most prominent military commentator, supported the withdrawal from Gaza. In an article a few months after it had occurred, however, he wrote that escalation in the Gaza area was inevitable. In the war against the rockets, a number of the government’s assessments have proved wrong. These include the assumption that the Palestinian Authority would take action on the ground against the rocket launchings. Schiff adds that the Egyptians have not kept their promise to take action against the Qassams.[ii]

The Breakup of the Israeli Political Landscape

The unilateral withdrawal from Gaza had major domestic consequences.  One was the breakup of the Israeli political landscape and new elections. If one had rather arbitrarily to decide when the new election campaign started, 7 August 2005 is a good choice. On that day the then finance minister Benjamin Netanyahu resigned from the cabinet over the upcoming disengagement. This move clarified his intention to battle then-prime minister Ariel Sharon for the Likud leadership and if successful to replace him as prime minister.

Immediately rumors began that, if defeated, Sharon might leave the Likud and start his own party. Poll data were very positive for him whether he stayed in or left the Likud. The battle within the party initially focused on whether to advance the primaries for the Likud leadership. Sharon won the vote on this at the end of September.

At the beginning of November, Netanyahu and several other Likud members voted against ministerial appointments proposed by Sharon. A few days later Amir Peretz surprisingly defeated Shimon Peres in the elections for Labor Party chairman. Under Peretz’s leadership later that month Labor left the government, which triggered new elections. On 21 November, Sharon asked President Moshe Katsav to dissolve the Knesset.

That same day Sharon announced that he was leaving the Likud to form a new centrist party, taking about one-third of its Knesset members with him. Subsequently, Peres and two other Labor MKs joined this new party, Kadima.

The Elections

Kadima held a comfortable lead in the polls throughout the entire campaign. Sharon first suffered a stroke in December and was totally incapacitated by a second one in early January 2006. His deputy, Ehud Olmert, took over. Toward the end of January, the terrorist organization Hamas won the elections in the Palestinian Authority. Many wonder how much Israel’s disengagement contributed to their success by fostering the perception in Palestinian circles that tenacity would help them prevail without making concessions.

On 28 March, the Israeli elections were held. Of the 120 Knesset seats, Kadima obtained 29 and the Labor Party 19. The major loser of the elections, the Likud, received only 12 seats.

Thereafter Olmert repeatedly declared that his government would undertake a further disengagement on the West Bank. On 12 July 2006, unprovoked attacks by Hizballah from Lebanon led to sharp Israeli reactions and an armed confrontation that would end in a ceasefire on 18 August.

There was no all-out winner in this conflict. Judgment of the outcome is heavily influenced by prior expectations and the criteria for measuring success. Assessments of who won may also evolve over time. The conflict raised many questions that cannot yet be answered. Perceptions vary as to what the war achieved. Many in Israel have sharply criticized both the political and military leadership’s performance during the war. This has also created uncertainty about the coalition government’s survival.

As for relations with the European Union, Israel had expected a lastingly improved understanding of its position after its disengagement from Gaza. That did not materialize.


Some significant political changes in Europe result from democratic elections. Governments as well as prime ministers come and go, gain or lose strength. These developments influence Europe’s positions including those on the Middle East.

In Europe’s larger countries, one important change has been the election of the Christian Democrat Angela Merkel as chancellor of Germany and the departure from politics of her predecessor, the Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder. The two major German parties now govern together. Interviewee Josef Joffe, editor of the German weekly Die Zeit, defines Schröder’s attitude toward Israel as “aloofness or almost coldness.” Nevertheless, he has supported Israel on important matters. Already in her early days, Merkel gave very positive signals both to Israel and the Jewish people.

Another important political change took place in Italy where the Forza Italia-led right-of-center coalition was defeated by a left-of-center one. Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was especially friendly to Israel, and so was Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini. Interviewee Giuliano Ferrara, editor of the daily Il Foglio, observes: “As leader of a postfascist party [Fini] needed Israeli legitimization.” The new Italian prime minister, Romano Prodi, has an ambiguous attitude toward Israel. The largest party in his coalition, the DS (Democrats of the Left), is mainly composed of former communists. Their sympathies have traditionally been with the Palestinians.

In the United Kingdom, Labour Party leader and Prime Minister Tony Blair, a strong supporter of Israel in the Lebanon conflict, has maintained his post despite increasing criticism in his party. His authority has, however, been eroded by difficult internal battles within the party on domestic policies, and his image has been damaged by the development of the Iraq war and a variety of scandals concerning his associates and party. His departure from office is now expected in the first half of 2007.

In France, after the defeat of the European Constitution in May 2005, Prime Minister Jean Pierre Raffarin was replaced by Dominique de Villepin. The latter’s popularity declined rapidly. President Jacques Chirac also has a low status in French public opinion and is unlikely to run again in the 2007 presidential elections.

The Rejected EU Constitution

Other events have been even more important for Europe’s future. Several also indirectly affect its behavior toward Israel. By the end of 2004 the EU was a near-continent on the way to greater integration. Its proposed constitution had been prepared after long discussions and was expected to be ratified. This was supposed to lead to a more unified and powerful Europe.

In May and June 2005, however, 55 percent of French voters and 62 percent of Dutch voters, respectively, rejected the proposed constitution. This occurred despite the overwhelming support for the proposal by the government and most opposition parties in both countries. It was an indicator of the gap that had developed between the political classes and the population.

The rejection of the constitution by two of the EU’s founding members has weakened the Union’s overall status. All indications are that the majority of voters in the two countries still oppose such a constitution unless it is substantially changed. New efforts to pass a revised proposal will have to wait several years. Meanwhile the EU finds itself in a period of confusion and Europessimism. Some observers even wonder whether Europe’s good years might be over.

Turkey and the EU

The constitution’s defeat reflects mixed attitudes toward the EU itself. Polls also indicate that many Europeans consider the EU inefficient.

There have been several consequences of the constitution’s defeat. France’s status in the EU was harmed. Other developments there, such as the autumn 2005 riots in which much property was burned, and intermittent lower-level violence since then, have enhanced the impression that France, rather than being the leader of the EU, will become a country beset with problems.

Another important result of the constitution’s rejection is that voices against Turkey becoming a full member of the EU have become louder and more frequent.[iii] One consistent opponent of Turkey’s entry has been interviewee Frits Bolkestein, a former Dutch EU commissioner. He gives three reasons for his position. First, Turkey is too big, too poor, and too different from the EU. Second, if Turkey becomes a member it will be followed by additional countries. And finally, all polls show a majority of Europeans opposing Turkish membership.

Europe’s Muslim Minorities

Other European developments may influence future attitudes toward Israel. Over the past two years European awareness has increased that parts of its Muslim minorities pose a threat to their societies, which takes different forms in different countries. Terrorism is the most noxious and visible one.

The London suicide bombings in July 2005 highlighted new aspects of this issue. Like the 11 March 2004 attacks in Madrid, they targeted civilians at random. Yet they differed in that they were not executed by immigrants but by Muslims born in Britain-with the exception of one who came as a baby-and from seemingly integrated families. Several had visited Muslim countries, however, and apparently had absorbed their influence. The number of British murdered in one day in London exceeded that of Israelis killed by Palestinian terrorists in the whole of 2005.

Although the London attacks were the most blatant case of European Islamist terrorism, there were other related developments as well. The November 2004 murder of the Dutch media maker Theo van Gogh in the Netherlands was followed by more than a hundred attacks mainly against Muslim institutions and individuals.

In the Netherlands several politicians and intellectuals need permanent protection because of the murderous threats of extreme Muslims. A number of dissenting Muslims in the EU have been attacked or are regularly threatened by other Muslims. There is constant news in Europe about suspected terrorists. Court cases against terrorism suspects are also underway in several countries. Interviewee Rafael Bardaji of the Spanish FAES think-tank notes that the perpetrators of the Madrid bombings had many contacts with religious leaders and other Muslims abroad.

How Violent Will Some Europeans Become?

Many Europeans are beginning to understand that it is very difficult to protect oneself against Islamist terrorism. Even increased ethnic profiling-opposed by many-is no longer a safeguard as terrorist organizations try to recruit converts. For instance, a female Belgian Muslim convert carried out a suicide bombing in Iraq at the end of 2005.[iv] At the same time, there are indications of a rise in right-wing violence and possible terrorism from this direction.

The key question is less how many Europeans will get killed in terrorist attacks, but rather how many Europeans will get alarmed or even violent. One among many questions here is whether a harsher European perception of parts of the Muslim world will influence the European narrative of the Middle East and, in particular, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The problematic aspects of radical minorities in the European Muslim communities take many forms. These go far beyond the small but dangerous group of potential terrorists and other active radicals. The number of sympathizers with these is significant. A YouGov poll for the Daily Telegraphafter the London suicide bombings found 6 percent of British Muslims saying these were fully justified.

Only 73 percent said they would inform the police if they knew of someone planning a terrorist attack,[v] meaning that at least three hundred thousand adults would not. In comparison, when terrorists of the Red Army faction were active in Germany, it was commonly estimated that only a few thousand people would not inform the authorities if they knew their hiding places.

Also problematic regarding the Muslim minorities are the substantial numbers who reject the basic values of European culture, however diluted these may be. Not surprisingly, then, parts of the second and third generations of the immigrants refuse to integrate. Some do not even properly learn the language of the country in which they apparently wish to continue living. They thereby set themselves apart from almost all other citizens.

Given the large numbers of Muslims in Europe-an estimated six million in France alone-these problems cannot be ignored. Under any circumstances it would have been difficult to integrate in a few decades so many foreigners whose culture is so alien to that of Europe. Perhaps the best indicator of how remote the perceptions of many European Muslims are from both European ones and reality concerns the ethnicity of the attackers on 11 September 2001.

Fifty-six percent of British Muslims do not think Arabs carried out the attack, and only 17 percent think they did. The respective figures for France are 46 percent and 48 percent; for Germany, 44 percent and 35 percent; and for Spanish Muslims, 35 percent and 33 percent.[vi]

European Xenophobia

It is not only because of their attitude toward the dominant culture that parts of the Muslim communities in Europe are difficult to integrate. Another impediment is the substantial, deeply rooted European xenophobia, whose most continuous visible manifestation over the centuries has been anti-Semitism.

Negative perceptions of Islam and Muslims in Europe are gradually increasing. A June 2006 Pew Global Attitudes Survey found that 82 percent of Germans are concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism in their country, as are 77 percent of the British, 76 percent of the French, and 66 percent of the Spanish regarding their respective countries.[vii]

In May 2006, researchers of the Allensbach Institute reported that German perceptions of Islam have substantially hardened in recent times. This study found that 83 percent of respondents associated Islam with fanaticism (compared to 75 percent in 2004). Seventy-one percent saw it as intolerant (66 percent in 2004), 62 percent saw it as backward (49 percent in 2004), and 60 percent saw it as undemocratic (52 percent in 2004). Only 8 percent of the survey participants viewed Islam as a peaceful religion.[viii]

By the end of August 2006, a YouGov poll for the Daily Telegraph found that 53 percent of those surveyed in Britain felt themselves threatened by Islam. Five years earlier the figure had been 32 percent. Only 16 percent believed that “practically all British Muslims are peaceful, law-abiding citizens who deplore terrorist acts as much as anyone else,” compared to 23 percent a year before. When asked whether they believed that “a large proportion of British Muslims feel no sense of loyalty to this country and are prepared to condone or even carry out acts of terrorism,” 18 percent said yes compared to 10 percent a year earlier.[ix]

For many reasons, Europe has no solution for the minority-related problems of its own creation. One is Europe’s identity vacuum. Another is the related decline in European self-confidence and increase in confusion.

The Ahmadinejad Affair

Recent years have offered much additional proof of Europe’s political weakness. A typical case concerned the actions of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. With the election of the then mayor of Teheran in June 2005 as the country’s president, Iran took an even more radical turn.

Iran represents multiple threats to all humanity. Exporting terrorism is one. Its planned development of nuclear weapons is the most universally threatening. As so often, Israel and the Jews have become an indicator of the intentions of those who pose major dangers to many others.

At a conference called “World without Zionism” at the Interior Ministry in Teheran on 26 October 2005, Ahmadinejad quoted Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the radically fundamentalist Iranian government: “This regime that is occupying Quds [Jerusalem] must be eliminated from the pages of history.” Ahmadinejad added: “We must understand the depth of the disgrace imposed on us by the enemy, until our holy hatred expands continuously and strikes like a wave.”

Ahmadinejad also told the hundreds of students present to shout the slogan: “Death to Israel.” Other speakers at that event were terrorist leaders Hassan Nasrallah of Hizballah and Khaled Mash’al of Hamas.[x]

Noticing Genocidal Calls

Whereas previous genocidal statements by Iranian authorities had gone largely unnoticed, the many European and other Western condemnations in the Ahmadinejad case indicated that there is now awareness of the danger of such calls.[xi]

Reactions, however, remained almost exclusively verbal. Not a single Western country recalled its ambassador from Iran. European spokesmen often claim that human rights are a prime value that defines European identity. The reactions to the Iranian genocidal statements do not bear this out.

The only country where the reaction was more substantial was Italy, where a torchlight protest march took place on 3 November near the Iranian embassy in Rome. Senior politicians from all government and opposition parties, with the exception of the Rifondazione communist party, took part in the demonstration.[xii]

Ferrara, who organized this unique initiative, says he felt it “a political, cultural, and civil duty to organize a protest against Ahmadinejad’s call for genocide. I wanted this demonstration to have a simple goal: to proclaim that we uphold Israel’s right to exist and object to a head of state who denies this.”

Yet Ferrara’s initiative was not followed elsewhere. If there were demonstrations at all, they were minor ones organized by Jews. The lesson seems clear: whatever murderous statements are made by major actors in the Muslim world against the Jews or Israel, the reactions of the West, and in particular the Europeans, will remain feeble. The reasons are probably multiple, including oil and trade interests as well as general apathy.

Blair was one of the few exceptions. When visiting Israel in September 2006, he said: “I think for a president of a country to say they want to wipe another country off the face of the earth and at the same time he’s trying to acquire a nuclear weapons capability-if we don’t get worried about that future historians will raise a few questions about us and our judgment.”[xiii]

Gold for Chocolate

Ahmadinejad further tested the European attitude. Having gotten away without much problem with his repeated calls for genocide against Israel, he attacked the Jews by denying the Holocaust. Once again there were only verbal condemnations from the West. Ahmadinejad then said the matter should be investigated and started to promote a Holocaust deniers’ conference in Teheran. He also proclaimed that the Palestinians were the real victims of the Holocaust. Although several Holocaust deniers visited Teheran, Ahmadinejad has not so far succeeded in organizing a conference.

Ahmadinejad likely realizes by now that the West, and particularly Europe, is either incapable or unwilling to go beyond words. He may regard the genocide calls and Holocaust denial as useful tests. He could well conclude that little will happen if Iran goes ahead with its nuclear development program, officially for energy purposes, most probably for military ones.

This issue concerns Europe directly because Iran is also developing missiles that can reach parts of its territory. A state with a jihadi government without any scruples may pose a more dangerous threat to Europe than did the fading Soviet Union in the last decade of its existence.

Even if many European governments and their officials have difficulty understanding the worldview and mindset of radical Muslims, they recognize that a terrorism-promoting state developing a nuclear bomb constitutes a problem. Yet they apparently have not learned the World War II lessons that appeasement permits the aggressor to grow incrementally stronger until finally action must be taken from a weakened position.

As Iran went ahead with its nuclear development, Europe was unable to accomplish much more than drawn-out proposals for negotiations. The European soft-power concept produced no results. In May 2006, several European countries mentioned the possibility of offering Iran a light-water reactor if it ceased uranium enrichment. Ahmadinejad’s reaction was to mock Europe, saying: “How dare you tell our people to give up its gold in return for chocolate.”[xiv]

So far Ahmadinejad seems to have read Europe well. Negotiations have led nowhere and by mid-October 2006 the West had not yet managed to obtain a condemnation of Iran in the UN Security Council. France has proposed to continue discussions with Iran. As a further provocation Ahmadinejad proposed to hold a television debate on world affairs with President Bush.[xv]

Ahmadinejad’s Travels

Ahmadinejad can conclude from his first year in office that he has been successful internationally. Far from being a leper, he has been welcomed with honors in several countries. China, a member of the Security Council, was happy to receive him. When visiting Indonesia he asserted Iran’s right to nuclear energy and claimed that Israel would be destroyed. Thousands of students cheered him.

The high point of his international activity was the invitation to address dozens of heads of state at the opening of the seventh African Union Conference in Gambia in late June 2006. In July, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela embraced him in Teheran. Chavez became an ally, accusing Israel of behaving like Nazis in Lebanon and subsequently breaking off diplomatic relations with Israel.

Germany was saved the embarrassment of deciding whether to let Ahmadinejad visit during the football World Cup. He had said he would only come if Iran reached the second round, which it did not. In September 2006, he attacked the United States at the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Whatever the West achieves in terms of peacefully halting Iran’s nuclear development is far more likely to be America’s accomplishment than Europe’s. A very useful indicator of the development of Europe’s willpower will be its future attitude toward Iran.

The Mohammed-Cartoon Affair

There were other recent indications of Europe’s current mindset. Especially revealing was the Mohammed-cartoon controversy. In September 2005, the Danish daily Jyllands-posten published twelve cartoons with the Prophet Mohammed as the subject. The paper reacted to the fact that a Danish author could not find anybody to illustrate his biography of Mohammed.[xvi] The Arab ambassadors in Copenhagen protested. A debate began in Denmark, but it faded rapidly and the matter seemed closed.

The cartoon conflict was rekindled when several Danish imams toured the Arab world to agitate against Denmark. A small Norwegian Christian paper,Magazinet, reprinted the cartoons on 10 January 2006. On 26 January, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador from Denmark and Arabs launched a widespread boycott of Danish products. Early in February, various European papers published some of the cartoons to underline their support for freedom of the press.[xvii]

Throughout February the cartoons sparked violence in many Muslim and several other countries. Several European embassies and missions were burned down or attacked. For many weeks Danish citizens had to be apprehensive even when visiting non-Arab Muslim countries.

It now appears that the Western world has been the loser in this conflict. The logical reaction of the EU would have been to condemn the anti-European violence in Muslim countries and stress that Europe upholds freedom of the press. It could also have said unofficially that the Muslim world was full of the most vicious hate propaganda and should clean its own house before complaining about others.

The cartoon controversy could have been an occasion for Europe to show its strength. The EU, however, showed its weakness by issuing a statement expressing its regrets that Muslims had found the cartoons offensive.[xviii] The cartoon controversy became a further indicator of how European countries struggle to define their identity and values, how difficult it is for them to show solidarity with each other, and how easily they can be intimidated.

Noting Internal and External Weakness

This European weakness was noted both abroad and internally. Seeing that the Europeans were on the defensive, the organized Muslim world decided to push for more. The world body of Muslim states, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) expressed its dissatisfaction with the EU’s statement.[xix]

Patrick Sookhdeo, adviser to the British army, said most British Muslim clerics believed that the British government, which was very critical of the countries in which the cartoons were published, had capitulated to Islam. They believed, he added, that in future, if a spokesman for British Muslims threatened violence to other religious groups, the British government would cave in again.[xx]

The Mohammed-cartoon controversy had nothing to do with Israel or the Jews. Yet they were almost inevitably drawn into this conflict between many Muslims and the West. One major aspect of this was when Western media started to contrast Muslim sensitivity about the caricatures with the stream of far more offensive anti-Semitic cartoons published in Muslim media. A number of demonstrations in the Muslim world against Western countries included Israel as a target.[xxi]

Terrorist Organizations

The EU’s attitude toward terrorist organizations is yet another indicator of its willpower, or lack of it. When in January 2006 Hamas won democratic elections in the Palestinian Authority, the EU decided it would not have relations with it. Some breaches of this position came rapidly in Sweden and, outside the EU, in Norway. After Israel’s incursions into Gaza in response to rocket fire, the EU stance became somewhat confused. Later, for some time the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was overshadowed by the Lebanon war.

An additional test for the EU will come if the Hamas regime is replaced by a Palestinian unity government. Will the EU be willing to dilute demands that the Palestinian government must renounce violence, recognize Israel, and accept previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians?

Although Hamas is on the EU’s list of terrorist organizations, Hizballah is not. In March 2005, the European Parliament adopted a resolution stating there was abundant evidence that Hizballah was a terrorist organization, and European ministers should list it as such. This has not happened. Interviewee Rijk van Dam, a Dutch former EU parliamentarian, says that three EU member states oppose putting Hizballah on this list: France, Spain, and Ireland.

Markus Kotzur, a German international law professor, asserted that Hizballah meets 100 percent the criteria for a terror organization under international law. He suggests that the organization fails to appear on the EU’s terrorist-organizations list solely on “political, diplomatic and tactical grounds.”[xxii]

At a public meeting in Brussels expressing solidarity with Israel, Jehudi Kinar, Israel’s ambassador to Belgium accused the European governments “who during two years had not the courage to include Hizballah on the list of terror organizations despite the clear links between this organization and terrorist acts such as the bombing against a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994.”[xxiii]

Future trends in EU attitudes toward Hamas and Hizballah will be further indicators of the evolvement of Europe’s mindset.

The Truth Emerges

With time more proof emerges of the EU’s dubious behavior in the Middle East. There is much evidence that Israeli accusations about the Palestinian abuse of EU funds for corruption and terrorism were correct. Arafat received major monies from the EU that were intended for the Palestinian people. As Van Dam observes, allegations of misuse have also been confirmed by Palestinian sources.

Interviewee Efraim Halevy, former Israeli ambassador to the EU, relates how he was in EU Commission vice-president Manuel Marin’s office when the latter received a call from the German foreign minister complaining that some funds for the Palestinians had been transferred to the PA’s general account rather than to Arafat’s private one.

Yet another indication of the EU’s ambivalence toward terrorism was its treatment of Arafat’s death and its aftermath. Former Israeli diplomat Freddy Eytan wrote about the honor Chirac paid to Arafat’s mortal remains: “Chirac went far beyond the requirements of protocol. It would be difficult to find in modern times another head of a democratic country who paid such homage to a warrior chief of a virtual state.” Eytan added: “Jacques Chirac bowed before Arafat’s remains…. When watching this major homage of France to Arafat, one could ask on what field of honor this so-called Palestinian hero had fallen? The only thing lacking was for the president of the French Republic to confer on Arafat the Legion of Honor.”[xxiv]

Arafat and the Palestinian movement he headed have been leading innovators of terrorism. The Palestinians have for decades made a major contribution to terrorism’s worldwide expansion. Arafat was a war criminal by any standards. He authorized payments to suicide bombers who killed Israeli civilians. Chirac and many other European leaders gave homage to the man who fostered terrorism more than anybody else. UN secretary-general Kofi Annan went even further, laying a wreath on Arafat’s grave on his way to the opening of a new Holocaust museum in Israel.[xxv]

During the Lebanon war, Chirac called the U.S. opposition to his proposed terms for a ceasefire resolution “immoral.” Halevy recalls that Chirac admired the late president of Syria, Hafez Assad, a mass murderer whose victims included tens of thousands of Syrian civilians. This introduction of the term morality into the Lebanon-war discourse was a further expression of the French president’s ambiguous mindset.

The Lebanon War

Analyzing the EU’s attitude toward the Lebanon war requires first recalling how it started. Hizballah attacked Israel on 12 July, killing three Israeli soldiers and abducting two others. Five more soldiers were killed in the effort to free the two who were captured. Hizballah also fired Katyusha rockets at Israel from Lebanon. On 13 July Israel reacted massively, among other things bombing Beirut’s international airport.

In the 2006 conflict, Israel was the victim of an unprovoked attack. It had international legitimacy on its side and, therefore, expected unqualified support from Western allies. Israel had withdrawn from Lebanon in 2000 under Prime Minister Ehud Barak. The Lebanese army had failed to take over the positions Israel had left despite repeated UN resolutions calling on it to do so. Moreover, from the standpoint of the United Nations, Israel had no territorial conflict with Lebanon. (The new Hizballah claim to the Shebaa Farms in the Golan Heights was dismissed by the UN secretary-general.)

Furthermore, Hizballah, which initiated the July crisis, was a faction in the elected Lebanese government. That government had done very little while Hizballah collected massive quantities of weapons on Lebanese territory. As a result Hizballah militarily controlled southern Lebanon after Israel’s withdrawal.

Double Standards

The EU’s stance during the Lebanon war also has to be measured against its own ambitions. The EU has for many years announced that it wants to be a global political actor with a common foreign and security policy. This large part of a continent with 450 million inhabitants wishes to be a counterweight to the United States and its preponderant role on the world scene. The Lebanese summer confrontation provided a major occasion to show that the EU could rapidly act to stop a conflict in its early stages by proposing a solution to which it would make a major contribution.

With the United States heavily preoccupied with Iraq and Afghanistan, this was an important opportunity for the EU. Lebanon is a territory where Europe, and particularly France, has a major interest. Thus, several circumstances were conducive to an important European role in dealing with the conflict.

On 13 July, Finland, which held the EU’s rotating presidency, issued a statement on the EU’s behalf: “The European Union is greatly concerned about the disproportionate use of force by Israel in Lebanon in response to attacks by Hizballah on Israel. The presidency deplores the loss of civilian lives and the destruction of civilian infrastructure. The imposition of an air and sea blockade on Lebanon cannot be justified.”[xxvi] Even if several later declarations by heads of state, particularly Blair, did not support this one-sided attitude, the Finnish announcement was made in the EU’s name.

In the narrative about Hizballah’s provocation and Israel’s reaction in this war, the expression “disproportionate use of force” would become a standard charge against Israel for many armchair politicians and commentators. It was a case of how double standards are applied to Israel by requiring behavior of it that is not expected of any other democratic nation. The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia’s (EUMC) working definition of anti-Semitism cites such biased statements as an example of this type of racism.[xxvii]

Puncturing Hypocrisy

The British author Frederic Forsyth punctured the European hypocrisy when he wrote:

“Certain of our politicians, seeking easy populism and the cheapest round of applause in modern history, have called the Israeli response “disproportionate.”…Why did the accusers not mention Serbia?… In 1999 five Nato air forces-US, British, French, Italian and German-began to plaster Yugoslavia, effectively the tiny and defenceless province of Serbia. We were not at war with the Serbs, we had no reason to hate them, they had not attacked us and no Serbian rockets were falling on us.

But we practically bombed them back to the Stone Age. We took out every bridge we could see. We trashed their TV station, army barracks, airfields and motorways. We were not fighting for our lives and no terrorists were skulking among the civilian population but we hit apartment blocks and factories anyway. There were civilian casualties. We did not do it for 25 days but for 73. We bombed this little country economically back 30 years by converting its infrastructure into rubble…. In all those 73 days of bombing Serbia I never heard one British moralist use the word “disproportionate.”[xxviii]

There is a further perspective on proportionality. Ahmadinejad and other radical Muslim leaders have frequently said they are willing to sacrifice many millions of Muslim lives in order to eliminate Israel. As there are about two hundred times more Muslims than Israelis, the support for proportionality is tantamount to an indirect encouragement for the planned genocide by the Iranians and their allies.

Equivalence between Democracy and Terrorists

The Finnish statement did not even place the EU in an even-handed, “the truth is in the middle” position between an attacked democracy and the attacking terrorists. Subsequently there were many more European claims of moral equivalence between Israel’s and Hizballah’s actions.

Spanish socialist prime minister José Luis Zapatero demonstrated how statements by European politicians in effect help terrorists. He said: “From my point of view, Israel is wrong. One thing is self-defense, and the other is to launch a counteroffensive consisting of a general attack in Lebanon and Gaza that is just going to further escalate violence in the area.”[xxix] This was yet another extreme expression of a leading European appeaser. Zapatero had withdrawn the Spanish troops from Iraq after he surprisingly won the national election that was held a few days after the Madrid bombings.

At a rally during the Lebanon war, Zapatero was photographed with a keffiyeh that had been put on his head by a member of a Fatah youth group. This headdress symbolizes the radical anti-Israeli Left. Zapatero later said he did not regret posing for the photo and would do it again. Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League in the United States, remarked: “the Spanish prime minister wears his anti-Israel bias on his sleeve.”[xxx]

On 2 August, the Finnish presidency announced that the EU would not put Hizballah on its list of terrorist organizations. Earlier that day it had also said it considered Israel’s decision to step up military actions against Hizballah unacceptable.[xxxi]

Those Israeli leaders who had thought Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, despite all resulting internal problems, had made a structural contribution to a better understanding of Israel’s positions in Europe were once again proved wrong.

The Countries Close to Israel

As noted, the EU was far from united during the Lebanon war. Closest to Israel in their declared positions were the governments of Germany, Britain, and the Czech Republic. Blair said in a speech in Los Angeles that reactionary Islam had seized its opportunity first in Gaza, then in Lebanon: “They knew what would happen. Their terrorism would provoke massive retaliation by Israel. Within days, the world would forget the original provocation and be shocked by the retaliation.”[xxxii]

Blair held out well despite the many critical voices in his government. These included complaints that the British position was bad for getting Muslim votes in the UK. The Observer quoted a Blairite minister among the cabinet critics as saying: “He also completely understands the effect on the Muslim community-both in terms of losing Muslim voters hand over fist and the wider issue of community cohesion.”[xxxiii]

One can only speculate that Blair, close to the end of his political career, is more interested in publicly identifying profound threats to his country and the Western world than in promoting short-term political goals. The Labour Party’s discussion, however, revealed another indicator worth following: to what extent Muslim parliamentarians and concerns about Muslim voters in various countries will influence attitudes toward Israel.

Pretensions and Capabilities

The discrepancy between the EU’s pretensions and its capabilities to play a major role gradually became clear during the war. It even had difficulty reaching an agreement on the proposed procedure toward a ceasefire.[xxxiv] Nor could it decide expeditiously what it would contribute to the solution of the problem. The divisions of opinion between EU member states made a strong united position impossible for many weeks.

The Lebanese war was more than a litmus test for Europe’s capabilities. It was also a chance for Europe to show that it stood behind Israel when it was threatened by a terrorist group with genocidal aims. Yet the EU’s position remained lukewarm at best.

When the United Nations reached its decision about a multinational force, it soon became known that this force would not undertake one major task required to bring peace to the area, the disarming of Hizballah. Nor is it clear that it will be able to prevent a new flow of arms to Hizballah from Syria. The best one can hope from the force is some mitigation of the terrorist problem.

How the UN force will function may also determine whether it will be an additional source of friction between Europe and Israel. Interviewee Rory Miller, for instance, points out that tensions in the past between the Irish contingent of UNIFIL and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have damaged relations between the two countries.


The process of composing the international force demonstrated the EU’s hesitations. It would have been reasonable to assume that its member states would rapidly provide most of the soldiers required for the force. Reactions, however, were slow as long as the ceasefire seemed fragile. In particular, France’s offer-despite presenting itself as the EU’s political leader in the days preceding the ceasefire-was far below expectations. The European lead thus passed to Italy, which promised 2,500 soldiers. France followed with great hesitation, initially offering only two hundred troops toward an expected UN force of fifteen thousand.

Former British defense minister Michael Portillo scathingly attacked the French. He recalled that the French general Philippe Morillon had pledged, on behalf of the United Nations, forces to protect Srebrenica in the former Yugoslavia without having the resources to do so.

Portillo wrote that he and the other NATO defense ministers “found a word to describe the French habit of making impressive statements with no means to put them into effect. We called it ‘grandstanding.'” Regarding the UN Lebanon force, he added: “Late last week, after wasting valuable time since hostilities ended nearly two weeks ago, President Chirac gave way. Having attracted the world’s scorn he raised his country’s offer to 2,000.”[xxxv]

By the end of August, even Chirac admitted that Europe had been more than necessarily passive during the Lebanon conflict. He said that on several occasions he had recommended that Javier Solana, the EU’s representative for foreign affairs, should be given a mandate to act on behalf of the EU member states, as is the case with the Iranian nuclear issue. But the idea was not accepted because of disagreements between the member states on the Lebanese crisis.[xxxvi]

The next day, the French minister for European affairs, Catherine Colonna, extended the negative judgment to the overall functioning of the EU. She said it suffered from a malaise of listlessness and general fatigue that did not augur well for its capacity to respond to people’s needs. Colonna added that the EU was in fact twenty-five states living side by side, aiming at difficult compromises rather than searching for a common interest.[xxxvii]

Iran’s Role of “Regional Stabilization”

At the end of July, French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy made the most bizarre statement during the war by a government minister of an EU country. Before going to meet the Iranian foreign minister, he called Iran “a great country, a great people and a great civilization which is respected and which plays a role of stabilization in the region.”[xxxviii]

He thus referred to a country that promotes genocide, murder, Holocaust denial, and was arming terrorists. The reaction of an anonymous Israeli senior diplomat was: “What planet is he on? It’s not Planet Earth if he thinks Iran is a stabilizing force.”[xxxix] In 1995, Chirac had finally, fifty years after the end of World War II, admitted that it was France that had helped Germany collect the Jews in the Paris cycling stadium from where they were sent to their deaths. He said France had incurred an unforgivable debt.[xl] Yet, in 2006, a minister of democratic France praised another genocidal state.

A few days later, Douste-Blazy was forced to react to Ahmadinejad’s statement that the solution to violence in the Middle East was “the elimination of the Zionist regime.” On France-Inter radio, Douste-Blazy stated: “I totally condemn these words.” He added that they were “absolutely unacceptable on anyone’s part, especially from a head of state.” The crisis had presented an opportunity for Iran to “show that it can play a positive and stabilizing role in the region,” but Ahmadinejad’s statement “confirmed that this is not the case.” [xli] Douste-Blazy thus condemned his own earlier judgment.

European Civil Society

European civil society reached other new extreme lows concerning Israel. Two among many examples will have to suffice. On 25 July, Sir Peter Tapsell, a British Conservative MP, compared Israel’s behavior in Lebanon to that of the Nazi atrocities in the Jewish quarter of Warsaw. [xlii]

This comparison illuminates nothing about Israel’s acts in the Lebanon war. The Jews in Warsaw never declared that they aimed to eliminate Germany from the earth nor acquired weapons to attack it. The opposite was true.

Hizballah, part of the Lebanese government, wants to eradicate Israel. In this it resembles Nazi Germany. Tapsell’s remark is revealing mainly about himself, as it was not Hizballah that reminded him of the Nazis. Why did he not look closer to home at the bombing by the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) of Dresden, a city which did not represent any military interest, from 13-15 February 1945? An estimated 25,000-35,000 civilians were killed in the city. Of the 220,000 apartments in Dresden, 175,000 were destroyed or damaged.

The other example comes from outside the EU. Norway is a country with a long history of anti-Semitism. In its latest anti-Israeli mutation, this anti-Semitism is also rife among large parts of Norway’s left-wing elite. Cartoons about Israel in the country’s major papers often resemble Nazi ones.[xliii]

A well-known writer, Jostein Gaarder, wrote in Norway’s leading daily Aftenposten:

It is time to learn a new lesson: we no longer recognize the state of Israel. We could not recognize the South African apartheid regime, nor did we recognize the Afghan Taliban regime. Then there were many who did not recognize Saddam Hussein’s Iraq or the Serbs’ ethnic cleansing. We must now get used to the idea: the state of Israel in its current form is history…. The state of Israel has raped the recognition of the world and shall have no peace until it lays down its arms.[xliv]

Thus Gaarder, a pseudo-humanist, became a de facto supporter of Ahmadinejad.

No Unequivocal Support, No Pressure

The basic EU attitude toward Israel has been well characterized by an American observer. Jeffrey Gedmin, president of the Aspen Institute in Berlin, said: “The typical European approach to Israel is to wait until Israel reacts to an attack and then criticize it.” He added: “One would expect the Europeans to say at least once: ‘This is what we would do. Our proposal is credible for a number of sound reasons. We will support it in the following ways. If you accept it and it fails, we will protect you by taking a number of major actions.’ On that front, however, the Europeans are totally absent.”[xlv]

Gedmin’s assertion showed itself accurate again. When the Israelis accidentally bombed Lebanese civilians on 30 July in Kafr Kana, the Europeans strongly condemned the act that same day. Once more there were no European suggestions of how to better handle the situation. For instance, how should Israel fight an enemy that intentionally locates its rockets among civilians in a country where the government is incompetent and unwilling to deal with this matter?

Interviewee Oded Eran, Israeli ambassador to the EU, describes the EU position during the war: “Although there has not been unequivocal support for Israel’s battle against Hizballah, nor has there been significant pressure on Israel to end the military campaign in a way that would leave it exposed to similar threats in the future.”

This at-best neutral position has to be seen against the background of ongoing hostile declarations by the EU. Eran points out: “every month statements critical of Israel keep coming out of the monthly meetings of the EU foreign ministers. These are written by mid-level diplomats of the member states. It rarely happens that they are not automatically approved by the ministers.”

These statements have by now acquired an almost ritual character. They can only strengthen the perception among Israeli observers that the EU’s attitude toward Israel is not determined by what it does but what it is. This is another indicator for the European-Israeli relationship that will have to be analyzed in greater detail as matters evolve.

Belgium and the Sharon Court Case

Interviewee Irit Kohn, former head of the International Department of the Israeli Ministry of Justice, discusses a case study of the double standards applied by one EU member state to Israel. She analyzes the development of the Belgian court case against Ariel Sharon concerning the Sabra and Shatilah massacres by Christian militias in 1982.

Kohn notes that under American pressure the Belgian parliament decided to change key elements in its laws concerning universal jurisdiction. At the time there was a major effort in the Belgian parliament to retain the original complaint against Sharon, while excluding others in similar situations from prosecution.

She observes: “That, however, would have proved that the entire motivation of the process against Sharon was political. It would also have shown that the Belgian parliament could legislate against a particular country, which would have publicly revealed their one-sidedness toward Israel. In the end they also understood that such a move would not hold up judicially.”

– Notes

 [i]. Gideon Alon, “Shin Bet Chief: Sinai Becoming Haven for Terrorists and Smugglers,” Haaretz, 29 August 2008.  

[ii].  Ze’ev Schiff, “Escalation Is Inevitable,” Haaretz, 30 December 2005.

[iii]. Manfred Gerstenfeld, “The EU Constitutional Crisis and Its Impact on Israel,” Jerusalem Viewpoints, No. 532, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 1 July 2005.

[iv]. “Belgian ‘Suicide Bomber’ Is Named,” BBC News, 2 December 2005,

[v]. Anthony King, “One in Four Muslims Sympathises with Motives of Terrorists,” Daily Telegraph, 23 July 2005.

[vi]. Pew Global Attitudes Project, “The Great Divide: How Westerners and Muslims View Each Other,” 22 June 2006, 4.

[vii]. Pew Global Attitudes Project, “Muslims in Europe: Economic Worries Top Concerns about Religious and Cultural Identity,” 6 July 2006, 11.

[viii]. Prof. Dr. Elisabeth Noelle and Dr. Thomas Petersen, “Eine fremde, bedrohliche Welt,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 17 May 2006. [German]

[ix]. Philip Johnston, “Islam Poses a Threat to the West, Say 53% in Poll,” Daily Telegraph, 25 August 2006.

[x]. “Iranian President at Teheran Conference: ‘Very Soon, This Stain of Disgrace [Israel] Will Be Purged from the Center of the Islamic World-and This Is Attainable,'” Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Special Dispatch Series, No. 1013, 28 October 2005.

[xi]. Manfred Gerstenfeld, “Ahmadinejad Calls for Israel’s Elimination and Declares War on the West: A Case Study of Incitement to Genocide,”Jerusalem Viewpoints, No. 536, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 1 November 2005.

[xii]. “In piazza per Israele a migliaia: Cdl e Unione insieme per una sera,” La Repubblica, 4 November 2005. [Italian]

[xiii]. David Landau and Aluf Benn, “Blair Tells Haaretz: Folly to Ignore Iran’s Threats to Israel,” Haaretz, 11 September 2006.

[xiv]. Nazila Fathi, “Iran Rejects Potential European Incentives,” New York Times, 17 May 2006.

[xv]. “Iran’s President Says Wants TV Debate with Bush,” Reuters, 29 August 2006.

[xvi]. Flemming Rose, “Why I Published Those Cartoons,” Washington Post, 19 February 2006.

[xvii]. “Chronik der Proteste gegen die Mohammed-Karikaturen,” Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 6 February 2006. [German]

[xviii]. “EU Says It Regrets Muslims Offended by the Cartoons,” Reuters, 27 February 2006.

[xix]. Siraj Wahab, “OIC Raps EU for Tepid Response on Cartoons,” Arab News, 16 March 2006. 

[xx]. Alasdair Palmer, “The Day Is Coming when British Muslims Form a State within a State,” Sunday Telegraph, 19 February 2006.

[xxi]. Manfred Gerstenfeld, “The Mohammed-Cartoon Controversy, Israel, and the Jews: A Case Study,” Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, No. 43, 2 April 2006.

[xxii]. Bruna Schirra, “EU nimmt Hisbollah nicht auf ihre Terrorliste,” Die Welt, 9 August 2006. [German]

[xxiii]. Yossi Lempkowicz, “Israeli Ambassador Attacks Europeans over Terror List,” EJPress, 8 August 2006.

[xxiv]. Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Freddy Eytan, “French History and Current Attitudes to Israel,” Israel and Europe: An Expanding Abyss?(Jerusalem: JCPA and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, 2005), 169-82.

[xxv]. Meghan Clyne, “Annan’s Bow at Arafat’s Grave Sparks Outrage in City,” New York Sun, 17 March 2005.

[xxvi]. “Russian Defense Minister Says Hizballah Uses ‘Terrorist Methods,'” Haaretz, 15 July 2006.

[xxvii].  Michael Whine, “Progress in the Struggle against Anti-Semitism in Europe: The Berlin Declaration and the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia’s Working Definition of Anti-Semitism,” Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, No. 41, 1 February 2006.

[xxviii]. Frederic Forsyth, Daily Express, 11 August 2006.

[xxix]. Lopez Alba, “Zapatero Acusa a Israel de no Respetar la Legilidad Internacional,” ABC, 16 July 2006. [Spanish]

[xxx]. Jerome Socolovsky, “Spanish Leader in Kaffiyeh Spurs Backlash after Fierce Criticism of Israel,” JTA, 3 August 2006.

[xxxi]. “EU Issues Call for ‘Cessation of Hostilities’ Rather than Cease-Fire,” Haaretz, 2 August 2006.

[xxxii]. Tony Blair, speech at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, 1 August 2006.

[xxxiii]. Ned Temko, “Cabinet in Open Revolt over Blair’s Israel Policy,” Observer, 30 July 2006.

[xxxiv]. “EU Issues Call.”

[xxxv]. Michael Portillo, “France About-Turns into a Bigger Military Mess,” Sunday Times, 27 August 2006.

[xxxvi]. “Jacques Chirac déplore que l’Europe ait été trop absente de la crise libanaise,” Le Monde, 28 August 2006. [French]

[xxxvii]. “Catherine Colonna s’alarme des dérives de l’Union européenne,” Le Monde, 29 August 2006. [French]

[xxxviii]. “A Beyrouth, Philippe Douste-Blazy prône des contacts avec l’Iran,” Le Monde, 31 July 2006. [French]

[xxxix]. Herb Keinon, “French FM Praises Iran as ‘Stabilizing Force’ in Region,” Jerusalem Post, 1 August 2006.

[xl]. Discours du Président de la Republique, M. Jacques Chirac, lors des ceremonies commemorant la grande rafle des 16 et 17 juillet 1942 (Rafle du Vel’d’hiv), Paris, 16 juillet 1995, [French]

[xli]. “Ahmadinejad’s Call to Destroy Israel Draws French Condemnation,” Haaretz, 3 August 2006.

[xlii]. “Tory MP: Lebanon Raid Reminiscent of Nazi Atrocity on Warsaw Ghetto,” Haaretz, 26 July 2006.

[xliii]. Erez Uriely, “Jew-Hatred in Contemporary Norwegian Caricatures,” Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, No. 50, 1 November 2006.

[xliv]. Jostein Gaarder, “God’s Chosen People,” Aftenposten, 5 August 2006. [Norwegian]

[xlv]. Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Jeffrey Gedmin, “Experiencing European Anti-Americanism and Anti-Israelism,” Israel and Europe: An Expanding Abyss?, 153-54.