Article on Europe and Israel (4): a complicated relationship

From a few years ago, but still relevant.  Raises an interesting issue about the European Left, which loved pre-1967 scrappy, little Israel surrounded by nasty enemies, but now hates an Israel it views as strong and oppressive of the Palestinians, ignoring the surrounding Arabs and Muslims.  Same Israel really, different European view. Some might say that Europeans prefer their Jews weak…  

Europe matters

(not sure of the author) 

Does Europe matter? That is, does Europe matter to Israel?

 A case can be made that it does not. Contrary to widespread perception, there is little hope that the European Union will be able, within the foreseeable future, to formulate a common foreign policy with any consistency or muscle. It will almost certainly never develop a serious independent military capacity. On trade, the EU has real weight in world affairs, but so far this has had comparatively little bearing on Israel. Even the “rules of origin” spat applied to only a tiny fraction of Israel‘s export market.

So Europe remains what it always was: a collection of sovereign states, divisible, divergent and – with this year’s accession of 10 additional member states – increasingly fractious. For Israel, this means that it does not confront a new superstate bent on reshaping the world, but something that is rather less than the sum of its parts. Real global influence continues to be wielded almost exclusively from Washington, where Israel‘s position seems secure.

But the case for Europe‘s irrelevance is wrong. Europe may have been split between its New and Old, Atlanticist and Continental wings when it came to confronting the US over the war in Iraq. But on Israel, as on Palestine, the EU speaks with one voice. Only shades of nuance distinguish British, German, French and Italian views.

Nor is it merely that Europe has a common policy vis-a-vis the conflict here. It is that that policy matters. Israeli governments may ignore, or treat as nettlesome diversions, the obnoxious utterances of a Jacques Chirac or Chris Patten. It is harder to ignore their patronage of a Yossi Beilin, much less their endorsement of his Geneva Accord. Still more significant for Israel is Europe‘s weight in the UN’s Security Council, its patronage of Yasser Arafat, and its diplomacy in Teheran.

Then too, Israel cannot escape the weight of Europe‘s moral judgments. Washington may set each year’s global to-do list. But Europe has a way of making its views count over time. It was Europe, not America, which first bestowed respectability on the PLO with the 1980 Venice Declaration. And it was Europe, not America, which first embraced the necessity of a Palestinian state. By slow degrees, what seemed unacceptable at the time would become a universally worshipped orthodoxy.

It also matters that a new generation of Europeans have come of age seeing Israel as an oppressor state and Zionism as a racist ideology. The “liberal” anti-Semitism of which everyone speaks belongs to this European generation; it echoes loudly in the Muslim world and on American campuses.

Israelis have long understood that Europe, more so than the Arab world, poses the keenest threat to its existential legitimacy. Talk of a “binational state” may sound quixotic to most Israelis and Americans, but not to an increasing number of Europeans, for whom the notion of sovereignty has become passe’.

How should Israel meet the challenge of Europe? First, it must understand the nature of that challenge, which is what we attempt to do in this issue.

Second, it should formulate an intelligent response.

Israelis are often struck by the strange passion, verging on the obsessive, that Europe has for Israel. The sources of this are several: an abiding anti-Semitism, an abiding guilt about the Holocaust, and a sublimated millenarianism about what peace in the Holy Land can achieve. There’s leverage in that. A wise Israeli statesman will know how to play it to our national advantage.


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