Sunday, August 20, 2006

Why is Europe so anti-Israel?

Recently, in the wake of the Israeli-Hezbollah war, we asked why the United-States is so pro-Israel.
Well it only seems air to ask the reverse question then – why does
Europe tend to be so anti-Israel. This is extremely relevant to the main theme of our blog as there is no doubt about the transatkantic divide over the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians - as illustrated in the polls here below:

The common idea in America is that it is a return of the old European anti-Semitism, yet I don't think one can see anything resembling the anti-Semitism of the late 19th century and 1930s in Europe and in any case, there is a difference between being anti-Semitic and being anti-Israel.

Europe and France in particular has a strong Muslim population but it has little influence in the political decision making and it does not reflect the general public opinion – they account for only 10% of the population in France. Even though Muslims living in Western countries have a more negative view of Jews, the largest Muslim community in Europe in France, which also has the largest Jewish community in Europe] has - against all odds - a positive view of Jews (by an impressive 71% according to a recent Pew poll). In fact, this is the only Muslim population or sub-population surveyed whose opinion of Jews is more favorable than not. So, despite common thinking, the largely prevalent negative view of Israel in Europe does not stem from its Muslim population.

Once again, we can turn to The Economist for making some interesting points. They see the six-day war in 1967 as the turning point that changed Europeans' perception of Israel. It was not so much the war itself as the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and Sinai that followed which changed the framework of the conflict. Israel was no longer the “plucky survivor of the Holocaust keeping powerful neighbors at bay“, it had become a neo-colonial regional superpower and the Palestinian became the underdog, the oppressed and the displaced.

According to Manuele Ottolenghi, an expert on Israel and Europe at Oxford University:

“Europeans see Israel as the embodiment of the demons of their own past.” The European Union is supposed to have traded in war, nationalism and conflict for love, peace and federalism. European public opinions tend to support whoever they perceive as the underdog and the oppressed which explains the shift to an increasingly critical view of anti-Israeli views. It is all about how you frame conflict. (The Economist)

This is particularly true of the political left of course as European socialists see themselves as sheer defender of the oppressed and the disaffected.The very fact that the most powerful nation on earth, the US, is so supportive of Israel fits their view of a the conflict.

The Economist’s article rightly points out that the once anti-Semitic far-right is now pro-Israel (not only Forza Italia but also French Jean-Marie Le Pen). My personal explanation is that this stems from their negative view of Arab immigrants in Europe. They see Muslims as a more pressing enemy.

The fact that Europe has no equivalent of America's powerful AIPAC Israeli lobby may also explain in part why European politicians are more keen on criticizing Israel but I think it is a minor factor as their views reflect those of a large part of the public opinion.
More importantly however, Europeans tend to believe that diplomacy rather than armed conflicts will ultimately solve regional problems in the Middle-East. They are more reluctant than Americans to support wars for obvious historical reasons and thus they tend to see war much more as the very last resort.

What I find fascinating is that while Europe and the U.S. have a fairly similar cultural proximity, and as they watch the very same conflict in the Middle-East, they see it in almost opposite terms. Their view of the situation is based in a different framework.

  • The Americans see Israel as a plucky democracy threatened by Islamist extremism and terrorism, in a region afflicted by dangerous autocracies. In our post-0/11 world, they see the Israeli even more as themselves.
  • The Europeans, on the other hand, see Israel as a powerful militaristic nation with misguided neo-colonial motives, (emphasized by expressions like “settlements” or “occupied territories”). It is a reminder of their own past and their own guilt like a ghost that comes to haunt them.

Both views make some sense at some levels but neither are probably quite accurate - the truth may lie between the two. That is why, in my opinion, the picture is rather gray. I believe the whole situation is extremely complex and cannot be seen through a simple moral identification with one side or the other. What is needed is distance and perspective and not a binary and overly simplistic view. That's the only way Europe and the US can some day play the broker in the region.

NOTE: It is clear that religion plays an important role in the reason why the U.S. is so supportive of Israel, as one of our faithful readers commented. But since we have discussed this before on our blog, we have skipped it this time. It is nonetheless a major element to understand the difference between Europe and the U.S.


At 13:00, Anonymous Abie said...

Very clearly put, and to the point...

Buut hat about the religious bias in this complex question? I have been quite suprised to learn that some Chritian fondamentalist groups support Israel on religious grounds (Holy Lannd, pre-trib, etc.)

ah, and a typo : 0/11

At 18:47, Blogger Joker & Thief said...

Yes, you are prefectly right but since we have adressed this question before on this blog, we decided to focus more on the cultural aspect.
(see our post here
and here


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home