Israelis are wild about Europe. A poll carried out by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation last month showed that a whopping 69 percent of Israelis, and 76% of Israeli Jews, would like for Israel to join the European Union. Sixty percent of Israelis have a favorable view of the EU.
This poll's most obvious message is that as far as Europe is concerned, Israelis suffer from unrequited love. A 2003 Pew survey of 15 EU countries showed that 59% of Europeans consider Israel the greatest threat to world peace. A poll taken in Germany the following year showed that 68% of Germans believe that Israel is pursuing a war of extermination against the Palestinians and 51% said that there is no difference in principle between Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and German treatment of Jews during the Holocaust.
And it isn't simply Israel that they hate. They don't like Jews very much either. In an empirical study published in 2006, Professors Edward Kaplan and Charles Small of Yale University demonstrated a direct link between hatred for Jews and extreme anti-Israel positions. A recent poll bears out the fact that levels of hostility toward Israel rise with levels of anti-Semitism.
According to a 2008 Pew survey, anti-Semitic feelings in five EU countries – Spain, Britain, France, Germany and Poland – rose nearly 50% between 2005 and 2008. Whereas in 2005, some 21% of people polled acknowledged they harbor negative feelings toward Jews, by last year the proportion of self-proclaimed anti-Semites in these countries had risen to 30%. In Spain levels of anti-Semitism more than doubled, from 21% in 2005 to 46% in 2008.
Not surprisingly, increased hatred of Jews has been accompanied by increased violence against Jews. Just last week, for instance, three men assaulted Israel's ambassador in Spain Rafi Shotz as he and his wife walked home from a soccer game. They followed after him and called out, "dirty Jew," "Jew bastard," and "Jew murderer." A crowd witnessed the assault, but no one rose to their defense.
Shotz was lucky. As Israel's ambassador he had two policemen escorting him and so he was not physically threatened. The same was not the fate of Holocaust survivors who assembled at Mauthausen death camp in Austria last week to commemorate the 64th anniversary of the camp's liberation by American forces.
As Jewish survivors of the camp where 340,000 people were murdered mourned the dead, a gang of Austrian teenagers wearing masks taunted them, screaming "Heil Hitler," and "This way for the gas!" They opened fire with plastic rifles at French Jewish survivors, wounding one in the head and another in the neck.
And Austria is not alone. From Germany to France, Belgium, Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and beyond, Jewish kindergartens and day schools, restaurants and groceries have been firebombed and vandalized. The desecration of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues has become an almost routine occurrence. Jewish leaders from Norway to Germany to Britain to France have warned community members not to wear kippot or Stars of David in public. Rabbis have been beaten all over the continent.
There is no state sanction for anti-Jewish violence in Europe. But in many places it is either brushed off as insignificant, or justified as a natural byproduct of the Palestinian conflict with Israel. In at least one case, the official downplaying of the significance of anti-Jewish sentiments and violence has had murderous consequences.
In January 2006 Ilan Halimi, a French Jew, was kidnapped by a gang of Muslim sadists. For an entire week, the police ignored the anti-Semitic nature of the attack – and hence the imminent danger to Halimi's life – in spite of the fact that his kidnappers made threatening phone calls to Halimi's parents where they recited verses from the Koran while Ilan was heard screaming in pain from his torture in the background.
In the end, Halimi was tortured continuously for 20 days before he was dumped at a railhead naked, with burns and cuts over 80% of his battered body and died of his wounds shortly after he was found.
SOME HAVE attributed the rise in European anti-Semitism to the rapid growth of Muslim minorities throughout the continent. This explanation has much to recommend it. Levels of anti-Semitism among most Muslim minority populations in Europe are exceedingly high. According to Kaplan and Small's study, European Muslims are eight times more likely than non-Muslims to be openly anti-Semitic. And Franco Frattini, the EU official responsible for combating anti-Semitism, told The Jerusalem Post last year that some 50% of anti-Jewish attacks in Europe are conducted by Muslims.
But while European Muslims are a major factor in the rise of anti-Jewish violence, they are a bit player when it comes to the overall prevalence of anti-Jewish attitudes. For example, with 46% of Spaniards negatively disposed toward Jews, and with Muslims making up only 3-5% of Spaniards, we learn that nearly half of Christian Spaniards are anti-Semitic. And as the 2008 Pew survey shows, European hatred of Jews is growing at a fast clip. Indeed, it is growing two
and a half times faster than European hatred of Muslims.
In all likelihood, these negative trends for Jews are only going to escalate in the coming years. Politicians interested in being elected have already begun exploiting the rise in anti-Jewish sentiments to increase their electoral prospects. In the 2005 British elections, for instance, the Labor Party under Tony Blair depicted then Conservative Party leader Michael Howard as the hateful anti-Semitic icon Fagin from Oliver Twist in a campaign poster. Another Labor poster portrayed Howard and fellow politician Oliver Letwin as flying pigs.
This state of affairs bodes ill for Israel's future relations with Europe. In most cases, European politicians pander to the growing constituency of anti-Semites by adopting hostile policies toward Israel. These policies then serve to further justify anti-Semitic attitudes, and so the number of European anti-Semites continues to grow, and in turn, European hostility to Israel increases.
No doubt recognizing the political advantage to be garnered by attacking Israel, last year Spanish investigative magistrate Judge Fernando Andreu Merellesis decided to use a specious complaint submitted by the discredited Palestinian Center for Human Rights to launch a war crimes investigation against Israel's top political and military leaders. Against the stated will of Spain's state prosecution, Merellesis announced last week that he is proceeding with his investigation into claims that a dozen senior Israeli leaders committed a war crime when they approved the 2002 decision to target Hamas terror master Salah Shehadeh.
ALL OF this brings us back to Europhilic Israel. Due to the fact that the majority of Israelis have yet to get their way, and Israel continues not to be a member in the EU, EU courts lack the power to enforce their rulings against Israelis. Today the only thing Israelis need to worry about is that we will be arrested if we visit Europe. This is inconvenient, but not impossible to live with.
Were Israel to join the EU, however, EU laws would supersede Israeli laws. European courts could compel Israeli courts to enforce their rulings. Israel, in short, would find itself subsumed in a hostile political entity that could simply adjudicate and legislate it out of existence.
So what explains Israel's unrequited love affair with Europe?
There is no all-encompassing explanation for the EU's popularity in Israel. It is a function of a number of complementary causes. The most important among them is the abject failure of the Israeli media to examine European anti-Semitism and its implications for European policy toward Israel in any coherent fashion.
Rather than recognize that European anti-Semitism and its concomitant hostility toward Israel is the consequence of internal European dynamics, the Israeli media tend to cast both as a function of Israel's actions. Doing so certainly makes for neat, easily digestible news stories, but it also trivializes the situation. Moreover, by acting as though Israel's actual behavior is at all relevant to European treatment of Jews and the Jewish state, the local media effectively buy into cynical European moves to belittle the significance of anti-Jewish violence. They give credence to false European claims that the firebombing of synagogues is simply the regrettable consequence of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Then there is the issue of Israel's constant quest to end its international isolation. For many Israelis, it is tantalizing to think that we can end our international isolation by joining the EU. The EU is seen as a club of rich and cultured countries with which Israel would benefit from merging. This view again is nurtured by the media, which have failed to report on the failure of the European welfare state model.
In light of the media's refusal to tell the story of Europe's hostility toward Jews and the Jewish state, or the story of the EU's severe economic problems, it is not surprising that precious few Israeli politicians have a clear understanding of Europe. Successive foreign ministers – from Shimon Peres to Silvan Shalom to Tzipi Livni to Avigdor Lieberman – have all voiced varying degrees of support for Israeli membership in the EU. Their statements have never been challenged in debate.
Finally, there is the nostalgia that many Israelis feel toward the old pre-war Europe from their grandparents' stories. That long gone Europe, where young women and men would walk along the promenades in Berlin, Paris, Antwerp and Prague holding hands and eating ice cream, breathing in the air of Heinrich Heine and Franz Kafka, has been kept alive in the imaginations of generations of Israelis. Many of them work today as leading journalists, movie directors and actors. For many Israelis, then, the myth of Europe is more familiar than the real Europe.
Looking to a future of an increasingly Jew-hating Europe it is clear that Israel and Israelis must quickly divest ourselves of our delusions about Europe. For Israel to competently contend with Europe in the coming years, it will be essential that both our political leaders and society as a whole gain a firm grasp of where Europe stands in relation to both the Jewish people and the Jewish state.
With a burgeoning and deeply anti-Semitic Muslim minority, and with a Christian majority increasingly comfortable with flaunting traditional anti-Semitic attitudes, dispensing with anti-Jewish myths ranks low on the priority list for most European leaders. In contrast, for Israel, gazing at this unfolding European state of affairs, it is clear that abandoning our adoration for a mythological Europe is one of the most urgent items on our national agenda.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.