Tuesday, December 09, 2003

When a recent opinion poll found that nearly 60 percent of EU citizens believed that Israel was a threat to world peace, comfortably ahead of those doves in Pyongyang (53 percent), it seemed yet more proof that an old virus was already abroad in the land. Perhaps, but check the numbers and you'll see that the U.S. (also on 53 percent) was rated as just as dangerous as crazy little Kim. That's ludicrous too, of course, but it's evidence that this polling data reflects not gutter prejudice but something almost as insidious: Europeans' desire to accept any compromise so long as it could buy them a quiet life — at least for a while.

It's an attitude that used to show itself in the argument, once popular among large sections of the European Left, that there was a broad degree of moral equivalence between the Cold War's American (Holiday Inn, McDonalds) and Soviet (Gulag, mass graves) protagonists. It's an attitude that regards "peace" (that word again) as a good that trumps all others — so when Israel is labeled the worst threat to world peace, or the U.S. and North Korea are described as being as dangerous as each other, it shows only that Europeans, left powerless by years of relative decline, falling self-confidence, and shrunken military budgets, have realized that both Israel and America are more interested in self-defense than suicide. That these two countries may be fully entitled to take the positions they do is, naturally, quite irrelevant...

Prompted in no small part by Soviet propaganda efforts, that attitude began to change, particularly after the Six Day War and, even more so, in the wake of the 1973 conflict. Conveniently, some might say, in the light of OPEC threats to Europe's oil supply, Israel came to be seen as the oppressor, not the oppressed, a colonialist, "racist" (evil Zionists!) outpost of European savagery, rather than a refuge from it. As such, condemnation of Israeli policy was not so much an expression of European disdain for "the Jews" as yet another manifestation of Europe's hatred for itself. Combine that sentiment with today's televised images of the hard-line response of the Sharon government to the revived Intifada and it's easy to see that the anger now directed at Israel was almost inevitable.

But if it's a mistake to attribute all this hostility to anti-Semitism, it is also a mistake that to deny that European vituperation of Israel has now reached such a level that it may be tapping the wellsprings of a very ancient psychosis, as well as, it should also be admitted, the more "modern" anti-Semitism long associated with Europe's hard Left. Under these circumstances, it is unfortunate, to say the least, that so much of the imagery and the language used by Europe's harsher critics of the Jewish state recalls the anti-Semitism of an earlier era.

From an excellent assessment of European anti-semitism by Andrew Stuttaford in NRO. Its nice that he mentions the USSR's role in all this (its high time someone did), but I disagree with one major point. The issue here isnt whether current European attitudes are a "resurgence" of the old anti-semitism, or the old anti-semtism pushed under the guise of opposition to Israeli policies, but whether they constitute a form of anti-semitism in and of themselves. In other words, does the European denial of the most basic rights of national sovreignty and self-defense to the Jewish people constitute a devaluation of Jewish individual and collective life and, therefore, a form of racism? I would contend that they most certainly do.


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