THE FIGHT AGAINST ANTI-SEMITISM AND EUROPEAN MIDDLE EAST POLICY
I would like to start by raising several questions – “What is the link between anti-Semitism in
contemporary Europe and the Middle East?, Is violence against European Jews at all a problem
that Israel should deal with?” After all, anti-Semitism existed in Europe long before Israel was
established, and it is not quite obvious that Israel has a lot to offer in order to solve this problem.
Some Jewish leaders in France, like sociology professor Shmuel Trigano, argue that Israel’s
policy of sticking its nose in their problems is harmful. Israel is making an unnecessary link
between their problem, which they view as an internal one, and what is happening in the Middle
Although I agree that Israel should not, and cannot effectively intervene to help solving internal
European problems, especially since it does not yet have a coherent policy towards Europe, my
presentation rests on the assumption that anti-Semitic attacks in Europe are “Israel’s business”
because they are linked to European Foreign Policy in the Middle East. There is a sliding door
policy in many European capitals of fighting anti-Semitism on the one hand and evenhandedly
criticizing Israel on the other. In my opinion, one should question the efficiency of the European
Union’s policy in the Middle East. Is it furthering the peace process between Israelis and Arabs?
Is it helping to create more understanding among Europeans of the real problems people are
facing there? Or, is it fostering a fertile breeding ground for increased instability and hostility
towards Jews, and towards Israel, in Europe?
From my Israeli and Jewish point of view, European policy (or policies, since we are discussing
different countries with positions that are sometimes in conflict) in the Middle East is
counterproductive on both fronts: for people in the Middle East, Jews and Arabs, and for
Violence against Jews in Europe is indeed a very troubling phenomenon that must be tackled
directly and with all means, but not by Israel. However, in order to fight anti-Semitism
effectively European policy in the Middle East should change, and this is “Israel’s business.”
For even a minor success in this battle will concurrently make Europe a safer place for Jews, and
a better mediator between Israel and the Arabs.
To base my argument, I will start by giving a brief overview of the nature and sources of what is
often described as, the “new” anti-Semitism. Later, I will explain in more detail what is leading
to a problematic European policy, or policies, in the Middle East. I will illustrate how this policy
is an indirect source of anti-Semitism, since it creates a fitting environment for attacking Jews.
And I will conclude by proposing steps that should be taken by the different players in order to
ameliorate the situation.
Canadian minister of Justice, Irwin Cotler, did well to describe the phenomenon: “While
classical or traditional anti-Semitism is the discrimination against, or denial of, the right of Jews
to live as equal members of a free society, the new anti-Semitism involves also the
discrimination against the right of the Jewish people to live as an equal member of the family of
nations.” Such being the case, it is accompanied by an overt de-legitimization and demonization
of the Jewish state of Israel, and the application of a double-standard policy towards it. The
perpetrators of this “New” Anti-Semitism are no longer exclusively the lowest rank of right-wing
extremists. In Europe today, enlightened intellectuals, progressive opinion leaders and left-wing
politicians join in the fiesta. In a borderless Europe it is easier for people and for ideas to mix:
right and left, extreme liberalism and traditional racism.
Now, please do not get me wrong. Legitimate criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic. But
attributing all the worlds’ evils to Israel or singling out Israel for international sanctions out of all
proportion to any other party in the region, is anti-Semitic. Most of those crying out for the
children of Palestine do not raise their voices when Israelis are being murdered on buses and in
restaurants; they do not condemn Palestinian schoolbooks preaching hatred, banners equating the
Star of David with the swastika, or shouts such as “Death to Israel”. Denying the Jewish
people’s right of self-determination, denouncing Zionism as a crime, or blaming Israel for having
corrupted American foreign policy, is anti-Semitic.
Europeans are now aware of the urgency of actively preventing violent attacks against Jews,
because they understand that this endangers the existence of their free societies. Yet at the same
time, and too often, European mainstream policy makers and opinion leaders turn their backs to
the Jewish state. They are not taking into consideration its unique security needs, being the only
democracy in the Middle East, surrounded by 22 Arab nations which still, to a large extent, do
not recognize its right to exist.
These are, therefore, my main sources of concern: first, that condemnation of anti-Semitism can
work in tandem with anti-Israeli policy. While it is, in most cases, still a disgrace to be overtly
anti-Semitic in Europe, it is very “sexy” to be anti-Israeli or anti-American. Many European
leaders are at the same time “the firemen and the arsonists: they genuinely denounce anti-
Semitism, however some of their statements and policies are so harsh on Israel that they serve as
a breeding ground for anti-Semitic attacks in Europe. And second, that Europe has yet to
develop a policy that can truly bring stability and prosperity to the Middle East.
People often mistakenly think that anti-Semitism is decreasing, and that this is a result of
aggressive enforcement measures that were undertaken by some European governments. True,
in the last year anti-Semitic incidents have leveled off in France. But at the same time, they rose
in Britain, Russia, Sweden and the Czech Republic. I claim that what really made a difference in
France was a momentary friendlier tone towards Israel, rather than tougher policies. It became,
even for an instant, less acceptable to attack the Jews in France. This amelioration came after the
death of Yasir Arafat, which was followed by the Israeli disengagement from Gaza, that was
accompanied by successful visits in France of Israeli President Katzav and Prime Minister
Sharon. However I believe that this positive tendency in France is not sustainable. I am afraid
that French Jews are extremely vulnerable to attacks, especially now. Statistics are misleading
and hide anti-Israel trends that are still widespread among opinion leaders, and wherever Israel’s
denigrated reputation remains, Jews will not be safe.
So in order to tackle anti-Semitism in Europe, I argue that anti-Israeli sentiments should be
overcome and biased policies must be replaced by a constructive one, through dialogue. Let us
try to think what is it that makes biased European policy in the Middle East?
The first element is existence in Europe of classical anti-Semitism. The tragic joke says that in
previous centuries many Europeans repeatedly said, “Jews, go back to Palestine!” and today
similar voices are saying, “Jews, go out of Palestine, back to your ghettos!” However, even if
traditional anti-Semitism is grounded in European culture, it is not the sole source of what we are
A second and important element is the anti-American sentiments that are so popular in
contemporary Europe among intellectuals, politicians and the media. Some believe that Israel’s
strong ties with America help it to improve its standing in Europe. Well, think again. As Josef
Joffe, publisher of German weekly Die Zeit once wrote, “Anti-Israelism and anti-Americanism
travel together.” Since anti-Americanism has been for the last five years a powerful factor of
collective identification for Europe, and since Israel is so closely identified with America, this
trend had a deteriorating impact on European relationship with Israel and with European Jewry.
What adds fodder to the fire is Europeans’ overestimation of the power of “Israel's lobbyists” in
Washington. Some believe Israelis and American Jews have a fatal grip over American foreign
or economic policy, however similar to any other country in the world, America is interested first
and foremost in the well-being of America. Israel is not always on the mind of the United States
of America. But whether right or wrong, Israel's connection to the United States is an important
factor in shaping European-Israel relationship and nowadays it is not working to Israel’s benefit.
The third explanation for the anti-Semitic / anti-Israeli environment is that it is a reflection of
internal European problems, such as: mass immigration and failed integration of immigrants;
globalization and privatization that bring unemployment and frustration; multi-cultural reality
that is in constant conflict with national – and nationalistic – ideas; and wealthy, industrial and
aging European societies that need working hands from poorer countries but find it more and
more difficult to pay the price of absorbing these people. How does all this relate to Israel or to
the Jews, you may ask? The UK’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said that, “When civilizations
clash, Jews die.” I think that current European crises lead to angst and anger (that can be
evidenced by the failure of the EU constitution, the growth of right-wing populism and events as
last weeks’ in France). The common denominator is not the Jews. It is European incompetence
to handle its problems. However, Israel and European Jewry often pay the price for Europe’s
major strategic mistakes in immigration, defense and economic policies.
A fourth explanation for the bias is the strong links that many countries in Europe have to the
countries of the Middle East. In addition to a colonial legacy that harbors obligations, there are
other, less altruistic, calculations. As a European diplomat once told an Israeli colleague: “When
you, the Jews, will be a quarter of a billion people and have oil, then we will consider you and
your interests more seriously.” It is European pragmatism and cynicism that hurts Israel most of
Europeans refuse to acknowledge that Moslem communities in Europe have increased
numerically and have organized politically. They have succeeded in using their voting strength
to obtain privileges and concessions and have become a significant factor in the political scene at
local and national levels. Understandably, European governments would like to win Moslem
votes, and they are terrified of Islamist terrorism. So they are using the stick and carrot
approach. France, Germany and other European countries are developing foreign policies that
are increasingly Mediterranean-oriented and are characterized by intense links with Arab
countries. Unfortunately, too often this means yielding to the enemies of democracy and
freedom. And when leading countries in the west adopt a submissive policy towards terrorism or
nuclear threats, it is dangerous for the entire world.
Europe’s links with the Arab world are not necessarily a bad thing for Israel. Theoretically,
Europe, and first of all France, could serve as effective mediators thanks to their unique ties with
Arab regimes. However it is not clear whether they have particular interest in democratizing the
Arab world. The Barcelona process, for example, could have been an excellent tool for
modernizing economies and building bridges, however EU’s weak stance result in Israel being
excluded from most of the projects, and Arab states dealing more with the EU than with one
another. The association agreement the EU has signed with Syria in 2004 could have been
another example for bringing reforms through the use of Europe’s “soft power.” But since it did
not oblige any reforms, Europe practically confirmed the authority of the current Syrian regime.
At the same time, by the way, the US Congress adopted the ‘Syria Accountability and Lebanon
Act’ that imposes sanctions on Syria,
It is no coincidence therefore, that France is regarded by Arab countries as their most reliable
partner, or that the majority of public opinion in Arab countries, France and Germany, consider
the US and Israel as the biggest threats to world peace, ahead of North Korea and Iran
(Eurobarometer poll). In response to riots in France two weeks ago, Egypt-born Sheikh Yousuf
Al-Qaradhawi, who currently heads the Sunni studies department at Qatar University, said, “As
Arabs and Muslims, we wish France and its friendly people security, peace and quiet, especially
since the French positions on Arab and Muslim issues are characterized by fairness and honesty,
and are reasonably free of dependence on the United States”. This should not come as a
compliment when the person saying it also argued that “Resistance in Iraq is a Duty of Every
In a poll that was conducted last November, 60% of French citizens thought that France’s foreign
policy towards the Arab world constitutes an effective response to the impact of immigration on
their country and that it protects them from international terror and radical Islamism (a Tribune
Juive poll from 15.11.04.) Would they give the same answers in light of what has happened last
weeks in their country? You tell me if this policy has achieved good results for French people.
As for the Jews – it should come as no surprise that European Jewish communities are facing
marginalization in London, Paris, Brussels and other European capitals.
Traditional European anti-Semitism, fashionable Anti-Americanism, internal European crises
and a European-Arab policy that ignores the real dangers to world peace: These are, in my
opinion, the reasons for the failed European Middle-Eastern policy that creates anti-Israel bias
and, among other illnesses, the “new” anti-Semitism.
What can prevent or at least steadily decrease anti-Semitism in Europe? I do not believe classic
anti-Semitism will disappear. An educational battle against anti-Semitism should be waged with
greater vigor, especially in countries where it lacks, such as Greece and Belgium. Preventing
future acts of violence and developing a holistic approach to the whole range of anti-Semitic
instruments should include an informational battle that will encompass education of opinion
leaders from the political echelon, as well as from the universe of the academia and media.
However fighting the violent expressions of anti-Semitism alone is not enough.
As for the second element, hopefully over time, the EU and individual European countries will
understand that they better act together with, and not against, the United States. In last week's
German coalition talks, the two parties sealed an agreement on foreign policy, putting out a
paper stating that the "close relationship of trust between the US and a self-confident Europe
which does not see itself as a counter-weight, but a partner" was "indispensable." This is a very
I mentioned earlier the European healthy, though cynical, sense of survival. This, I believe, will
lead Europe to handle its multiple crises, even if it takes many years, and regardless of Israel’s
and the Jews’ existential problems.
Concerning the fourth element, I believe it is clear that only a more pragmatic European-Arab
policy will make Europe a significant actor with real, valuable contribution to the peace process.
Europe is as important to the Middle East as the Middle East is to Europe. An Islamic bomb in
Europe’s backyard threatens European security. A Hezbollah-made incitement on Europe’s TV
screens is, in fact, “bad for Europe.” France recently “got it” and has banned the heinous al-
Manar TV broadcasts on its territory. So I am hopeful that Europeans, taking care of their own
interests, will mobilize in the right direction.
So to conclude, let us consider which practical measures could really be taken by the different
I believe it is a strategic interest of both Europe and Israel to improve their relationship. Today,
this relationship is hostage to the viscidities of events and political developments on the ground,
in the Middle-East and in Europe. To reduce this dangerous situation, Europe and Israel should
develop a long-term strategy as to how to handle each other, what to expect from each other, and
where to aim in the future. In order to facilitate this crucial process, I recommend the
establishment of a strategic dialogue, similar, but not identical to the kind Israel has with the US.
This dialogue could be launched between Israel and the EU, or alternatively, between Israel and
individual European countries such as France, Britain and Germany.
Last week Jonathan Faul, European Commission Director General for Justice and Home Affairs,
said what I have been saying for years to European colleagues; That Europe and Israel can learn
from each other’s experience and knowledge in order to tackle some of their problems. Mr. Faul
talked about security or counter terrorism measures, but there is more. What about, for example,
Israel’s expertise in absorbing immigrants? Remember that Israel added to its already
multicultural society one fifth of its population over the last 15 years. And Israel can learn a lot
from the experience of European countries and of the EU.
The educational battle against anti-Semitism, as I said, is important but is not enough. It is
essential that European leaders will know that fighting anti-Semitism or supporting the Jewish
community’s institutions is nothing but paying lip service if it is not accompanied by fairer
treatment of Israel. They must work to improve Israel’s standing in public opinion.
Here, European citizens should assist. Both on the level of the EU and at the national level,
European friends of Israel must improve their interaction with the European institutions and with
national governments and opinion leaders. They should get more organized and mobilize
politically to defend themselves and to defend Israel.
Jews should not be reluctant to express their Judaism or kinship to Israel anywhere in Europe.
Together with Non-Jewish supporters of Israel, who are often being used as a tool in the hands of
anti-Semites, they should establish independent civil society organizations that will aim to
improve the relations between Israel and their country and to ameliorate their countries’ policies
at large, as well as on global stages such as the UN. Think tanks, effective political advocacy
organizations, media monitoring bodies and counter-terrorism institutes can help to do this job.
European citizens should promote dialogue between moderates. In particular Jews and Muslims,
should further better understanding among each other. Building coalitions around issues is a
crucial element, and during the process Jews and Muslims may find out they have more in
common then they might assume. I was talking last week with the person who is leading this
effort on behalf of the French Jewish community. He told me that this dialogue is getting the
blessing of political leaders, which is very good news but, he added, there is still much room for
By taking such steps activists will become better citizens of their own countries and, what is
almost unimaginable in today’s Europe: cohabitating with their Jewish/Muslims neighbors and –
sympathetic to Israel!
Last but not least – Israel, should correspond with European allies to establish the strategic
dialogues I have mentioned earlier; it could play a more active role in the UN and other global
forums. Lastly, Israel should make a far better use of its friends abroad by improving
cooperation with them, and by considering more extensively the potential implications of its
decisions and policies on their life.