The decision by the European court of justice that “Foodstuffs originating in the territories occupied by the state of Israel must bear the indication of their territory of origin” has angered Jews throughout the world. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and director of global social action for the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Benjamin Weinthal, a fellow for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, assert that “Europe’s labeling of Israeli products recalls Third Reich’s boycott of Jews.”
The Guardian observed that the EU has consistently opposed Israeli settlement expansion, alleging it undermines the possibility for a two-state solution “by gobbling up lands claimed” by the Palestinian Arabs.
Are there other reasons for this enmity? Western European hostility toward Israel should not come as a surprise, according to Steven J. Rosen, who served for 23 years as one of the leading officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). “The strongest external force pressuring the U.S. government to distance itself from Israel is not the Arab-American organizations, the Arab embassies, the oil companies or the petrodollar lobby,” he wrote in 2010. “Rather, it is the Europeans, especially the British, French and Germans, that are the most influential Arab lobby to the U.S. government.” This is why the Arabs prefer dealing with the U.S. through Brussels, London or Paris. They consider Europe to be the “soft underbelly of the U.S. alliance with Israel and the best way to drive a wedge between the two historic allies.”
Rosen theorized that the Europeans pursue this policy for a number of reasons. In terms of import markets, the Arab Gulf States import hundreds of billions a year more than Israel. At the UN, Israel has one vote; Arabs have 25 and the Muslim nations control 50.
Another possibility is that the guilt many Europeans might harbor about their imperial past leads them erroneously to assume Israelis are subjugating citizens of the Third World. The burgeoning influence of their own Muslim populations (e.g., Arabs in France, Turks in Germany and South Asians in Britain) and the need to appease them could be another reason. Some analysts postulate that Europeans might derive a degree of pleasure in criticizing Israeli Jews, thus relieving or lessening their own guilt for the Holocaust.
While the record shows that Western democracies and the U.S. have resorted to harsher methods in conflicts far removed from their own territory than Israel employs in its own backyard, Europeans, perhaps deliberately, fail to appreciate that Israel “is a democracy at war, living in a mortally dangerous neighborhood,” that must defend herself in a manner that appeasement-minded Europeans contradictorily at times call “excessive.” Israeli philosopher and political theorist Yoram Hazony offered another reason why the Europeans viscerally loathe Israel. Efforts to delegitimize Israel, he said, have become more effective regardless of any particular Israeli policy. To understand what drives this hatred, we must see Israel through European eyes.
After Israel was founded as a nation-state, dozens of other independent states were established throughout the Third World. Since World War II, many intellectuals and political figures in Europe have attributed the crimes of National Socialism to the nation-state. The idea that nations can arm themselves and use their weapons for self-defense is now seen as barbaric. For the first time in 350 years, the idea of the independent nation-state is viewed by many as a source of incalculable evil, and no longer the foundation of our liberties.
For most Jews, Auschwitz demonstrates their failure to protect themselves and their families. Jews depended on the West for help that never came. Only the state of Israel stands as a bulwark against this catastrophe occurring again. Many Europeans, however, see Auschwitz as the direct result of nations deciding for themselves how to employ their military power.
To preclude this evil from ever being repeated again, the theory goes, national states of Europe must be dismantled, and joined together under a single international government such as the European Union (Brexit notwithstanding). Only the EU can prevent a future Auschwitz. Israel’s persistence in pursuing national self-determination and defending herself explains the virtually infinite hatred so many feel towards the Jewish state. For many, the Jews have become the new Germans—“Israel is Auschwitz.”
While other nations willingly sacrifice their independence, Israel selfishly clings to her own state and uses force to defend herself, which is considered illegitimate. Since in this view Israel is, in some way, “a variant on Nazism,” then changes in Israeli policies or PR are irrelevant. “An improved Auschwitz is still Auschwitz.” While Jews are horrified about hearing about “Israel’s destruction,” some are actively already working for her demise.
To the chagrin of these internationalists, European animosity toward Israel in the long run is destined to be self-defeating. As Paul Johnson, an English journalist and historian, has warned: “So Israel is envied and hated; and efforts are made to destroy her. The extermination of the Israelis has long been the prime objective of the Terrorist International.” The terrorists “calculate that if they can break Israel, then all the rest of civilisation is vulnerable to their assaults.”
Alex Grobman, a Hebrew University-trained historian, is senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society and a member of the Council of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.