Op-Ed: The Palestinianization of European Political Discourse
Richard Mather, View from UKThe writer is a freelance journalist who lives and works in Manchester,...
News that the European Union’s foreign policy representative, Catherine Ashton, joined an Arab olive harvest in the town of Ras Karkar, should be a cause for concern for all those who are worried about the EU’s inability to stay impartial in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
The fact that Ras Karkar is in Area C, which is under Israeli military and administrative control, is something of a propaganda coup for the Palestinians, who claim Ms Ashton’s visit is proof that that “this territory is not contested as Israel claims” and will “help us move to full Palestinian sovereignty.”
Ms Ashton’s visit to the Middle East comes a week after she described Israeli construction activity in a Jerusalem neighbourhood as threatening "to make a two-state solution impossible." Moreover, she made no mention of the Palestinian refusal to resume direct negotiations with Israel without preconditions.
One of the most alarming experiences as a European is to see how our politicians continue to criticize Israel but not the Palestinians, whose national aspirations seem to be the most pressing issue in the corridors of EU power. In fact, you would be forgiven for thinking that the creation of a Palestinian state will inaugurate a period of world peace and utopian brotherhood.
It is ironic that the EU is so fixated on Palestinian nationalism at a time when Europe is undermining the sovereignty of individual nation states within its own borders. Indeed, Europe haughtily dismisses concepts such as a statehood and nationalism. So why is Palestinian statehood so important?
This obsession with the Palestinians requires an explanation. Ever since Israel’s astounding military victory in 1967, it is clear that the Jewish state does not require the benefaction of condescending Europeans. This means that Europe needs a “new Jew” to patronise. But instead of protecting its own Jewish remnant who had survived the horrors of the Shoah, the European elite latched on to the concept of Palestinian nationalism.
Why? Because Palestinian nationalism was – and still is – packaged as a revolutionary (albeit invented) ethnocentric liberation movement which challenges the hegemony of the US, which has long supported Israel. Moreover, the Palestinians managed to convince just about everyone that they are a landless and suffering people, whose plight is equal to that of the Jews in the 1930s and 1940s.
During the 1960s and 1970s, when the Palestinians used terrorism to advertise their message, some European politicians and activists must have thought that assisting the Palestinians was simply the right thing to do. Anyway, supporting the PLO at a time when it was widely considered to be a terrorist organization, was a good way of upsetting the Americans. At the same time, the Palestinian issue has enabled Europe to reconnect with its Jew-hating past by blurring the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
The fact that for the first time since the Nazis ruled Europe, Jews are being boycotted and sanctioned on a massive scale, is testament to the perverse success of the Palestinianization of Europe.
A growing number of European universities, trade unions and businesses have decided to boycott Israeli products and individual Israelis (usually academics), as well as Israeli orchestras and theatre groups. At state level, Denmark and Ireland are proposing the banning of Israeli goods. The European Parliament’s second biggest voting bloc, the Socialists and Democrats Group, also supports a boycott of Israeli settlement goods.
At street level, Jews are assaulted and their sacred spaces vandalized. Countries that pride themselves on their enlightened and liberal societies, such as Sweden, France, Britain and Norway, are all places where to be Jewish is to be at risk.
The rise in anti-Semitism in Europe has received little attention, partly because much of the abuse is carried out by Muslims who are sheltered by the liberal elite, who accuse critics of Islamophobia or racism. Muslims who attack diaspora Jews claim it is retribution on behalf of their “brothers” in Gaza and the “West Bank.” And the liberal elite agrees.
In the European media, Israel is disproportionately blamed for all the ills of the Middle East. It is amazing how many column inches are devoted to Israel/Palestine. Far too often, the Guardian newspaper gives a platform to radical Muslims who espouse hatred of Israel and Jews. And on so many occasions, media outlets across Europe print or broadcast anti-Israel stories that are based on manipulated images, staged events and unsubstantiated rumors, the most notable example being the massacre that never happened in Jenin.
What is also vexing is Europe’s economic support for projects in Gaza and the “West Bank.” Over the past two decades, the EU has committed around 5 billion euros in development aid to the Palestinians. The EU makes no secret of the fact that it is deliberately helping the Palestinians prepare for statehood, which the EU says is being hampered by Israeli settlements. At the start of 2012, the EU contributed another 1.1 million euros to the PA’s so-called “Private Sector Reconstruction in Gaza" programme, which provides financial support to businesses destroyed or damaged by "Operation Cast Lead". Never mind the fact that Gaza has a has a five-star hotel and a luxury shopping mall, or that its real GDP grow by more than 25% in the first three quarters of 2011.
In contemporary European political discourse, the Palestinian issue is totemic. The European fixation with Gaza and the “West Bank” has propagated the outrageous but popular belief that Israel is the world’s worst human rights abuser since the Nazis. But casting Israel in this role is no different from accusing Jews of killing Christian children for their blood or blaming Jews for Germany’s military defeat in 1918. The level of abuse levelled at Israel today is just another manifestation of an age-old disease. And it is a disease which always makes Europe very sick.
Ms Ashton, who is also vice-president of the European Commission, would do well to turn her attention to finding a solution to domestic anti-Semitism, which is at its highest level in sixty years. Europe has no business funding Gaza or castigating Israel when it cannot even look after its own persecuted minority of Jews, some of whom are fleeing France and Sweden in order to find shelter in Israel. The fact that the Holocaust is still within living memory should send a shudder down the spine of Europe.
The one-sided criticism of Israel and the culture of hatred in Europe needs to be addressed before more Jews are attacked or synagogues firebombed by pro-Palestinian activists. For the sake of a healthy body politic, EU politicians must resist the urge to automatically side with the Palestinians and say “no” to anti-Semitism in all its forms. They should point out the duplicity of left-wing peace demonstrators who side with Hamas and Hezbollah, and highlight the hypocrisy of European anti-Zionists who send flotillas to Gaza but do nothing about Syria, which is currently falling apart.
This is not about being anti-Muslim (or even anti-Left) but about getting things into proportion and realizing that there are more important issues in the world than “Palestine.” Eradicating European anti-Semitism is, in my view, far more important. After all, Europe has a moral and historic duty to protect what remains of its Jewish communities.