Tom Wilson is a British born writer and political commentator. He writes often on matters of politics and religion as well as making regular media appearances discussing current affairs in the US and Middle East.
Most international observers will find unremarkable the latest round of European Union boycotts against the Settlements, that is to say any Jewish community that happens to find itself located over the briefly maintained 1949 armistice lines. This move sits neatly within an ongoing pattern of European hostility towards Jews living in a vast array of places, ranging from much of Israel’s capital Jerusalem to Judaism’s next most holy and arguably most ancient city, Hevron.
At times this ongoing fixation has appeared almost farcical. On the same day in May of last year that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas once again stated his refusal to return to the negotiating table, the European Union was seemingly too busy announcing the publication of yet another report on Settlements to even notice. While Palestinian intransigence remains unshakable European foreign policy analysts obsessively count and recount the number of Jews living in Israel’s disputed territories and meanwhile the rest of the region precariously hurtles from one crisis to the next.
Although this time around the latest directive may also pertain to the Golan, there is something quite remarkable about the relative lack of attention that is usually given to this, Israel’s other supposed ‘occupation’. Europeans rarely seem to ever reference either the Jewish communities there or the lot of the sizeable Arab population living in the Israeli controlled Golan. Nor has there ever been any outrage expressed at Israel’s initial presence beyond the original 1947 UN partition plan. Who ever heard of the occupation of Ramle or Akko? So what is it about Jerusalem and the "West Bank" that has so excited the Europeans?
True, the Zionist national revival in general sits squarely counter to the post-nationalist universalism of the European project and the progressive march towards the no doubt thrilling dream of world government that so many eurocrats already speak fondly of. Palestinian Arab nationalism, as aggressive and fiercely intolerant as it may well be, is of course dressed up as an anti-colonial civil rights movement, one to which Europeans enthusiastically lend their support, perhaps in the hope of redeeming themselves of their own history.
Europeans, it seems were less troubled by Israel in its early incarnation; secular, socialist and for the most part territorially confined to the Mediterranean coastal plain. They refused, however, to recognise any Israeli claim to a capital in even the most outlying western suburbs of Jerusalem. This city was, apparently, a problem for many Europeans. Could religiously charged Jerusalem lend biblical connotations to the new Jewish State they might have wondered.
Then in 1967 everything changed. In fending off its attackers not only did Israel establish its military preeminence in the region but now all of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, and the biblical heartlands of Judea and Samaria had fallen to Jewish Sovereignty. This was too much. No Palestinian Arab State had been extinguished; Jordanian occupiers had simply been replaced by Israeli forces. Yet, the international community, seemingly previously untroubled by the Jordanian seizure of these areas, was clearly outraged by the Jewish presence there and from the UN the call immediately began for Israeli withdrawal.
The religious and historical significance of Jerusalem and the adjacent regions of Judea and Samaria have not been lost on the many Israelis who have made their homes there, yet this significance has also not been lost on other observers too. At any anti-Israel rally or meeting in Europe one can hear shrill speeches decrying the ‘Judaisation of Jerusalem’. A phrase uttered in genuine angst rather than with any sense of irony. For Europeans have thrown off the now much resented influences of their own Churches and they lack the kind of Evangelical Christian Right that can be found in America. The notion then that anyone might take the Bible seriously enough to let it influence how they live their lives or, cue ‘the dreaded settlers’, determine where they live, is a serious affront to the modern European mind.
Liberal Westerners are happy to swoon over Islam. This is primarily because they don’t for a moment entertain the thought that it could be true.
Yet it gets worse. The return of Jews and Jewish sovereignty to such religiously sensitive areas as Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria all begins to look horrifically like happenings envisaged by the Bible. For post-Judeoa-Christian Europe it is difficult to overstate just how catastrophic it would be for anything to appear to give any kind of validation to biblical claims. Europeans have spent a century or more trying to free themselves of the frustrating limits that biblical morality placed on their appetites.
Whether they proclaim it openly or not, they are now akin to the more starkly honest American philosopher Thomas Nagel who once declared ‘It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God... It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want a universe like that’. And while it may be for slightly different reasons, perhaps it is also no coincidence that the ‘progressive’ and anti-Orthodox strands of Judaism have taken so aggressively against the Jewish presence in biblically sensitive areas; these are denominations who have similarly staked everything on the hope that the Bible is a fairytale.
Islam, on the other hand, does not concern most Europeans, for as Douglas Murray observes in his latest ebook Islamophilia, liberal Westerners are happy to swoon over Islam. This is primarily because they don’t for a moment entertain the thought that it could be true. They do not historically have the same cultural hang-ups about Quaranic prohibitions and so feel no sense of guilt when say drinking alcohol for instance. Christianity and its taboos still loom in the European psyche, however, and so Europeans often reveal themselves to be far more hostile to the Church leaders than to many extremist Islamic clerics; compare Yusuf Qawadawi’s visit to London to that of Pope Benedict’s.
In his strikingly insightful essay The Myth of the Supra-Human Jew, Irving Kristol wrote at length about the long European struggle with what the Jews meant for their own religion. Since Church doctrine taught that the survival of the Jews until the end of time was testament to the truth of the Bible and its claims so, argues Kristol, was the challenge set to any European wishing to rid himself of the shame and guilt associated with Judeo-Christian morality. Annihilate the people of the book and in doing so disprove their book and free yourself of its restrictions.
Six decades on from the German-led attempt to extinguish the Jewish people, one that found collaborators in every European country, and it is striking how in some German cities it can seem as if there is a sex-shop on every street corner. Across Europe grand Cathedrals, like the once thriving Jewish quarters, are almost entirely deserted. Yet, anti-Semites always encounter the same conundrum; the more they persecute the Jews, the more they reaffirm the very Jewish exceptionalism they seek to deny. Success becomes a failure that must spur on new attempts.
In the long run severing Israel from Judea, Samaria and the most religiously significant parts of Jerusalem not only serves to destroy Israel’s identity and rob the nation of much biblical significance but it also creates indefensible borders for what many of Israel’s enemies already refer to as a ‘one bomb country’. As has been suggested by Charles Krauthammer, it is doubtful whether this time the Jewish people could survive such a blow as another destruction of their homeland and their most determined opponents must surely have calculated similarly.
The European Union’s latest directive against the "settlements" has no shortage of unfortunate historical connotations. Not only are Europeans once more telling Jews where they can and can’t live but it smacks of a futile colonialism whereby Europeans are again recklessly attempting to draw other people’s borders for them. Similarly, boycotts are a longstanding tactic in the war against Jews, advocated in early Medieval England just as they were also the first anti-Jewish policy enforced in Nazi Germany.
Noticeably, most Europeans seem to have been just as untroubled by the myriad daily atrocities and injustices taking place around the globe as the rest of the world that also routinely looks on with apparent disinterest. Even when genocide returned to Europe itself in the 1990s, it was for the American’s to lead an intervention in the Balkans to put a stop to it. Yet, when it comes to Jews living in biblically sensitive places, then we can surely always count on the Europeans to spring into decisive action.