Europe's opening mind

Europeans may be entertaining much-belated second-thoughts about the Palestinians.

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June 5, 2006 02:11
3 minute read.
Europe's opening mind

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Europeans may be entertaining much-belated second-thoughts about the Palestinians - and in a big way. As reported in yesterday's Jerusalem Post, new polls indicate that the Palestinians are fast losing their place of honor as the darlings of Europe's "opinion elites." Surveys conducted among those defined as such trendsetters by renowned international pollster Stanley Greenberg have produced results so unexpected that the pollster himself was incredulous and repeated some of the polls to make sure. Yet the same apparent shift in inclinations again became evident, reinforcing Greenberg's belief that this was no accidental finding.

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It may be far too soon to count on the end of Europe's lack of sympathy, if not often outright antagonism towards the Jewish state. The collective experience of all citizens in all democracies has taught us time and again not to put absolute faith in opinion surveys, no matter how expertly conducted or by whom. By the same token, however, we must not succumb to the opposite extreme and dismiss out of hand what may indeed prove to be a pivotal swing in sentiment. What Greenberg identifies may be of unique significance for Israel. Indeed Israel risks nothing in assuming that Greenberg may be on to an incipient modification in European attitudes. During the nearly four decades since the Six Day War, Israelis have grown disaffected by a perceived blatant and acute bias in parts of Europe. From the vantage point of many Israelis, Europe became a "lost cause," one in which Israel's case stood no chance from the outset. Often, Israel was held to standards never applied to any other state and was condemned a priori, regardless of what it did or what was done to it. Europe's arrogance and animus sometimes seemed so immutable and so entrenched that Israelis essentially wrote if off. The consensus here and in much of the Jewish world abroad was that to appeal to European reason and decency was a waste of breath. This, arguably, may have been wrong, even if understandable. A country embroiled in a struggle for its very existence has no right to give up in any diplomatic arena, no matter how adverse. But if it was wrong to abandon the battle for European opinion and yield to Arab demagoguery when it indisputably seemed to have the upper hand, then it's all the more so inexcusable if there is the slightest chance that Greenberg has accurately gauged new mind-sets in Europe. It is clearly much too premature to celebrate the end of Palestinian supremacy in the fight for European hearts and minds, but what confers particular credence on Greenberg's findings is both what they show and what they don't. Greenberg does not report a remarkable rise in sympathy towards Israel. He does report a dramatic fall in sympathy for the Palestinians. What is striking about this shift is that it is occurring despite the fact that much of the European media remain skewed against Israel. Europeans have not been exposed to pro-Israeli coverage, and precious little that, from this perspective, appears fair-minded. Whatever change is measured must therefore arise from Europeans' own experiences rather than from what is transmitted to them. There's been no face-lift for Israel's image. Rather, the Islamist threat in Europe, the terrorist predations there, the burgeoning of what has been dubbed Eurabia - are all apparently impressing Europeans deeply enough to begin to question the perception of Israel as an intransigent imperialist aggressor and the Palestinians as progressive freedom-fighters. The shifting attitude to the Palestinians does not, in all likelihood, derive from greater consideration for Israel so much as from first-hand conclusions arising from occurrences on Europe's own turf. It is not clear, however, that Europeans are fully aware of, much less have absorbed, the implications of Hamas's electoral victory, and its open support for Israel's destruction and for terrorism. This might help explain the ostensible discrepancy between Greenberg's findings regarding Israel and those regarding the Palestinians. The fact that such divergence exists can only embolden us to trust that some new stirrings are indeed afoot. Israel would be foolish to pessimistically downplay what should be seen as a new opportunity. If it was a mistake to opt for defeat by default in Europe before Greenberg's survey findings, assuming a reflexive European receptivity to the anti-Israel messages of Arab and Moslem propagandists, it would be all the more unpardonable now.

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