European intervention in Israeli-Palestinian affairs is hard to rationalize if viewed through a foreign policy prism.
To understand it, one must analyze European-Israeli relationship in its historical context. It cannot be pretended that such relations began with the 1948 establishment of the State of Israel, which would be like pretending France-German relations began in 1871 with the establishment of the German Empire.
The European-Israeli conflict is the world’s oldest, lasting for 2,300 years.
While it certainly had long periods of peace or containment (at times lasting for centuries), the Europe-Israel relationship has repeatedly cycled back to conflict following such periods.
The feud dates back to Greek and then Roman invasions of Judea. While other nations accepted the European invaders, the Israelites rebelled. Centuries later, as a byproduct, Europeans astonishingly accepted the Israelite monotheistic religion in the form of Christianity.
As Europe switched from paganism to monotheism, Europe and Israel enjoyed a brief period of acceptance. During that time, Jewish life flourished. But shortly thereafter, the conflict re-emerged, this time in the form of a “brotherly feud,” as Europe refused to contain the residual Jewish religion.
Jewish refugees, expelled by Europe from their land, were subjected to religious persecution in Europe for the coming centuries.
In the 11th century, Europe’s conflict with Israel escalated as the crusaders coerced European Jews to “kiss the cross” or die. They then proceeded to Jerusalem and slaughtered the city’s Jews alongside their Muslims brethren.
But the Jews were able to persevere and thrived in places where they were permitted to reside, such as in Spain. Yet the Jewish success led to competition which served as primary driver for their expulsion.
Similar deportations occurred in England and France.
Religious persecution continued to expand into new narratives such as the blood libels, but then Europe turned secular and Jews breath a sign of relief.
Yet, by the end of the 19th century, European Jew-hatred reinvented itself in the form of national and racial hatred, and a new term began to be used: antisemitism.
The shock of the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel have mitigated antisemitism as an existential threat to Jews today. But once again, European anti-Jewish sentiment found an outlet. This time, toward the collective of Jews – the State of Israel.
The parallels to previous episodes are alarming: just like then, there is today widespread dismissal, claims of paranoia and rationalization that the aversion is not directed at Jews, but merely a subset of Jews (“some of my best friends are Jewish”).
Another daunting parallel is how socially accepted and even fashionable European anti-Jewish movements become after some brewing. In the late 19th century, it took a few decades after the emancipation of Jews for the rise of the antisemitism movement. Today, it took a few decades after the establishment of the Jewish state for the rise of the Israel-bashing movement.
An Austrian journalist reporting from Paris in 1892 wrote: “Till recently antisemitism in France has been something comfortable and polite, one can even say pleasant.” That Jewish journalist, Theodore Herzl, sought to penetrate Parisian social circles and was at minimum tolerant to the antisemite movement, maintaining contact with proud antisemites.
He later wrote in his diary: “In Paris, I adapted a more liberated attitude towards antisemitism, which I began to understand historically and to pardon.”
But just like with today’s socially-driven Israel-bashing, Herzl recognized that this polite and pleasant fashion could turn dangerous. He wrote: “Antisemitism is a meeting point of the unsatisfied, sort of a salon of the deprived.”
Indeed, history shows that when a society in Europe felt humiliated, the Jews were often the ones who paid the price.
In Herzl’s time, it was France’s humiliating defeat by Prussia in 1870 which eventually led to the Dreyfus Affair. Fifty years later, it was Germany’s humiliating defeat in World War I which eventually led to the Holocaust.
Today, some in Europe have been amassing built-up frustration. The shift of global political and economic leadership to the United States, the rise of Islam in Europe, the trench war against Islamist terrorism and the emerging debate over Europe’s character all have elevated such frustrations to alarming levels.
Once again, it seems that some in Europe are choosing to address their misfortunes by entering that same “salon of the deprived” and directing their frustration at Israel.
In the last go-around, internalizing the immediacy of the danger, Herzl took action and founded political Zionism, which eventually resulted in the establishment of the State of Israel. Unfortunately that process took a few years too long, and much of European Jewry was eradicated.
Today, it is not too late to stop the madness of the Israel-bashing movement or its attempt to eradicate the Jewish state.
Grassroots anti-Israel movements turning into official policy has been a staple of Europe’s history. Europeans have a choice to make: continue the predictable 2,300- year cycle of animosity toward Israel, or this time decide to break from this vicious destiny.
The writer is chairman of the America-Israel Friendship League Think Tank. The views he expresses are his own.