The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, is illuminated with the colours of the Israeli flag to show solidarity with Israel.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel and its supporters in Europe are rightfully dismayed by the anti-Israel bias expressed by European leaders, media and public opinion. Many believe that this bias is irreversible as it is rooted in antisemitism, the world’s oldest prejudice. While this diagnosis is partially correct, it prevents us from effectively countering Europe’s anti-Israel bias.
There should be no doubt that anti-Zionism is a modern form of antisemitism, as best expressed by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Britain’s former chief rabbi: “Antisemitism is a virus that survives by mutating. In the Middle Ages, Jews were hated because of their religion. In the 19th and 20th centuries they were hated because of their race. Today they are hated because of their nationstate, Israel.” Another way of expressing it is that modern antisemitism “has transferred traditional antisemitism that blames Jews for ills in society, to blaming Israel for ills in the international community,” as stated by Seth J. Frantzman, The Jerusalem Post’s op-ed editor.
Both explanations are accurate, but there is a case to be made that even though all antisemites are anti-Zionists, not all anti-Zionists are antisemites.
There are three major polls from 2014 that support this hypothesis.
According to the Anti-Defamation League’s worldwide survey, the proportion of people harboring antisemitic attitudes in the following countries are: Germany 27%, France 37%, Spain 29% and the UK 8%. Compare these figures to the BBC World Service poll which found that the proportion of people who think that Israel’s influence is mainly negative in the following countries are: Germany 67%, France 64%, Spain 61% and the UK 67%. Hence, the levels of anti-Zionism are almost three times higher than the levels of antisemitism in these European countries. There are many other polls that illustrate this gap.
The fact that anti-Zionism is significantly more prevalent in Europe than antisemitism can mostly be attributed to the anti-Israel media. For decades the media has been spoon-feeding the general population lies about Israel.
Every European has grown up with misleading news stories about Israel killing Palestinians, stealing Palestinian land or mistreating the Palestinians in one way or another. Several generations of Europeans have been indoctrinated with a distorted image of Israel, resulting in an unwarranted hatred toward the Jewish state.
One poll that demonstrates this was conducted by Gallup in July 2014 during the last war in Gaza. It found that the closer Americans followed the situation in the Middle East, the more supportive they were of Israel’s actions.
Seventy-one percent of Americans who followed the situation “very closely” believed that Israel’s actions were justified, compared to 51% who followed it “somewhat closely” and 18% who did not follow it closely.
This strongly indicates that ignorance is a significant factor in Western anti-Zionism and therefore it is not solely based on antisemitism, a prejudice that has existed for thousands of years. While Israel’s diplomatic pivot to Africa and Asia is a necessary step, the rationale above should give Israel reason not to give up on Europe.
Although the influx of Muslim migrants to Europe from countries where levels of antisemitism runs as high as 90% clearly has a negative effect on the general public opinion of Israel, there are four major trends that present Israel with new and unprecedented opportunities to regain the support of at least some segments of Europe’s population.
First of all, the mainstream media has lost much of its influence over the past few years as a result of their preference for agenda-driven instead of fact-driven journalism. Second, the emergence of social media has opened up a new path for Israel’s perspective to reach the average European. Third, the catastrophic failure of the so-called Arab Spring has helped many Europeans understand that Israel is not the reason for the chaos in the Middle East – it is a brutal region dominated by totalitarianism, extremism and violence. Fourth, as radical Islamic terrorism has reached the shores and capitals of Europe, some Europeans are beginning to understand the true cause of Islamic terrorism and therefore that it is not Israel, “the occupation” or the settlements.
The pro-Israel community needs to capitalize on these developments and reevaluate and reenergize its efforts in Europe. Although Europe has a dark past when it comes to its treatment of Jews, besides the US and a few other exceptions it is the continent that most closely reflects Israeli values and interests. I am in no way advocating for Israel to submit to Europe’s anti-Israel demands, but I do believe there is an opportunity to improve European opinions of Israel that would result in more European support for Israel in international forums, stronger economic ties, and enhanced cooperation that will be mutually beneficial.
Israel would certainly benefit from more European support and understanding.
However, Israel’s prosperity is also in Europe’s interest as it is an island of democracy and stability in an otherwise totalitarian and chaotic region. To repel and eventually defeat the dark forces of the world, today mainly consisting of totalitarianism and Islamism, countries that at least aspire to be the antithesis of these ideologies need to join forces and fight them together.The author is a member of the Jewish Diplomatic Corps, a flagship program of the World Jewish Congress, and a board member of the Zionist Federation of Sweden.
Follow him on Twitter: @GabRosenberg.
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