In Europe, the number of Jews continues to decline, but the disease of antisemitism continues to rise. According to a European Union poll, the vast majority (85%) of European Jews see antisemitism as a major problem in their lives.
Welcome to the world of 21st-century European antisemitism and its most popular contemporary form, Israel-bashing. This begs the question, why are Europeans still obsessed with Jews and the Jew among nations while working overtime to support their enemies?
A 2018 CNN survey found only 54% of Europeans said “Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state.” Get that? Nearly half of Europeans think the one Jewish state has no right to exist. This does not bode well for future Israeli-European relations. From an Israeli economic perspective, this matters greatly because Europe is its number one trading partner. How the European Union acts politically against Israel, whether it chooses to increase its support of the BDS movement, can profoundly affect Israel’s economic and military security in the years to come.
According to Michael Sieveking, deputy director of AJC Transatlantic Institute, “Making matters even worse a dangerous fallacy is on the rise that denies that anti-Zionism is antisemitism at all. Anti-Zionism hides behind a veneer of respectability. At its rotten core is the notion that it’s acceptable to deny the Jewish people the freedom to exercise its right to self-determination. There is no shortage of European politicians mourning dead Jews. But where are some of those leaders when living Jews are being victimized for real or imaged actions of Israel?”
Using a politicized definition of human rights as a weapon against Israel allows Europeans to claim the moral high ground. But their morality appears bankrupt as they developed an entrenched double standard against Israel as compared to their muted response to obviously more egregious human rights problems around the world. For example, lobbying for unrestricted trade with one of the world’s most odious malefactors, Iran, shows that the European human rights emperor has no clothes.
They see no hypocrisy supporting a gas pipeline from Russia that will enrich a nation that not only is a human rights nightmare but one that occupies other sovereign nations’ territory, i.e. Crimea, Ukraine, Georgia. China, the world’s number one human rights abuser, has upwards of a million of its Uighur people in “re-education” camps, threatens the democracy of Taiwan, and throws democracy activists in jail in Hong Kong, but still has virtually unrestricted trade with Europe. Yet, the Europeans invest a disproportionate amount of time discussing and strategizing on ways to boycott Israeli goods. Adding fuel to the antisemitic fire, most European nations at best only abstain from UN resolutions against Israel.
Israel and Europe have a complex relationship. The EU is Israel’s number one trading partner, yet the EU seems to be on its way to accepting some form of boycotting Israel for its occupation of the disputed territories in the West Bank.
With the line between antisemitism and anti-Zionism disappearing by the day, Europe is not only hostile to Israel, but Jews themselves.
To understand European antisemitism, you just need to look at the tragedy of Sarah Halimi. “Why France Refuses to Prosecute an Antisemitic Murderer” is the title of an article written by former New York Times columnist Bari Weiss, a journalist run out of town because she reports on antisemitism coming from the Right, Left and Islam, and doesn’t follow the woke orthodoxy on Israel. Like much of Western Europe, her former employer minimizes antisemitism unless it emanates from the far-right.
The story of Halimi, the victim of one of the most vicious hate crimes in recent memory, was underreported by the press because the victim was a Jew killed by a Muslim man. While torturing her, he called her a shaitan (Satan).
Then he threw her out of her third-story apartment window while shouting “Allahu akbar” (God is great in Arabic). What is even more frightening was the response of French prosecutors. The alleged killer was not charged because he had smoked marijuana, which is a convenient excuse not to antagonize their antisemitic Muslim citizens. Just ask yourself, if the victim was a Christian or a Muslim, and the killer was Jewish, would the prosecutor have acted similarly? Weiss wrote, “We are suffering from a widespread social health epidemic, and it is rooted in the cheapening of Jewish blood.”
Nothing drives home Europe’s ambivalent feelings regarding Israel than its attempts to economically support the antisemitic theocratic Islamic Republic of Iran, a nation whose authoritarian Islamist leaders repeatedly call for eliminating the Zionist state, while trafficking in demonization of the Jews. Europeans even tried to create a financial system (INSTEX) to bypass American sanctions and enrich the terror state. Western European enthusiasm for a nuclear agreement that guarantees to put nuclear weapons in the hands of Israel’s nemesis while paying lip service to their human rights behavior, Jew-hatred, and maniacally hateful rhetoric makes one wonder what motivates such persistent animosity.
According to European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, reviving Iran’s nuclear deal (JCPOA) is “the most urgent and important” diplomatic priority for the Biden administration in order to improve US-European relations. Borrell completely rejects any efforts to expand the agreement to address matters outside its current scope, i.e. human rights or terrorism. “For us, the Europeans, the Iran nuclear deal, it’s a triumph of diplomacy, and we are very proud of it.”
Despite European self-righteous proselytizing to Israel to improve its human rights record, the EU chooses to defend a regime dripping with Jew-hatred. The EU showed its true colors when it did not stand with the Iranian people, who risked their lives to express their outrage at their government for its abuse and torture of its people. This human rights disaster does not rise to Borrell’s sanctimonious standard as an “urgent” European priority.
Perhaps there is some self-preservation involved. In 2018, The Washington Examiner asked why European policymakers are so determined to “prop up the (Iranian) government. Europeans may feel the pressure of Iran’s threats… the head of the country’s atomic agency warned of ominous consequences if Iran doesn’t see its promised economic benefits. Ominous in this context would seem to mean: Give us sanctions relief, or we will build a nuclear bomb.”
Iranian-backed terrorism on European soil is not unheard of; just look at the Iranian-Hezbollah bombing in Burgas in 2012 targeting Jewish tourists. European anti-Zionism, i.e., antisemitism, expresses itself in many ways. Why has Europe given over 100 million dollars to 35 NGOs supporting the International Criminal Court’s witch-hunt to delegitimize Israel? In 2015, the European Commission decided to create a double standard against Israel by labeling all Israeli goods produced over the Armistice Line (1967 Line) to help consumers boycott Israel. It’s a move reminiscent of the Nazi era. Still, anti-Zionist Europeans see it more analogous to the boycott of South Africa, opposing that country’s apartheid. No other nation’s goods in disputed territories from Kashmir to Northern Cyprus warrant such a boycott by Europe.
So is all this explained by the Europeans’ two millennia-long history of antisemitism that now expresses itself as the more politically correct hatred of the Jewish nation? Or is it the modern European bureaucrat who is part of the self-anointed enlightened, progressive left who sees Israel as an aberration in modernity, a nationalist colonial project that belongs to a different era?
A more contemporary answer to understand the resurrection of Europe’s long history of Jew-hatred while painting itself as a moral force for good began with the 1974 Arab Oil Embargo after the Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur War. It was a significant turning point in moving Europeans from begrudging support of Israel that assuaged their guilt for the holocaust to resurrecting antisemitism but in a politically correct incarnation.
This was best evidenced by French President de Gaulle’s antisemitic response after the Israelis defeated the Arabs in the Six-Day War, calling Jews “an elitist…and domineering people.” De Gaulle, like Israel’s Arab enemies, used the word Jew interchangeably with Israeli. Immediately, French foreign policy turned decidedly pro-Arab and anti-Israel, allowing France to pull other European nations against Israel after the Arab oil embargo. French president Jacques Chirac in 2001 blamed Israel for the failure of Camp David, not Arafat, who started the Second Intifada and rejected a Palestinian state. Even today, French animosity to Israel is expressed by its president, Emmanuel Macron, who, unlike other EU leaders, has not criticized the inappropriateness of the International Criminal Court’s prosecution of Israel for war crimes against Hamas.
Supporting the Palestinian cause to appease the Arab oil states had the added benefit of demonizing that “shitty little nation,” as one French diplomat undiplomatically said publicly years later, without the stigma of hating the individual Jews or their religion. Placating Europe’s growing unassimilated Muslim populations is also a significant factor in aligning against the Jewish State. An ADL survey of second and third-grade Muslims in Europe in the 21st century found that 50% could be classified as anti-Semites. These are children, and this is growing worse with time. Yet, Arabs in the Gulf states are warming to Jews and Israel as evidenced by the Abraham Accords, while Turkish, Tunisian, Algerian, Pakistani, and Syrians living in Europe remain persistently hostile to Jews and Israel.
Being able to label Israel as an occupying state allowed Europe to transition to become a cheerleader of the anti-Israel movement, ubiquitous among European elites and on European university campuses. Europeans have perfected their rationale that their harsh criticism of Israel is never antisemitism. Palestinian rejectionism and antisemitism are either ignored or turned into, at best, a moral equivalence.
But Europe is not homogeneous. Eastern Europe is more sympathetic to Israel but has an even more tainted antisemitic history. Their leaders are less liberal than western Europeans but admire Israel’s nationalism. Is it possible for Israel to strengthen relations with Western Europe, with whom it shares more values, but are also its loudest critics? How does it foster a relationship with Eastern Europe that diplomatically supports them while some of their populist leaders dabble in antisemitic tropes and policies? Granted, it is not either-or, and foreign policy is about interests, not usually values, but it would be nice to have some friends who share your values and also support Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jews.
Israel will quietly continue to hedge its bets and quietly economically pivot from Europe to the Far East and the Asian sub-continent over the next generation or two. If boycotts grow and are enforced, for Israel’s economic survival this will become a necessity. Strengthening relationships in China, India, Korea, Taiwan, and other nations, where there is no legacy of antisemitism, decreases the impact of growing European boycotts. Within a few generations, Europe will likely be overwhelmed by its Muslim population, and its move away from Israel and support of the BDS movement will only accelerate.
Yet, there is some hope. According to Algemeiner, at a recent conference on Protection Against Racial Discrimination and Related Intolerance, the European Commission allocated 2 billion dollars that included a strategy that, “will provide a comprehensive framework to prevent and combat antisemitism…. Holocaust remembrance and fostering Jewish life in Europe.”
But unless they deal with their growing Muslim population’s Jewish hatred, which doesn’t distinguish between Jewish citizens of Europe and Israel, any progress fighting antisemitism will be marginal at best. Concurrently they must address their political class whose default position is harsh criticism of Israel, or the Jews of Europe will continue to emigrate and fulfill Hitler’s dream of a Europe without Jews.
The writer is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political Information Network), and regularly briefs members of Congress and their foreign policy aides.