Borderline Views: Anti-European hysteria

The new EU guidelines concerning the West Bank, Golan Heights and east Jerusalem were not the surprise our prime minister.

Cool map with coin 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Cool map with coin 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The new EU guidelines concerning the West Bank, Golan Heights and east Jerusalem were not the surprise our prime minister, many of our government officials, foreign ministry diplomats and right-wing columnists and bloggers made it out to be. It had been on the cards for a long time, had been discussed quite openly in Brussels among EU officials, and has been on the individual agendas of quite a few European countries for well over a year.
Only this time, no amount of back-room lobbying and pressure was able to delay the decision any longer. The EU and many of its member countries were simply fed up with the continued lack of progress on the peace front, and with what they see as the blatant promotion of policies aimed at strengthening, rather than freezing, the occupation.
This includes the expansion of settlements and civilian infrastructure and, the straw that broke the camel’s back, the recognition of Ariel as a university following years of EU rejection of any form of academic sanctions or boycotts against Israel on the grounds that this was not relevant since all of Israel’s universities and institutes of higher education are inside the recognized sovereign borders of Israel.
The inclusion of east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights as part of the new regulations surprised many who have come, intuitively, to make a distinction between these areas and the West Bank.
Whether or not they are all defined as “occupied territories” under international law, most Israelis view these areas differently than the West Bank, and could have been expected to have been more sympathetic toward a partial decision. It might have won over a greater part of the Israeli street.
But even for those who strongly oppose the new EU guidelines, the venom and strength of the Israeli responses were nothing short of hysterical, strong on the rhetoric but totally divorced from reality – a sort of reflex action the minute anyone with “Europe” attached to his name dares to be critical of Israeli government policies.
The use of Holocaust and anti-Semitism rhetoric the moment there is the slightest criticism from Europe is cheap and sensational. The most irresponsible of all of the responses was from one of the country’s most respected journalists, Dan Margalit, who used the imagery of the “yellow star” to characterize the impact of the EU decision on Israeli residents impacted by the new regulations.
Such rhetoric does no more than cheapen the very real memory of the Holocaust and the very real dangers of anti-Semitism.
Those who use such arguments to counter a political criticism clearly have lost all sense of perspective concerning contemporary Israel and contemporary Europe. The use of such invective is irresponsible and displays a clear lack of clarity on the part of people who occupy positions of power and who should know a lot better – even if they strongly disagree with the EU decisions.
Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin and Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett are certainly doing their best to even further destroy Israel’s image abroad – especially in Europe. But why should we be surprised? These are the same people who have come out against the re-opening of negotiations with the Palestinians, and who want Israel to renege on its prior commitments to the principle of a two-state solution.
They continue to promote settlements and occupation at every possible opportunity. This is the face of the current Israeli government and it does not make for very sympathetic acceptance even among our best friends, such as the EU or the US.
The most laughable of all statements was issued by none other than Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. He accused the EU of destroying the peace process – just two days before he finally accepted the new Kerry diplomacy. Wouldn’t it have been convenient if he could have saved himself the trouble of having to return, clearly against his will, to the negotiation table, by placing the blame on the shoulders of those terrible Europeans.
But it seems that the US administration was not having any of this and, quite rightly, has maintained a dignified silence on the EU decision – probably backing (perhaps even coordinating) it in the privacy of their own back rooms in the White House and the State Department.
Europe remains one of Israel’s most important allies – politically and economically. Israel retains favored status in almost all of its relations with Europe – cultural, academic, economic and academic.
The EU strongly supports the principle of a two-state solution in which Israel’s security as a Jewish state is guaranteed – alongside an independent Palestinian state. The Europeans, like the Americans, strongly believe that it is in the long term interests of both the Palestinians AND the Israelis for them to have separate political entities, each of whose security and long-term existence is guaranteed – and that the continuation of the present situation will only result in more conflict and violence and, at the end of the day, a binational state which the vast majority of Israelis are opposed to.
It is ironic that the official Foreign Ministry statement rebuked the EU for not investing its time in promoting peace, when this is exactly what the Europeans have been doing. If anyone has not invested in peace in recent years, it is the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, each of which have done their utmost to put obstacles in the way.
We can’t continue to expect to enjoy the best of both worlds – favored-nation status on the one hand, but rejection of the European (and US) position on our future security and peace on the other. It is not as though the European and American positions are vastly different, but it is clear that only the strong arm of the US will ever bring real conflict resolution to the negotiation table, while Europe will have an important, but secondary, role to play.
That does not excuse the use of irresponsible rhetoric on behalf of the state. When we disagree, it is incumbent upon us to refrain from a form of invective which only serves to cheapen those things which are of such great importance to the Israeli public, such as Holocaust remembrance and anti-Semitism. This only serves to weaken our cause in the eyes of the world.
The writer is dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben-Gurion University. The views expressed are his alone.