Middle Israel: Between Gaza and Rome

Military fire here and political tempest there were fueled by the same menace that is unsettling the entire world.

TALIAN PRESIDENT Sergio Mattarella arrives to meet media after a meeting with Prime Minister-designate Giuseppe Conte at the Quirinal Palace in Rome, May 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/ALESSANDRO BIANCHI)
TALIAN PRESIDENT Sergio Mattarella arrives to meet media after a meeting with Prime Minister-designate Giuseppe Conte at the Quirinal Palace in Rome, May 2018.
Geology came to journalism’s rescue this week, as pundits, searching for metaphors, found earthquake, aftershock and volcano, by which they alluded, respectively, to Italy’s political mayhem, the consequent financial turbulence and Gaza’s seasonal festival of fire.
Though the metaphors are actually problematic – none of these crises is analogous to a natural disaster, as all are man-made – the tragedy in Gaza and the drama in Rome indeed have much in common.
The crisis in Rome – which Israelis, facing Gaza’s inferno, understandably overlooked – followed its politicians’ failure to produce a government three months after Italians elected a parliament dominated by anti-establishment populists.
Fearful that a snap election would produce an even more anti-European parliament, investors from Wall Street to Tokyo dumped euros as well as Italian bonds and stocks, raising fears that Rome, where the EU was conceived in 1957, is also where it will die.
The market turmoil exposed the European political elites’ fears that their great project faces a barbarian sacking.
One such establishment veteran is Italian President Sergio Mattarella, who sparked the crisis by vetoing the appointment as finance minister of an economist who wants Italy to replace the euro with last century’s lira.
Ignoring the people’s verdict in March, which gave the populist Five Star and Lega parties majorities in both houses, the president appointed an apolitical economist as prime minister, and told him to prepare a snap election.
MATTARELLA is a quintessential product of Europe’s embattled political elite, the son of a Christian Democrat who last century held five different cabinet portfolios, and the brother of a president of Sicily who was assassinated by the Mafia.
The Italian president and his ilk are certainly right to fear for Europe’s future, but to secure it they must first honestly expose their predicament’s roots, something most of them refuse to do.
This class’s denialism was best expressed by another of its aging nobles, financier George Soros, in an article bravely titled “How to save Europe,” published this week in Project Syndicate.
Noting that “the EU seems to have lost its way,” he diagnosed two causes: “the financial crisis of 2008” and “the refugee influx of 2015.”
Yes, these events fanned Europe’s crisis, but pinning it on them alone ignores previous decades’ undigested Middle Eastern immigration, and Islamist terrorist attacks, such as the 1985 El Descanso restaurant bombing in Madrid where 18 Europeans were murdered; the Paris Metro bombings that killed eight in 1995; the Madrid train bombings that took 192 lives in 2004; the same year’s murder of film director Theo van Gogh; and the London bombings that killed 53 in 2005.
Such violence, and the expanding immigrant slums surrounding their homes, eroded Europeans’ trust in their leaders’ wisdom and crushed confidence in their vision of a post-national, federated Europe.
That is why the political establishment that built the EU is suffering one setback after another, from the Brexit vote and the rise of xenophobic parties in Germany, Austria and Scandinavia, to the resurgence of nationalists in Poland and Hungary, to the populist takeover of Italy.
People feel insecure – about their power, identity and personal safety. Yes, some of this is not about the Middle East, but most of it is.
If not for Arab leaders’ failure to build modern economies, the ever-warring Middle East would not have sent millions to the gilded European shores where they meet Christians who reject them and Islamists who radicalize them.
Yet in polite European society this simple causeand- effect logic remains taboo, an attitude hidden in Soros’s article, which calls, rightly, to launch “a Marshall Plan for Africa” but says nothing of Middle Eastern misgovernment and the exodus and fanaticism that are its results.
ISRAEL, TOO, stood once where the European establishment stands today.
Back then, a critical mass of Israelis belittled Islamism’s reach and sway, and had yet to conclude, as Labor MK Eitan Cabel did in an article in Haaretz last week, that the enemy we face doesn’t want peace.
Watching Gaza spew its fire this week, Israelis knew what Europe’s declining establishment denies, but its growing protest vote asserts – that just as what Israel faces is not about mapping borders, what Europe faces is not about monetary, fiscal, or immigration policy. It’s about Islamism.
What we, they, and the entire civilized world face are religious zealots out to defeat freedom, stifle enlightenment and subdue any other faith. More than anything else, it was their thickening shadow that made Brits, Poles, Hungarians, Germans, Austrians, and now also Italians turn their backs at their elites’ post-nationalism, a vision that they feel has come to threaten their future.
Gaza’s violence is part of this malaise and therefore no natural disaster but a man-made inferno kindled by people who reject the rest of mankind’s belief in the equality of religions, nations and genders.
Interviewed on Israel Radio after a siren sent her running from her car to a safe zone with two toddlers flanking her and a third in her arms, Yael Nitzan of Netiv Ha’asara was asked whether she had thoughts of leaving.
“Why should I?” she replied, and then said what millions of disenfranchised Europeans are now telling their leaders: “This is home.”
Having said this, there still is something to the volcano analogy.
“When you read in the papers / about a volcano’s eruption in Sicily,” wrote poet Dan Almagor in 1971, “you ask yourself why / why do the farmers return / to the slopes that betrayed?” And after noting that “sometimes you meet a tourist / and he asks: ‘Tell me why / do you insist on living under the volcano’s mouth?” he concluded: “They cling to the volcano’s slopes... hoping for the day... when the volcano will abandon its wrath / and then on the black basalt / the lawn will green and blossom / once and for all.”