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Politics

The Anti-Semites’of Europe

2 November 2003

The Anti-Semites’of Europe

By Gwynne Dyer

 Those anti-Semitic Europeans are at it again. In an opinion poll conducted in October, when shown a list of countries and asked “if in your opinion it presents or not a threat to peace in the world,” some 59 percent of European Union citizens polled said that Israel was a danger. The other leading threats to the peace were (in descending order) Iran, North Korea, and Afghanistan.

“This shocking result…defies logic and is a racist flight of fantasy that only shows that anti-Semitism is deeply embedded within European society, more than at any other period since the end of the war,” responded Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Other US-based groups joined the chorus of condemnation, blaming it all on the ingrained anti-Semitism of ‘old Europe’. But the poll involved 500 randomly selected citizens in each of fifteen EU countries from Ireland to Greece, from Portugal to Finland.

These are very different countries. Why did an average of 59 percent of their citizens say ‘yes’, that Israel is a threat to world peace? One possible explanation is that 59 percent of Swedes, Dutch, Spaniards and Italians are rabidly anti-Semitic, and spend their spare time desecrating Jewish cemeteries. Another possibility, however, is that they genuinely think that Israel’s present government is a threat to the peace.

If they do, then they are thinking like a lot of Israelis, starting with the Israeli army’s chief of staff, General Moshe Ya’alon. He summoned senior Israeli journalists to army headquarters a few days ago to tell them that in his opinion the roadblocks and military lock-downs that keep Palestinians from travelling between cities and towns in the occupied territories were just fuelling Palestinian resentment of Israel and building support for militant groups like Hamas.

General Ya’alon added that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government undermined the peace process by not supporting former Palestinian prime minister Abu Mazen, and that the route of the new wall Israel is building around the West Bank, which cuts deep into occupied territory to keep Jewish settlements on the ‘Israeli side’, is storing up trouble for the future. If the general in charge is driven to talk like that, is it surprising that Europeans are worried?

There are a lot of worried people in the countries bordering the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean who learned last month (just after Israel bombed Syria for the first time in thirty years) that they will all be within range of the nuclear-tipped cruise missiles that Israel is currently fitting into its German-supplied Dolphin submarines. Israel regularly promises to attack potential opponents before they develop nuclear weapons — Iran is the current focus of its suspicions, though it insisted Iraq was working on them too — and that sort of talk is almost as worrisome for people living downwind from Iran as it is for Iranians themselves.

But surely Europe is safely distant from all this, isn’t it? Not according to Martin van Creveld, professor of military history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who has been warning for several years that the only logical outcome of Prime Minister Sharon’s settlement policy is ethnic cleansing: the military expulsion of Palestinians from the West Bank. Sharon is confident that the United States under the current administration would never defy Israel and intervene to stop it, van Crefeld believes — and if the Europeans thought about intervening, they could easily be deterred.

“We possess several hundred atomic warheads and rockets and can launch them at targets in all directions, perhaps even at Rome,” says van Crefeld in the new edition of David Hirst’s classic book on the Arab-Israeli conflict, ‘The Gun and the Olive Branch’. “Most European capitals are targets for our air force. Let me quote General Moshe Dayan: ‘Israel must be like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother.’ …Our armed forces are not the thirtieth strongest in the world, but the second or third. We have the capability to take the world down with us. And I can assure you that that will happen before Israel goes under.”

Not that Israel is in any imminent danger of going under, but this sort of talk scares the hell out of Europeans. You wouldn’t have got 59 percent of European identifying Israel as a threat to world peace ten years ago, when Yitzhak Rabin was prime minister and the Oslo accords had just been signed. They have changed their minds in response to changing events.

So have many Israelis, like the 28 Israeli air force pilots who signed a letter in September refusing to carry out any more “illegal and immoral orders to attack (Palestinians), of the type Israel carries out in the (occupied) territories.” Or Major-General David Lampidot, a former commander of the air force, who told the newspaper Yedioth Ahronot: “The occupation is increasingly corrupting this nation…We must begin to dismantle the settlements, we must recognise the fact that the Oslo accords have failed not only because of the other side but because of us.”

There are plenty of sensible, moderate people in Israel, but they are not in charge at the moment. There are still some old anti-Semites in the fifteen countries of the EU, and some new ones, too (mostly among recently arrived Muslim immigrant groups), but the vast majority of the Europeans who said Israel is a threat to world peace are not anti-Semitic. They are just scared.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 6 and 10. (“There…themselves”; and “So…us”)