Few would challenge the observation that the level of anti-American sentiments has been rising in Europe in recent months and has reached an historic high during the war against Iraq. At the same time, the attitudes among Arabs toward the E.U. states—with the exception of Great Britain—and, in particular, toward France have been more favorable. Neoconservative analysts have attributed that to the “pro-Arab” positions held by the European governments, media, and public. This alleged “pro-Arabism” explains the refusal of France and other European countries to support the Bush administration’s tough stand against terrorism and its military campaign against Iraq. At the same time, the neoconservatives say, American support for the Jewish state represents an identification with the democratic ideals of Israel.
Moreover, the European “appeasement” of Saddam Hussein and the strong support in France and Europe for Palestinian independence—a recent Economist poll suggested that the French sympathize with the Palestinians over Israel by a margin of 41 to 13—is considered by these Americans to be a reflection not only of anti-Israeli (and pro-Palestinian) attitudes in Europe but of the reemergence of European antisemitism. That, according to this argument, was dramatized by the attacks against synagogues and other Jewish property in France in the last two years. There is a growing danger that “the Arab style of Judeo-phobia, which is an anti-Semitism without the West’s complexes,” would appear to offer “a real redemptive project” to a growing number of Frenchmen who are willing to embrace it, warned Christopher Caldwell, a senior editor for the Weekly Standard. French and European criticism of the policies of the Sharon government in Jerusalem is not based on rational calculation of national interests as they are affected by the Israel-Palestine conflict. Instead, “what we are seeing is pent-up anti-Semitism, the release—with Israel as the trigger—of a millennium-old urge that powerfully infected and shaped European history,” observed Charles Krauthammer. Europeans are not critical of Israel because of her policies toward the Palestinians; they hate the Jewish state because they are intolerant of “Jewish assertiveness, the Jewish refusal to accept victim hood,” which Israel embodies.
Neoconservative intellectuals tend to disparage the “culture of victimhood” practiced by leaders of racial minorities in the United States, which, they argue, perpetuates the misconceptions that members of such groups are not responsible for their conditions. Ironically, they seem to apply that same faulty thinking when it comes to Israeli and American policies in the Middle East and the way they are viewed in Europe. Both Israel and the United States are perceived as somewhat passive actors who are hated by the Arabs and the Europeans not for what they do (e.g., the Israelis establishing Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territory or the Americans supporting Israel as well as autocratic Arab regimes) but for who they are. In a lengthy cover story about “why the Europeans and Arabs, each in their own way, hate America and Israel,” David Brooks, a senior editor of the Weekly Standard, proposed that alleged anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiments in the Arab world and Europe are a projection of common resentment among “Europeans” and “Arabs” against “two peoples—the Americans and the Jews—[who] have emerged as the great exemplars of undeserved success.” That view is shared by another analyst who argues that “anti-Israelism and anti-Americanism travel together.” And American sympathy for Israel and European support for the Arabs “are essentially cultural statements, unrelated to the fine points of the ‘Palestinian question,’” according to Mark Steyn, a leading neoconservative journalist. “If America recognizes a kindred spirit in Israel, then so does Europe for Arab autocracies.”
This neoconservative “civilizational” explanation becomes the basis for justifying Israeli and American policies while discrediting the European approach. After all, if you accept the notions proposed by Brooks, Steyn, and others, the Israeli and American “victims” are doomed and will never be able to change those attitudes. Israel could withdraw tomorrow from the 1967 lines, dismantle the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, and recognize an independent Palestinian state in those territories. The United States could drop her support for the autocratic regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, could cut her enormous aid to Israel, and could have refrained from attacking Iraq or from imposing economic sanctions on her after the first Gulf War. Even if all of that were to happen, however, the Arabs and the Europeans (“each in their [sic] own way”) would still hate the Americans and the Jews. The conclusion is that we should dismiss the notion advanced by the French and other Europeans that their attitude toward Israel during the second intifada has been affected by the Likud policy of establishing Greater Israel in the West Bank or that their approach toward the United States over the Iraq war stemmed from their opposition to the neoconservative project of bringing the American Empire to Iraq and the Middle East. Hence, there is no chain of causality linking European to American (and Israeli) policies in the Middle East. It’s European multilateralism, wimpiness, appeasement, impotence, decadence, anti-Americanism, and antisemitism, stupid!
The idea of a clash of civilizations between the Euro-Arab and the American-Israeli blocs has become an intellectual dogma among neoconservatives that explains the developments since the second intifada and, later, September 11. It recalls the kind of political-cultural disposition that dominated the thinking of the Israeli elite and public before the Israelis and the Palestinians started taking steps toward peace after the first Gulf War, during the Madrid Peace Conference, and during the so-called Oslo Process. The belief that “the whole world is against us” and that Israel’s isolation in the Middle East and the international community was a product of never-ending anti-Israeli and antisemitic attitudes among Arabs, Europeans, and Americans served for many years, especially following the 1967 Six Day War, as a excuse for Israeli diplomatic intransigence and a lack of willingness to accommodate Palestinian demands for independence. The assumption was that the conflict between Israelis and Arabs was not “normal” in the sense that it could not be resolved through the give-and-take of diplomacy in which each side’s consideration of national interest serves as the basis of negotiations. But the coming to power of the Labor government in Israel in 1992, in the aftermath of the Madrid Peace Conference and against the backdrop of the first intifada, produced an ideological earthquake in Israel, transforming the opinion of the elite and the public in that country and creating the basis for Israeli-Palestinian détente and the ending of Israeli isolation in the Middle East. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin addressed the Knesset on July 13, 1992, as the head of the first Israeli government in 15 years to be dominated by the Labor Party. Rabin sounded the battle cry of those Israelis striving for “normalcy” and peace with the Arab world, declaring that Israel was changing direction after 15 years of Likud rule. He called on the Israeli people to stop thinking that “the whole world is against us.” Israel “must overcome the sense of isolation that has held us in its thrall for almost half a century,” he said. “We must join the international movement toward peace, reconciliation and cooperation that is spreading over the entire globe these days, lest we be the last to remain, all alone, in the station.”
Ten years have passed since the address by Rabin (who was assassinated by a Jewish extremist), and, once again, “the whole world is against us.” This time, however, “us” includes both Israel and the United States. Indeed, if the second intifada made it possible for the Likud Party, with its Greater Israel agenda, to return to power, demolish the foundations of the Oslo Process, and devastate the Palestinian Authority in the occupied territories, September 11 and the ensuing War on Terror created an opportunity for the neoconservative foreign-policy professionals to get Washington to adopt their American Empire agenda in the Middle East, leading to the U.S. war against Iraq. Under the influence of the pro-Likud neoconservative intellectuals who now occupy top foreign-policy and national-security positions in the Bush administration and dominate most of the media outlets and think tanks affiliated with the Republican Party, and pressed by the powerful Christian Right constituency, the White House decided to ally itself with the ultranationalist forces in Israel. George W. Bush and some of his advisors, especially those making policy in the Pentagon, seemed to have adopted the Likud Party’s spin—that Yasser Arafat, Osama bin Laden, and Saddam Hussein are political and military partners and that the Palestinian opposition to the Israeli occupation is directly tied to the radical Islamic agenda, a global intifada, that was the driving force behind the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Hence, that September 11 took place a year after the start of the second intifada as the Bush administration was trying to devise its own approach toward the Israel-Palestine problem turned out to be a political opportunity for neoconservatives in the administration—such as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz—and their allies in Congress, the media, and the think tanks to promote their agenda, which sees Israel as a central element in a U.S. strategy of establishing dominance in the Middle East and as a way of perpetuating American unipolar status worldwide. A visitor from Mars to Washington in 2002, attending one of the many joint press conferences in the White House, would have found it difficult to decide, after listening to President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon, which of the two represented the United States and which Israel.
Indeed, notwithstanding the Middle East peace plan offered by President Bush that called for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, it is clear that the green light that the White House gave to Prime Minister Sharon to use military power to destroy the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority, weaken the power of Yasser Arafat, and re-invade parts of the West Bank and Gaza reflected the choice made by the President to place Palestinian independence on the back burner. At the same time, the invasion of Iraq seems to be part of a grand global imperial strategy concocted by the neoconservatives, aimed at redrawing the map of the Middle East to permit U.S. military and diplomatic hegemony in the region (including the “taming” of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Syria) and to deny any power in the region, with the exception of Israel, access to WMD’s. Various reports suggest that the neoconservatives have drawn plans to establish a democratic Iraqi federation that, with its huge oil resources and educated population, would become a model of political and economic freedom for other Arab countries. They assume that Iraq’s oil, combined with the development of new energy sources in Russia, the Caspian Sea, and West Africa, could help reduce Saudi Arabia’s position as a global energy supplier. Not surprisingly, the American strategy is seen in the Arab world, Europe, and elsewhere as part of an effort to allow the U.S.-Israel axis to dominate the Middle East, a neoconservative-driven alliance between the American Empire and Greater Israel.
The outlines of this Middle East strategy have been drawn by such leading neoconservative thinkers as William Kristol, Robert Kagan, Richard Perle, and Michael Ledeen, who have publicized their views in the Weekly Standard, National Review Online, Commentary, and other outlets and in discussions at such think tanks as the American Enterprise Institute and the Hudson Institute. Their vision is shared by many of their colleagues, including Wolfowitz, John Bolton, David Wurmser, Douglas Feith, Elliott Abrams, and others serving in top positions in the Bush administration. They have succeeded since September 11 in turning a foreign-policy agenda that a few years ago would have been regarded as nothing more than the product of hallucinations by a group of intellectuals in Washington, most of whom are frustrated Cold Warriors and ardent Zionists, into a reality. Indeed, as Kagan himself admitted, September 11 “has paved the way for a neocons’ revolution in the way that the Soviet-backed North Korean invasion of the south galvanized Washington into adopting the Truman Doctrine.”
Now that the neoconservatives have succeeded in ousting both Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat from power and in forming what amounts to a new foreign-policy establishment and doctrine, it is perhaps surprising that some of them resent comments made by pundits in the United States and Europe suggesting that the neocons have emerged as a powerful group of policymakers that helped shape the Bush administration’s Middle East and foreign policy and describing them as a pro-Israeli group with close ties to Likud. One neoconservative columnist, Lawrence Kaplan, even accused American pundits who point to the pro-Israeli sentiments of Wolfowitz and others of “invoking the specter of dual loyalty” of Jewish neoconservatives and of projecting latent antisemitism. As online columnist Mickey Kaus pointed out, however, some of the leading critics of the neoconservative agenda are Jewish and backers of Israel. And the same Kagan who celebrated the triumph of neoconservatism after September 11 has observed from his experiences in Europe: “One finds Britain’s finest minds propounding . . . conspiracy theories concerning the ‘neo-conservative’ (read: Jewish) hijacking of American foreign policy. In Paris, all the talk is of oil and ‘imperialism’ and Jews.” When a member of the French parliament quoted his country’s foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, as saying that “the hawks in the US administration [are] in the hands of Sharon,” neoconservatives regarded this as a coded message about undue influence by the pro-Israeli neoconservatives and, thus, one dripping with antisemitic connotations.
One could imagine the response from Kagan and other neoconservatives if critics of the Rev. Al Sharpton were to be accused of racism or if bashers of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe were to be called “anti-African.” Yet much of the neoconservative assault on Europe’s policy on Iraq and the Israel-Palestine conflict is indeed an attempt to transform differences over concrete policy choices made by Washington (and Israel) into a civilizational struggle over core values, in which the opposition by France and other E.U. governments (and most publics) to specific American or Israeli policies is framed as European wimpiness, decadence, cynicism, appeasement, old age, bourgeoisophobism, and antisemitism.
Indeed, the view that Europe—in particular, France—has been experiencing a new wave of antisemitism, a revival of the European anti-Jewish disease that helped create the environment of the holocaust, seems to have been adopted by such analysts as Krauthammer, George Will, and others who have accused contemporary Europe of offering “Christian anti-Semitism, without the Christianity,” as the June 2002 issue of the American Spectator put it. Leading American observer of European history Tony Judt argued that the “Europhobic Myth” disseminated by neoconservative writers in the United States is promoting a claim that “Europe is awash in anti-Semitism, that the ghosts of Europe’s Judeophobic past are risen again, and that this atavistic prejudice, Europe’s original sin, explains widespread European criticism of Israel, sympathy for the Arab world, and even support for Iraq.” Much of this “springtime for Hitler in Europe” assertion is based on reports of several attacks on Jews and Jewish property, including synagogues and cemeteries in France, since the start of the second intifada in the autumn of 2000 and especially in the aftermath of September 11. Most of these crimes were committed by immigrants living in that country, many of whom are disaffected young men from among France’s four to five million Muslims. Muslims were also behind similar anti-Jewish incidents in a few other European countries. That those attacks against Jews and Jewish targets in France were taking place at the same time that French populist Jean-Marie Le Pen rocketed to prominence by reaching the final round of France’s presidential elections (while other far-right parties were doing well elsewhere in Europe) was, Krauthammer and Will suggested, an indication that the genie of antisemitism was out again in Europe.
According to results of opinion polls published in the Economist, however, antisemitism, defined as personal hostility toward Jews based on religion or race (or both), is neither widespread nor increasing in France, where 600,000 Jews have done well in politics, business, and academia since the end of World War II. (In fact, since 1945, Jews have served as prime ministers and presidents of France, and some observers expect that two Jews representing the mainstream political left and right might face each other in the coming race for prime minister.) While Le Pen has expressed antisemitism in the past, his main target in the last election were the Muslims living in France. He called for their expulsion and identified French interests with the American and Israeli War on Terror. In fact, as the same polls indicate, antisemitism (both its racial and religious versions) has been in steep decline in most of Western Europe—including in Britain and Germany, especially among the young, and particularly among those on the political left. At the same time, there has been a backlash in many of those countries against Muslim immigrants, which explains the rise in support for anti-immigrant right-wing parties in Holland, Denmark, and Austria. In figures that are broadly comparable to results from similar polls taken in the United States, an overwhelming majority of young people polled in France believe that Frenchmen and Europeans should speak more about the holocaust, and nearly nine out of ten agreed that attacks on synagogues are “scandalous.” The comparisons between American and European opinion, according to a study by the Anti-Defamation League, also indicate that more Americans than Europeans are ready to assume that a Jew’s first loyalty might be to Israel. Ironically, it is in Eastern Europe, especially in Poland and Hungary (two leading members of the so-called New Europe bloc), that there has been a certain rise in antisemitic sentiments and that declared antisemitic political parties have done quite well in recent elections.
The other irony is that the same Eastern European nations (together with Russia) tend to pursue a pro-Israeli policy. Meanwhile, in such countries as Holland and Germany, where opinion polls detect the lowest level of antisemitism in Europe (and the West), opinion also tends to be sympathetic toward the Palestinians. Similarly, young people in Europe who describe themselves as leftists are both uncompromisingly anti-antisemites and tough critics of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, while many of those who voted for Le Pen and other extreme right-wing political parties sympathize with Israeli policies. Indeed, contrary to the spin disseminated by the neoconservatives, what most Europeans are projecting is not a new or old form of antisemitism but a more critical approach toward the policies of the state of Israel, especially in her treatment of the Palestinians. According to a study published in Foreign Policy, there is a gap between Europeans and Americans on the Israel-Palestine issue: 72 percent of Europeans favor a Palestinian state versus 40 percent of Americans, and more Europeans than Americans blame Israel for the continuing conflict in the Holy Land.
Describing European attitudes toward Israel as “anti-Israeli” would be as misleading as suggesting that the American policies in the Middle East are “anti-Arab” or “anti-Palestinian.” The majority of Europeans hold positions similar to those of a large number of Israelis—namely, that Israel should dismantle most of the illegal settlements she established in the West Bank and Gaza and withdraw to the 1967 lines in exchange for peace and security; that an independent Palestinian state should be established side by side with Israel; and that East Jerusalem should be her capital. Those views turned out to be the basis for the peace proposal of former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, backed by President Bill Clinton at Camp David at the end of 2000. In addition, much of the European criticism directed at Israeli human-rights abuses in the Palestinian occupied territories is substantiated by human-rights groups in North America and Israel. Nor is the recent criticism of Israel, as reflected in opinion polls and policies of E.U. governments, directed against Israel as a Jewish state or as part of an effort to delegitimize Zionism.
The European Union is, after all, Israel’s largest trading partner. Germany, Israel’s second-largest supplier of arms (after the United States), is considered one of Israel’s most important allies in the world. France was a military and diplomatic ally of Israel in the 1950’s and early 60’s during the civil war in Algeria, when both countries regarded Egypt under Arab nationalist Gamal Abdel Nasser as a threat to their national interests. Both countries shared a suspicion that Washington was trying to establish and sustain its presence in the Middle East by attempting to co-opt the emerging forces of Arab nationalism and was adopting policies that ran contrary to the interests of the former European imperialist powers as well as those of Israel. Israel and France (together with Britain) collaborated in a military invasion of Egypt in 1956 (condemned by the Americans), and the French provided Israel with military equipment, including advanced fighter jets, and helped the Jewish state develop her nuclear military capability at a time when Washington had imposed a military embargo upon Israel. In fact, Israeli leaders in the early 60’s were toying with the idea of adopting a “European Orientation” based on an alliance with a Franco-German bloc, which brought together strands of Gaullism and muted German nationalism and which, not unlike the current Paris-Berlin partnership, assumed an anti-American course. At the time, officials in Bonn, Paris, and Jerusalem concluded that President Kennedy was striving to reach an agreement with Moscow based on an American-Soviet “condominium” in Europe and elsewhere (foreshadowing concerns over American global hegemony) that would secure their nuclear supremacy. Further, the French and the Israelis assumed that the White House was not only supporting Algerian independence but was moving toward closer ties with Egypt’s President Nasser.
While the French policy, together with that of the other European countries, tilted more to the Arab and Palestinian side after Israel’s military victory in 1967, European policies in the Middle East have been dynamic and responsive to changes in Israeli, Arab, and American policies. Hence, while the European Union was critical of Israeli policies in the West Bank during the nationalist-religious Likud government of Benjamin Netanyahu, the European Union adopted a more sympathetic position toward Israel when Labor leader Ehud Barak came to power and took steps to make peace with the Palestinians. Indeed, some Palestinians at that time accused the European Union of adopting an “anti-Palestinian” approach. And, as much as the neoconservative Euro-bashers seem to direct their accusations of anti-Israeli attitudes (and antisemitism) against France and other “Old” European countries, it has been Britain and two “New” European nations, Spain and Italy (and not “Old” Germany), that have been the leading E.U. promoters of the cause of Palestinian independence, pressing Washington to force Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians.
The insistence on the part of the neoconservatives in Washington and their Likud allies in Jerusalem that current European views and policies are a product of “anti-Israelism” and “antisemitism” mixed with touches of “anti-Americanism” could unfortunately become a self-fulfilling prophecy. “Sharon and his supporters are pouring oil on the flames of anti-Semitism,” argues Uri Avnery, a leading Israeli commentator. “Accusing all critics of his policy of being anti-Semites, they are branding large communities with this mark, and many good people who feel no hatred towards the Jews, but who detest persecution of the Palestinians, are now called anti-Semites.” “Thus,” he adds, “the sting is taken out of this word, giving it something approaching respectability.”