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Europe and Israel: Trust Is Eroding

Having betrayed its core values once with anti-Jewish policies, Europe should avoid repeating the error.

April 28, 2002|ABRAHAM COOPER and HAROLD BRACKMAN | Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Harold Brackman, a historian, is a consultant to the center.

Many Americans have expressed alarm lately about Arab invective against our policy toward Israel. But criticism and threats from Arab countries are nothing new. Far more disturbing are the ugly anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic sentiments emanating in recent weeks from the European capitals of our allies in the war on terror. Despite President Bush's challenge that "you're either with us or against us" in the war on terrorism, the Europeans are on the verge of declaring their own war, not against Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, but against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the state of Israel.

The Europeans are afraid of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. They are afraid of their own burgeoning, internal Arab and Muslim minorities. They are consumed with envy of Washington's overriding clout in foreign affairs, especially in the Middle East. And now they are venting their frustrations by using the European Union to target Israel. The United States will likely be a far more important arbiter in the bloody dispute over the Holy Land, but what Europeans do and say will have a profound impact.

The ties between Israel and Europe are deep. Israel has painstakingly cultivated its economic ties with Europe, particularly, since the 1993 Oslo peace accords. Today, The EU countries are Israel's most important trade partner, accounting for about 30% of Israel's exports and 41% of its imports in 2001. And so far these economic ties remain strong. The EU's 15 members recently rejected a resolution passed by the European Parliament recommending stripping Israel of preferential trade status.

But in the realm of global politics, there is less cause for optimism. Throughout Europe, Israel is being politically spurned--in the media, in institutions of higher learning and in the streets. And the resulting erosion of mutual trust is alarming.

Perhaps most disturbing, though, is the nature of the anti-Israel sentiment so pervasive across Europe at the moment: It reveals both bad judgment and bad faith. Some examples:

In Britain, where the country's chief rabbi recently asserted that "British Jewry is suffering the worst anti-Semitism since the Holocaust," anti-Israel sentiments run strong. London's Harrods department store temporarily removed some Israeli products from its shelves. British poet and Oxford lecturer Tom Paulin, said that American-born Jewish settlers in Israel should be shot. A London Arabic newspaper printed a poem in praise of Palestinian suicide bombers by Saudi Ambassador Ghazi Algosaibi. Police across England logged 15 major anti-Semitic incidents during April, including physical assaults, vandalism, graffiti and hate mail. Perhaps more disturbing, though, has been the muted reaction from other religious leaders, some of whom, denying that the Jewish people have a valid historic link to the Holy Land, have scorned efforts by the archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, to promote and encourage Jewish-Palestinian reconciliation.

In Amsterdam, an anti-Israel crowd carrying more pictures of Adolf Hitler and swastikas than the Dutch have seen since the Nazi occupation, marched under Stars of David superimposed on swastikas while chanting "Sieg Heil," "Jews into the sea" and "Al Yahud Kalb" ("Jews are dogs," in Arabic). Meanwhile, as many rushed to accuse Israel of mass murder in the suicide bomb-making mecca of Jenin, the Dutch government itself had to resign after intelligence documents confirmed that a Dutch United Nations peace-keeping battalion in Srebrenica unwittingly helped separate Muslim men and boys from their families before the massacre of more than 7,000 of them by Bosnian Serb forces in 1995.

In Paris, five EU governments condemned the wave of synagogue bombings across Europe as "racist and xenophobic violence constitut[ing] a total violation of the principles of liberty, democracy and human rights." But at almost the same moment, the French government joined Belgium Sweden, Austria, Spain and Portugal in voting for a U.N. Human Rights Commission resolution condoning violent Palestinian "self-defense" while failing to denounce suicide attacks on Israeli civilians.

In Brussels, the EU capital, diamond merchants informed Israeli businessmen that the Belgian government is considering a commercial boycott of Israel. Meanwhile, the humanitarian organization Oxfam lobbied Belgium's largest supermarket chain to ban Israeli products. This outburst of anti-Israel moral indignation coincided with a daytime beating of Brussels' chief rabbi and a warning to Jews not to wear traditional religious garb in public.

In Berlin, the government announced a temporary embargo on some military sales to Israel. At around the same time, Jews were warned not to wear religious garments that could expose them to attacks, and vandals in the western German town of Herford painted the local synagogue with the words: "Six million were not enough."

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