While working through a high stack of Dutch newspapers, which had been piling up during the summer, I came across an interesting article. In the Volkskrant
of August 19, H.J. Schoo asked why the Europeans and the Dutch in particular have turned against Israel so much. He correctly points out that this cannot be explained merely by Israeli actions, since other armed conflicts which are much bloodier (former Yugoslavia, Darfur, Chechnya, Rwanda) have not provoked such an outcry. Concerning the Lebanon war he remarks:
"Surely much can be criticized in the political and military wisdom of the actions against Hezbollah. Nevertheless, it is curious that Israel in particular evokes the anger of Europe (...) Clearly it responded in defense against an organization whose most important aim it is to destroy the Jewish state. That is not a matter of biased, ill-disposed attribution, but it is Hezbollah's political raison d'etre."
He continues by arguing that anti-Semitism is an insufficient explanation for the European anger, since according to him there is hardly any 'pronounced' European anti-Semitism to be found. Although I agree with him that it is too easy to view anti-Semitism as the sole explanation, I do not share his optimism concerning the absence of anti-Semitism. 'Pronounced' is an accurate word by the way, since it does not exclude all sorts of covert kinds of anti-Semitism. And that is the issue of course. He rightly notices that there is a strong taboo on anti-Semitism, and there are indeed few people who think that the Jews in the Netherlands present a danger to society, and for this reason should be deported or isolated.
Repeated research however has made clear that in the Netherlands too, a significant number of people think that Jews have too much influence on the media, that they have a special connection with money, and that they feel more loyal to their own group than to the Netherlands. The annual Dutch "Anti-Semitism Monitor" report shows that hundreds of anti-Semitic incidents take place every year, from verbal abuse to defacing gravestones, to threats, and sometimes also physical violence. These incidents increase at times when there is a lot of violence in the Middle East, and that causes many people to explain it as a result of 'Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians'.
Thus, a week after Schoo's column the inevitable response was published, in which Hajo Meyer of "A Different Jewish Voice" (the Dutch version of A Jewish Voice for Peace) once again wrote that one must not confuse anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism, and that not all Jews are Zionists, while he added in the same sentence that such sentiments are understandable, because a large majority of the Jews uncritically supports the policy of Israel. Consistent reasoning is not his best virtue. Moreover, Schoo's point was clearly that anti-Semitism is insufficient as an explanation for the anti-Israel attitude of many people. To A Different Jewish Voice however, any article concerning the Middle East in which Israeli aggression is not labeled as the cause of all problems, is ground for an angry reaction.
According to Schoo the major reason for this anti-Zionism can be traced to the sixties' admiration for the rebel and the nonconformist. The image of Che Guevara (on posters, t-shirts, caps and even handkerchiefs) is the ultimate manifestation of this rebellion that has become admirable. With our current anti-Zionism (and anti-Americanism) we however conform to a new consensus: according to Schoo, "We stand behind Israel" has thus turned into "We reject Israel", without much debate. Or differently put: "Our anti-Israel enthusiasm is at the same time an action of fashionable rebellion and of unworldly conformism".
Schoo certainly has a point here, but it is still insufficient as an explanation. In many other areas, fashionable views from the sixties have made way for a new toughness and a no-nonsense approach, and it is also trendy to look down with pity on the beautiful, but totally unrealistic, ideals from that period. Moreover, particularly in the sixties, almost everyone in the Netherlands, but especially the left, supported Israel unconditionally. The rebellion was directed against the Dutch establishment and against the USA, which was sinking ever deeper into the swamps of Vietnam, against Western hegemony in international relations, against imperialism and (neo)colonialism, but Israel remained out of harm's way, even after having occupied the Palestinian territories in 1967. Although small groups supported the Palestinian cause at that time, public opinion was not swayed until many years later, under the influence of the Lebanon war in 1982, and the first intifada in the late eighties.
An explanation which is frequently given for our harsh criticism of Israel, is that we consider it to be a Western country, even a Western creation, and the latter in particular gives us a special responsibility for the conflict with the Palestinians and for their hopeless situation. A similar explanation would be, that precisely because we consider the Jews to be a part of our culture and civilization, we pay more attention and watch more critically what they do than when, disrespectfully put, African tribes massacre each other. We lecture the Jews that especially they, who know better than anyone else what it is like to be oppressed, should not do the same unto others. I find this to be extremely cynical. After we have discriminated against the Jews and persecuted them for nearly two millennia in the framework of our culture and civilization, we condemn them now that they have their own country and we feel they do not follow our newly proclaimed standards.
Some people claim that they criticize Israel with the best of intentions, like a friend who points out your errors to you. It apparently eludes these altruists that it is not exactly friendlyto demonize your friends in public and demand sanctions against them.
A different explanation would be, that we can relieve our guilt concerning our wrongdoings against the Jews, now that it 'turns out' that they themselves do 'exactly the same' now that they have the power. What we did (and allowed to happen) was therefore apparently not so exceptional, and not something we still need to feel guilty about 60 years later.
In so-called brotherly advice to Israel we say: 'Let us talk about the present; we have now evolved into peaceful societies with equal rights for everyone. We have learned that working together and talking are better than fighting, isn't it time that you do the same? Put you irrational ghetto mentality aside and make peace with your neighbors, who have long since recognized you. No, they are not Nazis, there are no more Nazis left. Don't worry, we know what is good for you, we ourselves have come from afar.'
It is such a beautiful fairy tale that we ourselves believe in it: the only thing that separates Israel from peace is the irrational mistrust caused by the persecutions of the Jews and by the Holocaust, as a result of which they see Nazis everywhere and strike out in all directions. We, the former perpetrators, can now show them the road to peace, as a result of which we can redeem ourselves from our guilt towards the Jews as well as towards the Palestinians. All is well that ends well, right?
A more prosaic explanation for our disproportional criticism of Israel, is the fact that there are 1.3 billion Moslems in the world, 300 million of whom are Arabs, while there are about 15 million Jews. The Arabs hold the majority of the world's oil supplies; an increasing number of Europeans are of Arab descend, and they frequently voice their discontent with the West verbally, but sometimes also with the help of explosives.
During the Palestine mandate, the British reneged on their obligations towards the Jews, under the pressure of violent Arab insurrections. They restricted Jewish immigration to Palestine in the late thirties, at a time when Jews were desperate to flee Europe. The Holocaust did not incline the British or the Arabs to reconsider their position, which led the Jews of Palestine to start a kind of guerilla war against the British. Pressured by the USA and public opinion at the home front, the British then decided to prematurely leave the area, and returned their mandate to the United Nations. The UN decided to divide the land, to which the Arabs responded with violence. The UN was not willing to enforce the division (and therefore peace), and the general expectation was that the Arabs would win, with support from the neighboring countries.
This is quite different from the narrative that "Israel has been created by the West and was given to the Jews". In the years after its founding Israel did not get a penny for absorbing and housing the more than one million refugees from both Europe and the Arab states.
So let's not pat ourselves on the back. The Israelis are wise not to listen to European fairy tales too much, and they had better continue to choose their own way when it concerns their security. Ratna Pelle
(Translated from the Dutch
by Wouter Brassť.)
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