A dubious Israeli spring in Europe
By Gideon Levy
How pleasant it is to be an official representative of Israel in Europe right now. It hasn't been so pleasant for a long time. And not just because of the spectacular spring in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, the crowded pubs in Athens or the young people sunbathing nude in Stockholm. This is about the fresh sympathy for Israel blowing in from almost every capital. French newspapers went all out for our 60th anniversary, Israeli women soldiers starred on the covers of magazines, and even the Swedish papers lost a little of their interest in the Palestinians' suffering, which had for years won such deep sympathy.
Last week, when the Olof Palme International Center in Stockholm held a symposium on peace in the Middle East, a scandal broke out because the organizers dared invite a professor of Islamic studies, Azam Tamimi, a Hamas sympathizer from London. Even in Sweden. This sympathy for Israel, along with seething antipathy for Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims, includes, of course, active European participation in the boycott of Gaza and Hamas, which may reach new heights this week. The Council of Foreign Ministers of the European Union is slated tomorrow to discuss upgrading Israel's standing in the EU, and later in the week ministers of the EU member states will also do so. It only takes opposition by one country to prevent the upgrade of ties, which would have significant economic ramifications for Israel.
But there is a good chance that exactly as Europe decided unanimously to boycott Gaza, it will say yes to an upgrade of Israel's ties with the EU. For official Israel, this is excellent news. Perhaps for the first time, a very strange set of circumstances prevails: Europe, which holds high the standard of human rights and liberty, is boycotting the occupied entity. As if that were not enough, it is even upgrading its ties with the occupier. While Europe is perceived by most Israelis as hostile to Israel, not to say anti-Semitic, its governments are uniting to support Israel almost no matter what it does.
Europe's blind obedience to the United States, which led it into Afghanistan and Iraq, combined with guilt over the Holocaust, is manifest in its relationship toward us. Xenophobia, and particularly hatred of Muslims, Hamas' rise in Gaza and that organization's perception in Europe as part of a dangerous Islamic conspiracy whose other members are Al-Qaida and Hezbollah, are now also finding expression in the relationship to Israel.
It is true that Israel's representatives continue to complain bitterly about hostility. Israel's envoy to London last week lamented that Britain had become a hotbed of radical anti-Israel views; it always pays to complain. It is also true that public opinion in Europe is still more sympathetic to the Palestinians. But the European governments are turning their backs on this sentiment and are conducting a quite amazingly sympathetic policy toward Israel. There is practically no country that has not sent an official to Israel recently; they are all rushing to Sderot to take their picture with a Qassam, and staying away from Gaza in droves, despite the much greater suffering there.
This false magic charm should not be allowed to trick us. This is not good news for those who wish for an end to the Israeli occupation and still believe that Europe can and should play a useful role in achieving peace in the region. Europe, which is now incomprehensibly and blindly following the U.S., is not just a Europe ignoring the values it proclaims; it is also a Europe that will lose any possibility to influence the region. That is not good for the Middle East and it is bad for Europe, too, in whose backyard our conflict begins.
We already have a one-sided mediator of the type that gives Israel free rein to follow every whim of its occupation: America. We have no need for another. Europe's special status - as Israel's major economic market that maintains an extensive network of relations with the Arab world as well - is eroding. Instead we are getting a West that no longer makes demands on Israel, comes to terms with the criminal occupation and is heavy-handed only when it comes to the Palestinians. True, Europe is also the biggest donor to the Palestinian Authority, but in so doing it subsidizes the occupation, nothing more.
When PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the darling of Israel and the U.S., dared recently to work against the upgrade, Israel quickly hit the PA in its pocketbook and confiscated the tax money belonging to it; a scandal in itself. Thus will be done to the man who tries to demand that Europe maintain some measure of balance.
Europe must come to its senses this week. It must condition the upgrade of relations with Israel on a series of practical steps Israel must take, in the spirit of its declared values. Want an upgrade? Please conduct yourselves according to international law, please respect the most basic human rights, please lift the siege on Gaza. That is how the EU behaves toward the rest of the countries knocking at its door. An unconditional upgrade will be a prize for settlements, a medal for siege, closures and starvation. Is that the way Europe wants to see itself? Lavishing gifts on the occupier, boycotting the occupied, and becoming an American puppet?