The European Awakening?

It never rains but it pours. Coming right on the heels of the stunningly pro-Israel, anti-Islam discussion at the British National Party website, the Christian Science Monitor reports a marked shift away from the reflexively anti-Israel stand that has characterized basically all of Western Europe for as long as one can remember. According to Monitor writer Robert Marquand, the main factor driving the change is increasing recognition on the part of Europeans of the danger Islam poses in Europe and elsewhere. The dynamics are perhaps analogous to those that drove the “Sunni Awakening” in Iraq’s Anbar Province, when Sunnis realized from shocking experience how horrible al Qaeda really was and turned against them and began to work in concert with the U.S. forces. Of course this is all very preliminary and could end up going nowhere, but if the “European Awakening” continues for a while, we might see the day when the only remaining white Israel-haters will be Americans—Patrick Buchanan, Llewelyn Rockwell, Taki Theodoracopulos, Scott McConnell, David Duke, et al.

Israel finds more sympathy in Europe

Concerns about Islamist threat have influenced traditionally pro-Arab Europe’s view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

By Robert Marquand | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

from the January 8, 2009 edition

Paris—European Union leaders this week flanked Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni as she told the world’s news media, “We are all opposed to terrorism.” For many observers in Europe, the moment underscored a little-noted but ongoing convergence between European and US-Israeli thinking—despite the tragedy and challenge that Gaza presents.

For decades, Europe was a Middle East counterbalance—generally sympathetic to Palestinians as the weaker party, critical of an unqualified US backing of Israel. The Palestine Liberation Organization had offices in Europe. France’s Navy helped Yasser Arafat escape Tripoli in 1983. Europe backed the Oslo Accords, and saw the Palestinian cause as a fight for territory and statehood.

Yet Europe’s traditional position on the Arab dispute has been quietly changing: It is gravitating closer to a US-Israeli framing of a war on terror, a “clash of civilizations,” with a subtext of concern about the rise of Islam—and away from an emphasis on core grievances of Palestinians, like the ongoing Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and “occupation.”

Causes for the shift are complex and manifold, and in no small way associated with the rise of Muslim populations in Europe. But since Sept. 11, the discourse and psychology in Europe has shifted, with pro-Arab support “diluting and weakening,” as Karim Batir, with the International Institute of Strategic Relations in Paris, puts it—and converging with US-Israeli framing of a fight against terror.

“There is convergence on goals [terrorism] between Europe and the US, and a remnant of divergence on means [military logic],” argues the French intellectual Dominique Moisi. “The Europeans are less pro-Islamic Muslims now than before, after 9/11.

“We also see that even American Jews are not entirely at peace with what Israel is doing. There’s more criticism of Israel than before, in American opinion; and in Europe there is less support of what the Arabs are.”

In the Gaza conflict, “European diplomats see a crisis with no exit point,” says a senior French scholar with extensive Mideast experience. “They think if the Israelis can put out Hamas and put in Abbas, that would be wonderful. They don’t see Hamas as Palestinian nationals, but as Islamic.”

A Euro-American convergence leaves European Union diplomats supporting Palestinians on “shallower emotional and humanitarian grounds,” says Mr. Batir, “helping people survive, hoping economic improvement is enough, and forgetting the old issues of substance, and Israeli occupation. The two-state solution is nearly dead.”

Europe itself is not the Europe of decades past, dominated by French diplomacy, with its Arab ties. There are 27 nations. Eastern and former Soviet states, like Poland and the Czech Republic, often take American positions on foreign affairs. As Prague took over the EU presidency last week, it issued a statement that Israel’s actions in Gaza were “defensive”—later backing down under French and British censure.

In Scandinavia, traditionally pro-Arab states have found social tensions with new Muslim populations—the crisis in Denmark over a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad, for example—and public support for Arabs is down in polls. In Europe today, nearly all major leaders—France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, Germany’s Angela Merkel, Britain’s Gordon Brown, and Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi—are seen as leaning toward Israel. The lone pro-Arab leader is Spain’s José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

“There is a general ‘Arab fatigue’ in Europe,” says Denis Bauchard, an adviser to the French Institute for International Relations in Paris. “The Palestine issue continues, the violence continues, the Palestinians are divided, and it just creates a kind of fatigue.”

“Europe fears an Islamist threat, whether internal or external, and this has begun to change the overall views on the Israel-Palestine conflict,” says Aude Signoles, an expert on Palestinian movements at the University of La Réunion in Madagascar.

A Pew Global Attitudes poll in 2006 found that French sympathies were evenly divided (38 percent) between those sympathizing with the Palestinians and with Israel, marking a doubling of support for Israel and a 10 percent gain for Palestinians over the previous two years. In Germany, 37 percent sympathized with Israel—an increase of 13 points over 2004 and more than double those who supported the Palestinians.

To be sure, Europe retains deep reservoirs of solidarity with North Africa. Public opinion here is outraged by the Gaza inferno. There is widespread condemnation of the Israeli attack, including by French President Sarkozy. European media have been overwhelmingly sympathetic to the Gazans, even while being barred from entering the Strip.

More fundamentally, says Antoine Sfeir, founder of the Middle East review “Cahiers de L’Orient,” European leaders understand the political realities in Israel, the problems of a state attacked by rockets, and the need to protect citizens. Even if he disagrees with the framing of the issue, “The Europeans don’t see this as a Palestinian thing. They see it as a Hamas thing,” he says. “In fact, this is not about terrorism; it is a war between Israel and Palestinians that is being called a war on terror.”

Ironically perhaps, Europeans were the most vocal critics of the Bush administration-coined phrase “war on terror.” It is seen as overreaching and simplistic while being used to sanction wars like Iraq.

Yet since Sept. 11, a discourse that advocates a tough confrontation with Islam has emerged in Europe—based in part on Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilization” theory—in such venues as the French magazine “Brave New World.” Sarkozy has been congenial to these points.

Authors include former leftists like Pascal Bruckner, André Glucksmann, Olivier Rolin, and Bernard-Henri Lévy who supported the war in Iraq and view Islam as a creeping form of totalitarian ideology moving into Europe. The most recent issue contains an homage to Mr. Huntington, who died last month.

Bitar argues that “Islamophobia” feeds a popular confusion in Europe about Muslims. “Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda are all viewed as the same thing. Europe used to see the Arab conflict as about territory. Now it is shifting towards the global war on terror, Islam versus the West, clash theory.”

Mr. Moisi dissents from the Huntington thesis. His recent book “Clash of Emotion,” describes a West characterized by “fear” and an Arab world characterized by “humiliation.”

US and European differences on Israel have been deep and numerous. The US and Israel have religious and theological sensibilities about the Holy Land; Europeans view the Palestinian issue through a secular and humanitarian lens.

America, with an influential Jewish population, has seen Israel’s security and right to defend itself as central. Europe, without as weighty a lobby, has stressed UN security resolutions, and international law for Palestinians that have been a counterbalance. European academics have not been uneasy with the phrase “state-sponsored terrorism” to describe Israeli violence against Palestinians; in America the phrase is seen as far-left.

Europeans saw President Clinton as an honest broker in the Mideast; President Bush has been seen as wholly aligned with Israel.

Large differences still exist between the two continents on the priority of the Palestinian-Israeli issue.

“In Europe, we see the Palestinian issue as major, one that, if not solved, will continue the chaos and violence,” says Mr. Bauchard. “Americans agree with Israel that the real issue is the existential threat from Iran. The Israelis built a wall and treated the Palestinians as unimportant.”

European media characterize the photogenic and well-spoken Ms. Livni as a moderate—though she emerged from the hard-line party of Ariel Sharon. “The Europeans really fear what will happen if [right-wing Likud Party chairman Benjamin] Netanyahu wins in February,” says Ms. Signoles. “So she is called a moderate, because in Europe, the term right-wing means violent.”

Signoles points out that the main effect of a Europe that adopts an American position is that the core Palestinian issues regarding the cessation of settlements, a shared capital of Jerusalem, and the right of return “may not be emphasized as before.… [T]he Israel-Palestine issue is an asymmetric problem, and if the international community does not raise it and balance it, there is little chance that the rights of the smaller player will be raised.”

- end of initial entry -

Hannon writes:

Thank you for posting this interesting piece from the CSM. The Monitor seems like one of the very few genuine news productions going these days, even considering their soft liberalism.

The faint hope expressed in this article that a real awareness is building in elite European political circles is heartening, but as you note it could amount to nothing. What the article brought to mind, that I had never thought of clearly before, is that the Arabs have been playing a very serious game of “divide and conquer” with Europe and Israel/USA. I suppose that this notion is very obvious to longer term observers. This strategy, thanks especially to France, has served their interests well in Europe and now they must drive a wedge between the U.S. and Israel, even as ties are apparently strengthening between the first and last parties. Once the Europeans see Islam as an implacable and deadly threat, which is sure to develop in the near term, they will be forced to commiserate openly, if not ally, with Israel.

It is not as if I am without feelings for the political (non-terrorist) Arab position, but the entrenched and deranged hostility against Israel by most media is as perplexing as it is offensive. By the poll data in the article, one might suppose that this pro-Arab media presents an entirely artificial sympathy for “victimized” Gazans and other Arab militants. All news reporting is artificial really, which is why I find it essential to balance news with informed opinion.

So “right wing” means “violent” in political Euro-think. Wow.

LA replies:

Yes, I’ve long discounted the Monitor as a home of hopelessly soft liberalism. But each time I’ve looked at it lately, I find an article that actually tells me something about the world.

January 8

Bruce B. writes:

I was listening to BBC on the radio this morning. The host was interviewing an Israeli Communist and was quite hard on him and the host seemed to be asserting Israel’s right to self defense. On the BBC! They also had a commenter arguing against the Israel-Nazi comparison made, this time I believe, by a Palestinian but I missed most of that interview. The basic purpose of the Israel-Nazi comparison seems to be to try to invoke some sort of sense of bitter irony. It’s a silly and stupid comparison. If the Israelis were like the Nazis, there’d be no Palestinians west of the Jordan and an anti-Israel member of the Communist Party like the one interviewed on the BBC wouldn’t be free to speak his views and would probably be imprisoned or killed.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 07, 2009 08:23 PM | Send

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