Ha'aretz, Thursday, July 12, 2001

THE PRICE OF WEAKNESS

By Yisrael Harel

Israel's policy of restraint has failed not only in Israel, in the military sense. For the first time in many years, and against the background of what has become a chronic war of attrition, there are forces, mainly in Europe, that are no longer satisfied with the establishment of a Palestinian state. They now deny the very right of a Jewish state to exist within any borders. And if in the past such voices could be heard only from the fringes, today they are increasingly being heard from intellectuals, media figures and rightist and leftist politicians. Shimon Peres likes to talk of the support Israel enjoys as a result of its restraint, but the Knesset members who returned this week from an Interparliamentary Association conference report that they encountered a hostile atmosphere and genuine hatred, the likes of which they had never encountered before. Major newspapers and television stations, especially in Europe, have come out pointedly against Israel, in some cases using terminology reserved in the past exclusively for Nazis. It seems that when the Jewish people demonstrate weakness, particularly in their own country, all swoop down to attack it with the their beaks and claws. And Israel's crisis of direction, will and military ability is having a deleterious effect on the Jews of the Diaspora. In many locations in Europe, they find they are once again forced to contend with soaring and terrifying hatred, like in the days when the Jews did not yet have a state. Jewish schools are guarded like prisons and community institutions have become fortresses. Anti-Semitic hatred, more often than not camouflaged as "legitimate" anti-Israeliness, is once again rearing its ugly head, especially in the media. More than 50 years after the establishment of the Jewish state, which allowed Jews to stand tall in the Diaspora and caused anti-Semitism to go underground, it is once again hard to be a Jew in Europe. And this time, with the irony of history, the Jewish state itself is partly to blame.

Most Arabs in Europe are recent arrivals there whom one might expect to feel the insecurity of immigrants (a large proportion of them are not even citizens). They nonetheless, and by the thousands, very aggressively demonstrate their identification with the acts of murder perpetrated by their Palestinian brethren against civilians, including the terror attacks at the Dolphinarium and the shopping malls. But the Jews, most of whom are native-born and well-established European citizens, do not dare to come out against them. Israel, which in the past made them feel proud and bolstered their identity, is now, because of its weakness, having an adverse effect on their status and prestige. It appears that the Jewish state has not solved the problem of anti-Semitism, as the Zionist theories postulated. Recently, and particularly in the last 10 months of weakness and restraint, anti-Semitism has once again reared its ugly head - sometimes openly, but mainly in the guise of anti-Zionism and anti-Israeliness - to spit out its venom and hatred, most commonly in the countries of the European Union.

Europe has a great fear of an inundation by Arabs. The French, for example, shudder at the thought that Muslims might take over cities and districts in southern France. Especially great is their fear that fundamentalist terror, like the explosion in the Twin Towers, will arrive in their cities. The Bin Laden phenomenon, fear of which caused the panicked flight of the American navy last week (perhaps influenced by the film "Pearl Harbor"?) from the ports of the Gulf, has filled American and European hearts with terror. And on the other hand, the number of Jews currently living in Europe is tiny compared to the influx of Arabs and Muslims in recent years. But despite this, most Europeans, even in those countries such as Norway - with very few Jews, have thrown their support wholeheartedly behind the Palestinians. And France of all places, where opposition to the Arab presence is greatest, is where about one third of all violent anti-Semitic acts in the world occur.

The European Union has taken a unilateral, open and blatant stand in favor of the Arabs. And the media, in particular the British media, has taken an obvious and sometimes even malicious and anti-Semitic position against Israel. On the BBC - and not only on its "special" on Sabra and Chatilla - we can already hear frequent claims that the Arab suffering of today is the result of the ethnic cleansing (the most morally charged term in the Western world today) that Israel carried out in its 1948 war.

The denial of Israel's right to exist as the state of the Jewish people has become the stuff of legitimate discourse in all cultural salons and prestigious talk shows in Europe. Arabs, who are often invited to participate in them without any Jewish balance being provided (or in the presence of Israelis who share the Arabs' views), are not the only ones who hold these convictions. Never, since the days of the Nazis, has anti-Semitism reared its head the way it is doing today, cries that moderate man, Michael Malchior, Shimon Peres's deputy. In Norway, where he served as chief rabbi, Israel's Law of Return has become the prototype of "absolute evil" and Zionism an evil and racist movement. And all this has happened since the signing of the Oslo agreements, encompassing very broad circles of society, with intellectuals and government officials taking an active role in stirring up the muddy wave. This is yet another product of the "Restraint is strength," and "Our moderation has caused the world to identify with Israel" strategy. The world, at least from the way it has been responding lately, has chosen to identify with the murderers of children.



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