Ever since the Bush administration came into office, there have
been fears both in Israel and in the Jewish community here that the
reluctance of the new administration to maintain Bill Clintonís
hands-on involvement in the details of the Middle East conflict, would
lead to Europeís filling the vacuum. And Europe, it was felt, did
not have the deep commitment to Israel that the U.S. has had ever
since the State was created.
Increased American Involvement / Europeans More
As things turn out, two policy trends have emerged that show a more
complex picture. To begin with, events have compelled the Bush
administration to become more active than it had intended. It named
Ambassador William Burns its Middle East representative, and Secretary
of State Powell visited the area - a level of involvement that clearly
had not been envisaged at the outset.
The other important change is that the most significant European
involvement was German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischerís critical
role in the wake of the Tel Aviv disco bombing. He had witnessed the
suicide bombing from his hotel room, got in touch with Yasir Arafat
and pressed him to call for an end to Palestinian violence.
this meeting came a call in Arabic from Arafat to cease attacks on
Israeli civilians, while the Sharon government held off with
A fragile armistice emerged, punctuated by
low-level incidents but avoiding escalation. Other European diplomats,
including European Union foreign policy representative Javier Solana
of Spain and Swedish Prime Minister Perssons, the current head of the
EU Council of Ministers, also were active in pressing for a sustained
In short, what developed in the wake of the Tel Aviv bombing was a
more active involvement of America, and a more even-handed role of the
Europeans than had been feared on the Israeli and Jewish side.
Problems for Israel in the Media
On the other hand, the political and psychological atmosphere , and
especially the tone in key media, continues to pose problems for
Israel. The egregious nature of the Tel Aviv disco attack gave a jolt
to politicians, editorial writers and columnists, particularly in
Europe, who see Israel as the "militarist",
"colonial" power and the Palestinians as its victims. But
such jolts donít last long, and in some cases donít even occur.
Thus, the leading cartoonist of France, Plantu of Le Monde, in
the weekend edition of June 2-3, pictured the "plague on both
your houses" attitude in the wake of the disco blast by showing
both the The Jewish settler and the Palestinian bomber as suicidal.
ADL protested the cartoon to the paperís ombudsman, who had
received many similar complaints and devoted a column to the dispute.
He reported back that in Plantuís mind, a settler who persists in
occupying Palestinian land is just as suicidal in terms of peace or at
least coexistence as the Palestinian bomber.
Plantu himself answered
that he gets blame from both sides and is at times referred to as a
ADL responded: "If you consider Israel the colonial power and
Palestinians its victims, this political perspective leads you to a
distorted view of the human side: the bomber, causing dozens of dead,
becomes no more guilty than someone who occupies a piece of disputed
land. This transcends the bounds of reason and justice."
The incident and ensuing correspondence are cited here because they
typify the background against which many people, including decision
makers, see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Ė and not only in
Europe. People who consider themselves informed and responsible in the
western world intuitively hone in on the presumed victim who is
entitled to their help and at least sympathy.
This poses a problem for
the "strong" oneóin this case Israel: to be on the
receiving end of unfair and often infuriating attitudes and
accusations, doing the best possible to deal with them, but realizing
that this seems to be part of the price for security and survival.
The Mistake of Seeing "Europe" as a Monolith
Beyond this basic psychological problem there is a misperception in
America about Europe that distorts reality and sweeps important
distinctions under the rug. It is customary for the media to speak of
"Europe" as though this geographic area already had a
functioning government and foreign policy analogous to the United
States. It doesnít.
The European Union is a real but still loose
group of sovereign nations that have decided to live by democratic
principles, and have taken on some significant common economic and
financial responsibilities, including a joint currency that will be
used in all member countries beginning next January first.
But for the
rest, they remain sovereign countries, and the extent of shared
policies in many areas, including defense and foreign affairs, remains
under discussion and is far from being decided.
Thus, France shies away from full integration of member nations and
prefers a loose federation of sovereign states, while Germany would
like to see the Union to develop a "deeper" federation, not
identical with but more like the United States.
Other member countries
have different views, depending on their national interests. The point
is that to speak of "Europe", in the absence of a specific
joint policy as in the case of NATOís in the Balkans, is not
Diversity in European Views About the Middle East
For example, in the case of the Middle East, France and Germany
have divergent policies, even though, for the sake of their common
commitment to the Union, neither would admit it.
Minister Joschka Fischerís call on Arafat in the wake of the disco
bombing, emphatically and insistently pressing him to speak out for an
end to terror, reflects both a personal position and that of a country
conscious of its past.
Only a couple of weeks before that bombing,
French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine had spoken of the Hezbollah in
southern Lebanon, as it continues to shell Israeli outposts even after
the withdrawal of Israeli forces, as a "legitimate liberation
One could cite other examples to show how some
"Mediterranean" countries (e.g. Italy, Spain) with close
ties and interests to the Arab world tend to sympathize with the
Palestinian case. Sweden likes to display its traditional posture of a
kind of "moral neutrality" that always works out for the
benefit of the victim as defined by the self-appointed moral arbiter.
But no member of the Union has shown the consistent and persistent
one-sidedness for the Arab and Palestinian side that France has for
many years displayed.
It is thus important for Jews and other friends of Israel to
- that "Europe" is not reality when it comes to the
foreign policy of its sovereign nations
- that the "strong" vs. "weak",
"colonialist " vs. "victim" imagery remains
the determining background against which important media on both
sides of the Atlantic view and report on the Israeli-Palestinian
- that some European governments, with France in the lead,
reflect this attitude in their policies, but that others, with
Germany the largest and most important, do much to understand
and sustain Israel .