Hatred of Israel is a European pathology

What can one make of blood libel and Shoah-denial in Europe’s press? It’s a question of ‘civilisation’

By Robin Shepherd, September 10, 2009

How and at what point do isolated events start to form a pattern? Hold that thought as you consider the following examples.

On August 18, the Guardian ran a commentary by the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek which argued that Israel was attempting to eradicate Palestinians from the West Bank. In a clearly calculated attempt to Nazify the Jewish state, the writer used, and the Guardian editorial team allowed, the word “Palestinian-frei” — a blatant inversion of the Nazi term Judenfrei.

In the same week, Sweden’s top-selling newspaper, Aftonbladet, ran a two-page spread in its “culture” section alleging that soldiers of the Israeli Defence Forces routinely kill Palestinian children and harvest their bodily organs for sale on the black market. The allegations were juxtaposed with reports of an American Jew who had been arrested on charges of trafficking a human kidney.

Later in August, Virgin boss Richard Branson visited Israel and chided his hosts in the following manner: “After the Second World War,” he said, “the world had enormous sympathy for the Jewish people. Over a number of decades, that sympathy has been lost.” Last week in Spain, the newspaper El Mundo hosted Holocaust-denier David Irving as part of a series of interviews with “experts” on the Second World War.

Again, how and at what point do isolated events start to form a pattern? Four egregious instances in as many weeks may not make the grade for some. So, in my recently published book, A State Beyond the Pale: Europe’s problem with Israel, I have included dozens of such examples from the past 10 years to prove a point that I do not believe can now sensibly be denied. Vigorous and unremitting hostility to Israel has become part of mainstream discourse right across western Europe. Israel has become a pariah. Why?

Antisemitism is part of it, to be sure. But the deepest and most convincing explanation of what is going on centres on the nature of contemporary Europe itself: its civilisational weaknesses and pathologies; its post-imperial, post-Holocaust guilt complexes; its inability to see totalitarian ideologies for what they are; its propensity towards pacifism and appeasement; its relativism; its lack of self-belief.

Project such values and characteristics onto a discussion of Israel’s predicament, redouble the intensity with a legacy of antisemitism stretching back centuries, and you get a pretty good understanding of what this dispute is really about.

As for the human rights argument, it is simply not credible and adds the sin of hypocrisy to the larger charge sheet. Hostility to Israel cannot conceivably be part of a broader concern for human rights since the violations of so many other countries are routinely ignored.

Nor have opinion formers in Europe taken against the Jewish state due to a simple misunderstanding here or a gap in the historical knowledge there. Stories about Jews engaged in trans-continental conspiracies to sell human organs or comparisons with Nazi Germany have not entered the mainstream because someone has made an honest mistake. It is happening because the culture and values of modern Europe make it possible to happen. And it is here precisely, I’m afraid, that one begins to understand how and at what point, isolated events start to form a pattern.

Robin Shepherd’s book, ‘A State Beyond the Pale: Europe’s Problem with Israel’, has just been published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson. The author is director, international affairs, at the Henry Jackson Society

    Last updated: 11:52am, September 10 2009