‘I realized my vision was very narrow,’ Laure Ferrari says of her earlier opinions on Israel.. (photo credit:Courtesy)
As Europe continues to escalate its intervention in Israeli- Palestinian affairs, some question the motivation of such actions, claiming “all politics are local.”
Laure Ferrari, a French citizen of Corsican descent, has long considered herself to be part of the anti-Israel camp.
“My view has always been that Israel is a colonialist, regionalist and occupier entity.”
Raised in Alsace and having lived in London, Brussels and Strasbourg, Ferrari reflects on how her anti-Israel views were formed: “When the question of Israel is discussed, you are judged right away. If someone is pro-Israel, he is clearly a bad guy. If you are anti-Israel, you are a good guy. At the end, being pro-Israel or anti- Israel is a social tool.”
But last year, Ferrari took a two-day trip to Israel to attend a conference in Jerusalem and said the experience opened her eyes. “I realized my vision was very narrow. My opinion changed 180 degrees.”
Ferrari, who is the executive director of the Institute for Direct Democracy in Europe, said she became embarrassed by how indoctrinated her views about Israel were.
Finding Israel and its policies to be very different from her original perception, Ferrari embarked on a journey of reflection upon returning to Europe.
“I began to question what the reason was for the anti-Israel mentality I used to hold. What is it with Israel that we take an approach that we do not take with any other countries? I came to a conclusion that Europe’s anti-Israel attitude is simply irrational.”
Observers of an escalation of European hostility towards Israel point to a number of reasons. On one hand, following the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, European nations and the EU invested significantly in the Palestinian Authority. The violence that followed the accords led Europe to further increase its funding to NGOs which monitor Israel’s counterterrorism operations.
On the other, some argue that Europe’s strong opinions are a product of growing sensitivity on the continent to human rights issues; while still others argue their concern is borne out of frustration for a century-old conflict that has yet to be resolved.
However, two alternative perspectives suggest that European anti-Israel escalation is driven by internal European circumstances.
Ferrari, having examined the issue, believes that local European dynamics are driving policy.
“European countries changed their attitude toward Israel due to the rise of the Muslim population in Europe. In the 1960s and 1970s when the Muslim communities were very small, Europe was pro-Israel.”
Ferrari attributes it to Europe’s politically correct culture and believes it has dire consequences.
“Increasingly, anti-Semitism became intrinsic to many of Europe’s new Islamic communities. There is pressure on European Muslims to feel that if you are Muslim, you must hate Jews. Because of our politically correct attitude, over time their voice became our voice. They are allowed to say things that we are not. So when European Muslims say, ‘Israel is a killer state,’ that trickles up to the broader European voice.”
AMBASSADOR URI BAR-NER, a veteran Israeli diplomat who served in various European countries, agrees with such sentiment, but sees it from a different angle: “Europe wants to make nice to Muslims. With growing Muslim populations, Europeans looks at them as an electoral force, and European politicians view being anti-Israel as pandering to Muslim voters.”
Bar-Ner, who has retired from the Foreign Ministry and serves as a policy adviser, ties this with the legacy of the European cold-war perception of the Israeli- Arab conflict.
“Europeans think that putting pressure on Israel promotes its interests in the Arab world, but such an approach is outdated. Arab countries that were at war with Israel in the early years no longer wish to weaken Israel. They are also threatened by Iran and Islamic State.”
Bar-Ner is alarmed by rising Islamophobia in Europe and believes there is a connection to Europe’s approach to Israel.
“Europeans do not want Muslims in Europe, period. They might wrap it in politically correct pretension, but that is the truth that all know.”
For Bar-Ner, this issue is personal, he was Israel’s Ambassador to Turkey when Turkey was in the process of applying for EU membership.
“I was told by the director-general of the German Foreign Ministry outright: ‘Europe is a Christian club!’” Bar-Ner, however, does not think that it is Europe’s growing Muslim population that is the primary cause of the European negative attitude towards Israel.
He views this issue, along with other factors such as helping the oppressed, as rationalization of European intervention rather than its root cause.
Bar-Ner, who maintains strong ties with European policymakers, monitored the evolution of European policy toward Israel since its establishment.
“Europe is accustomed to seeing weak Jews that depend on others. In the early days of Israel, when the Jewish State was fragile, it was digestible to Europe. Europeans had a lot of sympathy for Israel. But now, with our strong economy, thriving hi-tech sector, and scientific advances, European sympathy eroded and was replaced by envy.”
Bar-Ner points to the timing of the escalation of European hostility to Israel in the 1990s – decades after the 1948 War of Independence and the 1967 war that resulted in Israel taking control of the West Bank.
Bar-Ner’s views hark back to a similar argument made in the 19th century by Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism. He claimed that competition is key in Europe’s aversion towards Jews.
The ample Jewish wealth and “excessive intelligence” that followed the emancipation intensified European competition against the Jews. Herzl argued that such circumstances will not go away.
Are the same European dynamics that were directed toward individual Jews in the past now directed to the collective of Jews? Bar-Ner takes it a step further, claiming historic European ambivalence to Jewish lives is also repeating itself.
“Europe supported Hitler’s attempt to destroy the Jews. Not everybody in Europe backed it and many brave Europeans risked their lives to protect Jews, but as a whole, the support for the genocide was widespread across borders. That is the reason that Hitler was able to carry out the Final Solution.”
A QUESTION remains as to the direction of the European attitude and approach toward Israel. Will the escalating trend toward intervention continue or will there be a reversal in course? Ferrari senses that there is a change on the ground and that other Europeans, like herself, are coming to recognize that the anti-Israel proclivities are irrational and have gone too far.
“More Europeans are now asking: ‘What the hell are we doing?’ Like many in Europe, I do not agree with a lot of Israel’s policies, but I am convinced that Israel serves our interests and has a strategic role to play in the world.”
Ferrari qualifies that such sentiment is not pan-European, but is becoming a package deal: “It is turning out to be that you are either right-wing, Christian, anti-gay marriage, climate-skeptic and pro-Israel, or that you are left-wing, socialist, pro-gay marriage, climate-alarmist, and anti-Israel.”
Bar-Ner, however, is skeptical that Europe will change its course. Being part of a generation that is not afraid to speak its mind, he states his views clearly: “Europeans hated the Jews throughout the centuries, and many of them continue to hate Jews today. It is not written policy and may not even be conscious, but the difficult truth is that Jew-hatred is at the core of Europeans policies toward the Jewish State.”