“When the Jews warned the West,” I told participants at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, “that the Nazis endangered the peace of the world, your fathers replied that the Nazis were indeed not nice, but that this was a problem between the Germans and the Jews. Now, when we warn you that fanatic Islamic threatens the existence of western civilization, you tell us that Islamic terror is indeed worrisome, but this is a problem between the Moslems and Jews. When the explosive belt of a Moslem suicide terrorist explodes in Paris or London, Berlin or Amsterdam, again you will realize that this is also your problem.”
No one could say that the audience liked my words of admonition. Even less did they like it when I contended that if Israel were destroyed, all that the Europeans would do would be to set up orphanages for our children.
This is no way to talk in well-mannered Europe. Only an unruly Israeli could speak this way. But since at the beginning of my remarks I introduced myself as a Holocaust refugee, they were quiet. Perhaps their father killed my father, so why argue with me?
The Council of Europe is made up of over 600 members from 44 parliaments, who convene a number of times a year to discuss problems of human rights. This time the topic was the Middle East and around half of the council members came. Each of them a prosecutor. The accused were us, members of the Knesset delegation: Haim Ramon and Baige Shohat (Labor Party), Michael Eitan (Likud), David Tal (Shas), me (Shinui) and our ambassador to the Council of Europe, Yitzhak Eldan. For four entire days, from morning till night, in private meetings, in meetings with political groups (radical Left, socialists, liberals, democrats and conservatives) and in plenum sessions, we heard accusations, denunciations, rebukes, warnings, criticism and vilification. We heard the word “Jenin” about two million times. We were threatened with an international court, with boycotts, with dismissals, with decrees and with slowly burning over the coals of Hell. And indeed, we did feel as if we were frying in the coals of Hell (and if one more person dares tease me about the pleasures of being sent overseas, I will force them to read the minutes of all the sessions).
We had four defenders: a German goy, two Hungarian Jews and a French Jew, whose name, perhaps coincidentally, was Dreyfus.
But their defense did not avert a long series of anti-Israeli resolutions: condemnation for the systematic destruction of the Palestinian infrastructure, condemnation for violating international law, condemnation for killing Palestinian activists, condemnation for the destruction of Jenin, condemnation for holding Arafat under siege, and for dessert: support for the dissenters movement in Israel. In fairness sake, I should mention that they also condemned Palestinian terror and the murder of Rehavam Ze’evi.
And, of course, there were also constructive resolutions: support for direct negotiations, support for Tenet, support for Mitchell and so on.
The anti-Israeli stench that wafted from these meetings gave me a feeling of being a hero in a Becket play, who spends his day in a pile of garbage.
Are we indeed becoming the victims of a new anti-Semitism?
There is no lack, even today, of the traditional anti-Semitism in Europe, of the old kind. But the thrust of European anti-Semitism is not among the offspring of the Nazis. Anti-Semitism today is fed by Moslem incitement, which portrays the Israelis as war criminals and the Jews as Israeli saboteurs among the nations. This anti-Semitism is supported by the radical Left, which sees Israel as a colonialist state that oppresses the natives, along the lines of apartheid.
Anti-Semitism is still considered indecent in Europe today. But it is again an existing fact. And again, the Jews are worried.
One evening we visited the Jewish community of Strasbourg. The young people in the Jewish youth club wore new caps. “It’s a bit dangerous today to walk around with a kippa,” we were told, with embarrassment, by one of the community leaders. A synagogue in Strasbourg was torched and a Jewish cemetery was vandalized.
This was during the week that Le Pen defeated Prime Minister Jospin. Paradoxically, Le Pen was not elected because he is an anti-Semite, but because he incites against Moslem immigrants. The same Moslems that incite against the Jews.
We will be making our lives too easy if we attribute the traumatic experience the Knesset delegation had in the Council of Europe only to anti-Semitism. More than the traditional enemies worried me, I was worried this time by our old friends. Politicians, who in the past had supported Israel without hesitation, spoke to us this time the way you speak to a relative who has lost their mind. They do not understand why we behave the way we do. Why did we prevent the leaders of the European Union from meeting with Arafat? Why did we smash the computers in the Palestinian Authority offices? Why did we destroy a row of houses in Jenin? Why didn’t we let the ambulances evacuate the wounded? Why did we not let humanitarian delegations in for 11 days? Because the houses were booby-trapped? So we should have marked them with red tape.
On the last day the representative of the Palestinians, Ziyad Abu Ziyad, was scheduled to speak. A day earlier, the secretary general of the Council of Europe, warned us that the Israeli authorities had prevented Ziyad from coming and instead, he, the secretary general, would read the letter that Ziyad sent with harsh allegations against Israel. We realized this would be a very unpleasant demonstration of Israeli tyranny, if the secretary general of the Council of Europe would read, standing by the empty chair of the Palestinian representative, his words of condemnation. Baige Shohat phoned the defense minister. Fuad ordered Ziyad to be allowed to go and he arrived in Strasbourg on time. One PR catastrophe less.
We talked until our throats were parched about violations of the Oslo accords, about the rejection of Barak’s and Clinton’s proposals at Camp David, about our acceptance of the Tenet and Mitchell reports, about Sharon’s policy of restraint, about Peres’s attempts at mediation and about the terrible suicide terrorism. The European politicians, from the Left and Center and the Right, denounce terror, but view it as a derivative of the settlements and of the occupation. They see the occupation as the mother of all sins. The occupation is Kosovo. The occupation is Chechnya.
They follow the pictures on the television screens: destroyed homes, bound men, tanks facing children, crying women. That is how we look in European eyes.
Whereas two years ago we were the darlings of the Europeans, now we look in their eyes like the citizens of an aggressive and pitiless country. What should we do?
Sometimes we are brutal, and that we mustn’t do; sometimes we make silly mistakes, and that is unnecessary; sometimes our explanations come too late, and that is unfortunate. But none of that is what determines the Europeans attitude towards, but rather the settlements and the occupation.
Europe’s attitude should not determine the Israeli government’s policy. It does not even have to influence Israel’s policy. We don’t owe the Europeans a thing. But we should make a note to ourselves, that at this stage, until further notice, we’ve lost Europe.
This account ran in the Maariv newspaper on May 3, 2002