The ceasefire brokered by Egypt has brought to an end the latest episode of conflict in Gaza. Israeli forces again traded blows with Palestinian extremist group Hamas, targeting militant sites during airstrikes, following the Muslim group’s 150-rocket barrage of Israel launched over a week ago. The casualty figures, which include civilians on both sides, reached well over 1,000.
The conflict has also highlighted the disunity that exists at the heart of the European Union. In an extraordinary meeting of EU foreign ministers held on Tuesday to address the mounting violence, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, representing a government considered Israel’s strongest ally in Europe, prevented a unified EU declaration being issued that would call for a ceasefire.
Saying that EU pronouncements on Israel “are usually very much one-sided, and… do not help, especially not under current circumstances, when the tension is so high,” Szijjarto voted down a statement by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell which was remarkable more for its equivocation than any decisive plan of action: “We support the right to defense for Israel and right to security – also for the Palestinians – and we consider that security for Israel and Palestine requires a true political solution, because only a true political solution could bring peace, and to do that we need to restore a political horizon.”
As foreign powers with influence in the region, notably Egypt, scramble to shape the outcome of the situation as best they can, the EU, as a major trade partner of Israel and Palestine’s largest foreign-aid funder, could have played a decisive role in mediating a solution. But its role has been diluted considerably by the bloc’s disunity over what stance to take on the hostilities abroad and, domestically, how to address an upsurge in anti-Semitic violence in certain parts of Europe, due in significant part to years of open-door migration from Muslim-majority countries where anti-Israel sentiment is strong.
Hamas attacks against Israeli civilians are often motivated and galvanized by anti-Semitism: a member of the group’s Political Bureau recently called on Muslim residents of Jerusalem to “cut off the heads of Jews.” Pro-Palestinian marches in Europe by vocal Muslims, meanwhile, are often motivated by the same hatred, as evidenced by recent events.
In France, the Jewish community’s security agency has reported that the number of violent in-country anti-Semitic attacks documented in 2020, reaching into the dozens, is nearly identical with that recorded in 2019, even with Covid-forced lockdowns reducing social contact. In a northern Paris neighborhood on Saturday, 4,200 security forces were deployed to disperse a pro-Palestinian rally that had earlier been banned by court order for fear it would incite violence.
Germany, after taking in over 800,000 Muslim migrants between 2010 and 2016 – with over 600,000 arriving in 2015 alone – has reaped a high-profile whirlwind of problems from the radical segments of the recent arrivals, including rape and anti-Semitic violence. As part of an EU-wide study conducted in 2018, 41% of surveyed German Jews reported harassment from a person with “a Muslim extremist view.” As the Israel-Gaza tensions escalated recently, the western-German city of Gelsenkirchen saw 200 people marching on a local synagogue, yelling “sh**ty Jews.” It has been one point on a rising tide, as violent demonstrations dominated by members of the Muslim German-Arab community have been sweeping the country, with synagogues in Dusseldorf, Munster and Bonn vandalized and a Saturday demonstration in Berlin of over 1,000 pro-Palestinian marchers turning into a violent riot only quelled after strenuous police efforts, resulting in 59 arrests.
As in the EU, so too in the UK, where the pro-Palestinian, anti-Semitic legacies of controversial migration policies have risen again with alarming furor. In London on Sunday, four people were arrested in connection with a group of vehicles bearing pro-Palestinian flags that drove through a heavily Jewish north-London neighborhood, blaring “F**k the Jews, rape their daughters” on a public-address system. A spokesman for British-Jewish charity Community Security Trust noted the incident came “after three anti-Israel demonstrations in a week, each featuring swastikas and jihadi anti-Jewish chants.”
Officials and community leaders have rushed to join the chorus of condemnation. German government spokesman Steffen Seibert, issuing a statement on behalf of Chancellor Angela Merkel, said that “Israel has the right to self-defense against these [Hamas] attacks,” while Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, wrote, “Anyone who attacks synagogues and Jews under the pretext of criticizing Israel has forfeited any right to solidarity.”
French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said, “We don’t want a conflict imported to French soil.” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote, “There is no place for anti-Semitism in our society,” while his Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, the son of a Czech-Jewish emigre father, said, “It is disgusting and disgraceful.”
These statements are unobjectionable, but they are also unimpressive. The problem is not their content, but the frequency with which European officials find themselves issuing such utterances, full of high-sounding rhetorical fluff that refuses to own up to a problem for which these individuals are partly responsible.
If political leaders really condemned anti-Semitism as against European values, they would take on the tough work of rooting it out, by using an uncompromising set of European fundamental values as a gauge for entry into Europe and assimilation into the citizen bodies of their respective countries. As anti-Semitic incidents arise and officials rush to denounce them, the risk is that in sounding verbally strong on the campaign against anti-Semitism, elected politicians may delude themselves they are actually doing something to stop it at the source.
Perhaps if more care had been given to clarifying its stance on these matters before instituting migration policies that brought in groups of migrants hostile to Israel, the bloc would not be feeling the need to propose a more than €1 billion program to fight anti-Semitism, as announced in April. EU efforts to retool migration policy are continuing to focus on robust deportation schemes and border controls, rather than its failure to assimilate those groups of Muslim migrants who are instigating anti-Semitic clashes in European cities.
The problem is so severe that the only way to wipe it out is a committed, even harsh, delineation of what European values are and what they are not. Gerhard Schindler, former head of Germany’s BND spy service, hit closer to that mark when, in a recent interview, he noted, “The security authorities can only work on the symptoms. The cause of this basic problem is a social problem that everyone must address.”
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Szijjarto’s boss, has also taken up this line of argument – and has been branded a heretical renegade by much of the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) in the European Parliament as a result, to the point where he removed his Fidesz MEPs from the grouping rather than face likely expulsion. In an official statement issued after he won reelection as prime minister in 2018, he said, “There is only one way to counter worryingly strengthening anti-Semitic phenomena… Europe must return to its values stemming from Judeo-Christian traditions.” He affirmed his government’s commitment to “opposing anti-Semitism” in an April solidarity meeting with former Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
Comments like those made by Schindler and Orban expose the real causality of misguided migration policies in muddling European unity on foreign relations and addressing anti-Semitism. But the type of internal detente of conscience that many centrist European leaders are fond of when pontificating on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – the thinking that refusing to take a side is just as principled as taking one – is a short step removed from thinking that those Muslim migrants who commit anti-Semitic hate crimes in the name of Palestine are just as worthy of European citizenship as those who do not. So long as the EU downplays the antagonisms that its indecisiveness has helped foster, moral laxity in both Israeli-Palestinian affairs and addressing anti-Semitism are going to be the results, no matter how noble the rhetoric sounds.
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