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Europe is not hostile to Israel

As a result of the Trump “so called peace plan” and the prospects of annexation of territories in the West Bank to Israel is getting closer, we hear more warnings from European countries. This week 15 European countries sent a letter to the Israeli Foreign Minister warning against constructions in area E1 and East Jerusalem.

The narrative that links these sentiments in Europe on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to anti-Semitism and to the growing number of Arab immigrants to Europe is gaining strength in certain circles in Israel. This narrative is wrong at best and manipulative at worst.

The gap between many Israelis and most Europeans on these kind of issues stems from differences in approach toward nationalism, international law, the use of force and human rights. This gap widens as the occupation continues, as Israel’s governments remain uninterested in ending it, and as they increasingly appear not to share Western Europe’s liberal outlook.

It is important to stress that there are also opposite trends in Europe as we witnessed during the visit of the Hungarian Foreign Minister recently. I will address these trends later in this article.

The lesson that most European countries learned from World War II differs from the lesson that Zionism learned. The countries of Western Europe, which previously shed one another’s blood, realized the dangers of nationalism, worked for unity and advocated for the rights of minorities.

Israel arose from the lesson from the holocaust that nationalism, military might, and self-reliance were sacrosanct for our existence.

Until the Six-Day War, Europe saw Israel as a threatened democracy that shared its liberal values. Since that war, Israel’s image has gradually changed, and the country is now seen by some Europeans as an aggressive regional superpower.

So long as Israel adheres to liberal values and pursues peace, and so long as peace rejectionism remained the province of the Arabs, Israel could depend on Europe tolerating the occupation. Even now, the European Union follow a policy that distinguishes their criticism of the occupation and the settlements and their desire to embrace Israel within the 1967 borders, while supporting its security needs and admiring its abilities in science and technology.

With no connection to their political position, the European countries share our concern about old and new anti-Semitism, and they work against it, even if their means sometimes fall short.

Israel has blurred the gap between the Europeans’ attitude toward Israel and their attitude toward the settlements. It was done by Israeli governments in order to avoid addressing the criticism, while accusing the Europeans of anti-Semitism. The Israeli public has accepted this narrative, along with commentators’ assertions that Europe’s policy is influenced by its large Arab population.

The problem with this narrative is that it is a self-fulfilling prophecy: It strengthens Israel’s tendency toward victimization and defensiveness, which distances us from the progressives in Europe.

But the reality is different, even the opposite. Influenced by the anxiety of immigrants, Europe’s nationalist right is gaining power. This movement, motivated by xenophobia and traditionally associated with unabashed anti-Semitism, has recently become an enthusiastic supporter of Israel in light of what it sees as a common enemy: Muslims and Arabs.

The nationalists in Europe and their peers in Israel share an admiration for populist belligerence. Their admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Trump is evident, as is their scorn for the former U.S. President Barack Obama, particularly because of his tendency to avoid military means.

Today the nationalist right wing in Europe seems to love (conservative) Israel but is lukewarm towards Jews and foreigners in general, while the liberal left wing on the Continent is pro Jews and is lukewarm towards Israel.

Unlike other countries, Israel has no natural coalition based on language, religion or geographic region. Our only coalition in the international arena, as well our desire to belong to Western organizations, is based on holding liberal values in common.

The farther away Israel moves from these values, the more we are losing our natural allies. Instead of creating a dialog Israel is drawing farther away from and letting go of the base of shared understanding.

We need a dialogue through which the Europeans could learn the authentic fears of Israelis and our security needs, while Israel internalizes the importance the Europeans place on the rights of minorities and their preference for diplomatic solutions -

Europe’s opposition to the occupation and settlements is neither anti-Israel nor anti-Semitic. Besides the authentic concern for the Palestinians’ rights, many people in Europe and the world believe that their stance is pro-Israel, since the continued occupation harms Israel’s security and its ability to remain a democracy and a national home for the Jews.

Even those among us who do not agree with this approach need to realize that it does not stem from hostility.

Israel has a supreme interest in drawing close to Europe for ethical reasons - shared Western values - and practical ones - an export-based economy in which Europe is the biggest commercial partner.

The approach that has become accepted in Israel lately, that “Europe is against us no matter what we do,” perpetuates a dangerous gap instead of narrowing it. This attitude needs to be changed from the ground up. The new spirit of professional nonpolitical diplomacy that Foreign Minister Ashkenazi brought to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is a good opportunity to change course.

Nadav Tamir, adviser for international affairs and diplomatic affairs at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, Nadav is on the board of the Mitvim Institute, the steering committee of the Geneva Initiative and J Street Israel.

(This article was published in a different version in Haaretz on February 2nd, 2015)

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