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Jewish Journal

Europe Displaying Disproportionate Pacifism

by Jeffry V. Mallow

August 10, 2006 | 8:00 pm

One casualty of the current crisis is the myth that if Israel were to be attacked from territory it does not occupy, the world would support its response. "The world" mostly meant the United States and Western Europe.

The experiment has now been done, and with the exception of the United States and Great Britain, it has failed. Israel's counterattack had hardly begun when the European Union's rotating president, Finland, issued a statement declaring that the EU "is greatly concerned about the disproportionate use of force by Israel in Lebanon...." There are growing demands for an immediate cease-fire, with Hezbollah still capable of attacking Israel.

What response would be "proportionate?" As one caller to France's Jewish station, Radio Chalom, asked, should Israel have sneaked across the borders of Lebanon and Gaza, killed some Hezbollah and Hamas fighters and kidnapped some others? But that, the caller noted, would violate international law and would be condemned by the EU.

In fact, it's been tried: In July 1989, Israeli commandos kidnapped Sheikh Abdul Karim Obeid, a leader of the Hezbollah in Lebanon. It was condemned in U.N. Security Council Resolution 638 (rightly, in my opinion). The sheikh and several hundred other prisoners were returned to Lebanon in January 2004 in exchange for an Israeli businessman and the remains of three soldiers kidnapped and murdered by Hezbollah (while U.N. forces looked on) -- an exchange that might be called, well, disproportionate.

How about precisely targeting and eliminating the leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah who plan the attacks on Israel? That's been tried, too. Europe condemns them as "extrajudicial assassinations."

By contrast, after a Kassam rocket fired from Gaza into the Israeli town of Sderot in June 2004 killed 3-year-old Afik Zahavi and former Soviet Union immigrant Mordechai Yossifov, I monitored the EU Web site for a condemnation. Here is what I found: "Your search on 'Sderot' matched 0 of 1,540,821 documents."

The G8 Summit statement called upon Israel to exercise "utmost restraint." Fair enough. But what would constitute such restraint? Trying to avoid civilian targets? Leafleting civilians before attacking the Hezbollah and Hamas strongholds in their midst? Hitting infrastructure to prevent the moving of kidnapped soldiers, while trying to avoid collateral damage? All being done, and yet Israel's response is condemned as disproportionate.

Perhaps a response by land to avoid the collateral damage inevitably inflicted from the air? It's being tried now in both Lebanon and Gaza. But it was tried already in Jenin to ferret out the organizers of the 2002 Passover suicide bombing. Thirteen Israeli soldiers paid with their lives, only to have the incursion deemed a "massacre." Despite the discrediting of this lie, you can still see it promulgated on European TV.

In an EU poll in 2003, the majority of Europeans voted the Jewish state "the greatest threat to world peace."

What is going on here? Is it just traditional European anti-Semitism? Partly, but that hardly explains it. In 2005, the EU itself published a study of anti-Semitism in Europe, concluding that it was a serious problem that needed to be eliminated, that anti-Zionism was its newest form and that its primary promulgators were European Islamists and their leftist supporters.

A case in point is France. At just about the time the EU report came out, then-Israeli Ambassador to France Nissim Zvili told me that although France and Israel have (as he diplomatically put it) differences in foreign policy, nobody has done more than the French to combat anti-Semitism in their own country.

Is it just European hypocrisy? Yes, that too. Danish political scientist and military analyst Jeppe Plenge Trautner wrote me earlier this week, "Europeans are indeed utterly feckless, and while using the U.N. and EU as anti-Israel soapboxes to please their leftist (and now also centrist) Israel-haters and appease their Arab neighbors, in practice all hold cordial connections with Israel when it comes to business, educational, scientific, agricultural, intelligence, military and technological affairs. As a side benefit, this allows the European governments to blame the U.S. for its 'blind' (visible, that is) support of Israel."

But hypocrisy can't be the whole story. Europe after all, with the notable exception of Norway and Sweden, has stood fast in its boycott of the Hamas-led government in Gaza and the West Bank.

What Western Europe suffers from is disproportionate pacifism. Emerging from the carnage of World War II, it has managed to shape relatively decent and peaceful societies. Its fear of another world war is understandable, but this fear has led it to endorse pacifism at all costs. This is not hard when it is another country that has to bear these costs.

And Israel is not the only target. Sitting in my office at a Danish university in 1999, I was approached by a colleague who asked me to sign a petition condemning "American aggression" -- that is to say, America's impending leadership of a NATO force to stop the Serbian genocide of Bosnian Muslims. (I didn't sign and not just because one of the originators was my fellow American, Noam Chomsky.)

Another friend tried to convince me that the problem was that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had not worked hard enough to negotiate with Slobodan Milosevic but had concluded prematurely that (to coin a phrase) there was no one to talk to. Had Europe prevailed, Bosnia would have ranked with Rwanda.

It is clear that any military response to attacks will merit Europe's condemnation. Well, almost any: the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was met with relative silence, probably because of the magnitude and surprise of the attack on America. But Europe has become inured to attacks of proportionate, and even disproportionate size, on much smaller Israel. So while it will support Israel in the absence of retaliation, any Israeli counterattack will itself be characterized as excessive.

For Jews seeking an end to the occupation, a fair peace in the Middle East and a secure Israel, this is a disappointment and a betrayal. For the Europeans, it may prove once again to be a trap of their own making.

Albert Einstein famously defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Europe's dogmatic insistence on pacifism at all costs already cost it a world war. Now again, it is costing European integrity, European honor and European blood.

Spain has already had a taste of Islamist violence, despite its consistent anti-Israel tilt. So for that matter has France. My wife's relative, France Bertin, a member of the French Resistance to the Nazis, and herself a leftist, faults the left for having lost its bearings, for which France is paying a price in terror attacks and street violence. Not usually a person given to hyperbole, she nevertheless characterizes the current situation as "deja vu."

Great Britain on the other hand, has begun to learn from the attacks on its soil and supports Israel's continuing attempt to render Hezbollah incapable of further attacks on its soil. Denmark may be learning, too, from the Muhammad cartoon controversy, at least abstaining in the U.N. Security Council vote to condemn the Israeli response.

My friend Albert Rapp, an emigre from Poland's anti-Semitic persecutions of the late 1960s and former chairman of the Coordinating Committee for Polish-Jewish Youth in Denmark, puts the matter cynically but accurately when he says of Europeans: "What these people need is a good war."

That's what they will get if they all do not learn, and learn quickly, that the use of force is not automatically disproportionate.

Professor Jeffry V. Mallow is past president of the American Labor Zionist organization, Ameinu. He divides his time between Europe and the United States.

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