AN ISRAELI VIEW: Jews, beware of Islamophobes bearing gifts

With Friends Like These . . .
Jews, beware of Islamophobes bearing gifts.

Opinion Journal, Sunday, January 7, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST

An Israeli gal like me cannot afford to be too picky about her friends, certainly not in Europe. Recent European polls proclaimed Israel the single most dangerous country on earth, the guiltiest monger of global conflict, and, to crown it all, the least desirable place to live. Most Israelis, busy with their thriving economy under a warm Mediterranean sun, tend to forgive such pronouncements coming from dismal Düsseldorf and snowbound Stockholm. But a new challenge has now cropped up. We seem to have gained new European friends, and not quite for the right reasons.

These new pro-Israel voices base a love of Jews upon the hatred of Muslims. Last September the European Coalition for Israel convened in Brussels, its most prominent speakers lamenting the loss of European Jewry alongside the rise of European Islam. The tone was belligerent, the linkage crude: "The enemies of Israel are also a threat to Europe," delegates were told. And also: "In only two generations, most parts of Europe will be under Islamic law." Other self-declared friends grimly speak of Londonistan and augur the coming of the European Caliphate. Such statements may reflect genuine concern, but are disconcerting when made on European soil.

Unlike the late Oriana Fallaci, whose commitment to the Jews stemmed from her heroic anti-Fascist youth, and whose harsh critique of Islam came from an enraged liberal soul, many of these new friends are Muslim-bashers first and Israel-backers second. Their blanket condemnation of Muslim communities on their continent rings eerily familiar. Their sweeping verdict against a whole civilization has that strange déjà vu feel. And their rather sudden nostalgia for Europe's lost Jews is, I'm sorry to say, far too late and somewhat suspect. As the Mishna wisely warns, "Any love that depends upon some thing, when that thing is no more, the love is no more." You see, we have a very long experience with human relationships.

I, for one Israeli, would be grateful to my newfound buddies if their sympathy for me did not rely on the trashing of another religion. Unlike them, I'm touched by the sight of young Muslim women in European university campuses. They remind my of my own grandmother, a student in Prague who had to flee after the Nazi rise to power, and of all the other young and hopeful Jews whose dreams and lives were shattered by the European culture they so admired. I will therefore not solicit support based on unqualified dislike of other human groups, least of all on the continent that kicked out my grandparents.
To be sure, Israelis could use more friends in Europe: sober, reliable, critical friends. And Europeans who care to look find some of their own best ideas well-implemented in Israel, from the rule of law to the bright application of technology for human well-being. They can trace their own literary, artistic and musical traditions flourishing among the country's diverse cultural origins. Most important, they may realize that gaining Israel's ear can yield political fruit and bring Europe closer to Middle Eastern peacemaking: Ask the German government, whose sensitive involvement in the aftermath of the second Lebanon war makes good footing for future diplomacy.

Jewish people have a long memory, whereas the European Union often seems short of the asset. It may be our role to remind today's Europeans of the medieval past, the great centuries when Islam was young, tolerant to minorities and philosophically minded. There would be no Maimonides, no glorious Sephardi Jewish tradition, without the Arab world. Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be threatening the existence of Israel today, but no Muslim power has ever dealt the Jews such calamities as brought upon them by Europe.

Israelis probably deserve a better European opinion, warranted by our history, culture, science and freedom. Not for being the targeted foes of Islam. Beware of Islamophobes bearing gifts.

Ms. Oz-Salzberger is director of the Posen Research Forum for Political Thought and senior lecturer at the Faculty of Law and School of History at the University of Haifa.


© 1984 Steve Cohen, edited and produced by Libby Lawson and Erica Bunnan.
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