Our painful sense of foreboding has just risen several degrees after reading an important essay in this week's Economist. We're extracting it below, but urge you to read it all: "To Israel with hate - and guilt: Why Europe, unlike America, finds it so hard to love Israel".
The Council of Europe said that Israel's response to Hizbullah's cross-border attacks was “disproportionate” and accused Israel of “indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets”. Romano Prodi, Italy's prime minister, called Israel's reaction “excessive”. In Norway, Jostein Gaarder, the author of “Sophie's World”, accused Israel of ethnic cleansing and murdering children, and said that the Jewish state had forfeited its right to exist. In many capitals, anti-war protesters marched under Hizbullah flags. When Britain's Tony Blair tried to explain things from Israel's point of viewand failed to call for an immediate ceasefirehis political stock took another tumble. Mr Gaarder was prodded into a half-hearted apology. But the truth is that, far from being extreme, these criticisms of Israel convey the mood of millions of Europeans, rooted in what polls suggest is a hardening attitude. A YouGov poll in Britain, taken in the first two weeks of the conflict, found 63% of respondents saying that the Israeli response to Hizbullah's attack was “disproportionate”; a similar German poll had 75% saying so. Such reactions reflect a wider European view of Israel that contrasts sharply with America's. In a Pew Global Attitudes survey earlier this year, far more Europeans sympathised with the Palestinians than with Israel... These findings come on top of a European Union poll in 2003 that had 59% of Europeans considering Israel as a greater menace to world peace than Iran, North Korea and Pakistan... As Israel has drawn closer to America in the past few decades, the left's antipathy towards the behemoth of capitalism has spilled into dislike of Israel. Public opinion in Turkey, the one Muslim country that was once pro-Israel, has turned against it in parallel with its turn against America, especially over the war in Iraq. Emanuele Ottolenghi, an expert on Israel and Europe at Oxford University, argues that “Europeans see Israel as the embodiment of the demons of their own past.” The European Union is supposed to have traded in war, nationalism and conflict for love, peace and federalism. But Israel now reminds Europeans of darker forces and darker days. Could attitudes change? It seems unlikely, not least because Israel is now so stridently critical of the Europeans, especially of their media. In this area, at least, the transatlantic gap is widening.Got that? The ancient demon of antisemitism now infecting Europe isn't going away soon because, proclaims the Economist, the Jews are blaming it on the media. Once again, the image of us Jews painted as our own worst enemies. Such stubborn people; when will we learn?
But we can't help wondering whether there aren't some other stats that point in an altogether different direction. Like these quoted in a speech one of us made here in Jerusalem to a visiting group of European parliamentarians back in December 2004:
There is... a well-developed sense of history among us Israelis. We turn to history when we want to understand who we are, where we belong, what we can expect from others. I mention this, in closing, because I want to share with you the extreme pain I - we - feel when we read about certain recent developments in European society. Last week, a German survey of German-born Germans found that more than half think there is no difference between Israel's current treatment of the Palestinian Arabs and what the Nazis did to the Jews. 68 percent of Germans believe that Israel is waging a "war of extermination" against the Palestinians. I could give you my theory of how the media in Germany, in Europe and almost everywhere else contributes to ignorance of Israeli reality. I could tell you how journalists create, and at the same time are the result of, an almost total ignorance of what the Holocaust was. But if I did that, I would also have to point out to you that Germany happens to be one of the countries in Europe where they do make serious efforts to understand the Holocaust and the truth of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And yet they do not share our sense that Israel has been fighting one long defensive war of survival against an enemy that wants to ethnically cleanse Jews from their historic homeland for a century.The reference to fifteen year-olds is a connection to our daughter.
Also last week, the BBC published a survey showing that barely a third of young people in Britain have even heard the name Auschwitz and don't know what it is, where it is or what happened there... A Spanish-born philosopher, George Santayana who died in the year I was born, wrote this: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it..."
As a family, as a society, we are in a perpetual struggle to remember the past, to hold a vision of a better future, and to do everything we can so that the fifteen year old children together with their goodness and their dreams - children on both sides of the sad conflict here in this land - can grow to productive adulthood, free of the curse of hatred and of terror.
There's no other way to assess how things appear from here right now: the vision of a life free of hatred and terror looks further away right now than it has for a long time.