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Is it possible in Germany today to discuss Israel and the war in Lebanon without reference to the Holocaust? This question was recently raised by Eva Menasse and Michael Kumpfmüller in our feature "This endless moral flutter". The following article addresses this problem, as do a number of others on our site: "The freedom of Bedlam" by Imre Kertesz (here) and "Israel's clenched fist" by Navid Kermani (here).


Israel has no choice

Tjark Kunstreich attacks Western public and media opinion for failing to counter Islamic anti-Semitisim and tacitly lending legitimacy to Hamas and Hizbullah

There is a consensus in the European media which makes the question posed by the magazine Stern seem perfectly natural: "What makes Israel so aggressive?" Israel, as the majority of the European media seems to have agreed, is the aggressor. Even if in Germany explicit comparisons with Israel and Nazi Germany are still taboo, except when made by Jews, the more implicit allusions pointing in the same direction are legion: the media shows Israeli Jews only as perpetrators and aggressors, the majority of images are of men and soldiers, whereas Lebanon seems to be made up of women and children - preferably dead ones. The Hisbollah makes as fleeting an appearance as the misery of the displaced people on the Israeli side. Imre Kertesz recently termed this naive Israel criticism as "Euro-anti-Semitism": recalling Nazi-victims one moment only to criticise Israel all the more vehemently the next (read our feature "The freedom of Bedlam," an interview with Kertesz).

In this context the taz can lay claim to the dubious title of Germany's most European paper. The premise for the sort of prototypical discourse that takes place on its pages is the double standard which does not concede to Israel things that every other state in the world would consider a matter of course. The unsettling thing about this is that media opinion, public opinion and politics are largely united in the will to dictate to Israel how it should react to the violation of its borders. Historically, such border violations have always been viewed as deliberate provocation, and have been understood as such in our world of nation states. Yet this has not applied, in the European view, to the "Jew among the states" (Hannah Arendt). On the contrary, when a country like France calls for negotiations on an exchange of prisoners, it lends legitimacy to the demands of Hamas and Hizbullah.

With wide-reaching consequences. Not only is the democratic state of Israel being equated with terrorist organisations that believe in total rule – which in the interest of political solutions can not always be avoided – far worse, it means that the fight against Israel as a Jewish state gains political recognition. However at variance the Islamic factions in the Middle East are, their aim to destroy Israel unites them. By honouring terrorist activity, such as the kidnapping and murder of soldiers on Israeli borders, as a conflict to be solved politically, the European Union under the aegis of France is contributing to the unification of those forces which categorically reject a settlement with Israel.

And this gives rise to the impression that it is in fact the Europeans that have no interest in peace or at least a long-term phase of stability in the Middle East. As diverse and sometimes divergent as the rhetoric of European governments and NGOs might be, when it comes to the crunch it is they, with their "critical dialogue" and culturally-obsessed interpretations, not to mention their playing down of an anti-Semitism bent on destruction, who have contributed to the continued boiling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This means that when Jacques Chirac and other European politicians call for an "immediate ceasefire", they are trying to prevent any reduction to Hizbullah's and Hamas' elbow room.

This might sound absurd at first: Why would Europe have a vested interest in Islamic terror against Israel? The reason is fairly simple, although it refers to something no less irrational. The terror against Israel serves primarily as a distraction from the clerical-fascistic threat posed by political Islam in this region. As long as there is no Palestinian state, there will be no peace - this is the credo of European politics. But the geopolitical eruptions and collapses of recent decades have made it clear that a Palestinian state would be the last thing to guarantee Israel's security, and certainly would not bring about the end of the conflict. The Jihad, understood as a fascist "strategy of tension" which in its various manifestations in almost every Arab country has potential majority support, knows no political compromise. With the belief that under the green flag of Islamism there is a realistic chance of victory over Israel, comes a dream of conflagration which will sweep Israel and finally "the West" off the map.

Backing this sort of megalomaniac irrationalism still represents no real option for even the most shameless European politician right now. The repeated avowals that Israel and its inhabitants will be annihilated are being brushed off as a product of a choleric Arab mentality with a propensity for exaggeration. Instead there is widespread denial that a political project has formed, which like its Nazi forebear is based on crazed anti-Semitism. Politically, this European line could be rationalised to the effect that the current competition with the USA in the Middle East necessitates coming to an agreement with US enemies, to secure one's own economic interests. This might play a role, but it doesn't get to the crux of the issue, because it is still irrational to get involved with political powers in the knowledge that they will turn against Europe when the time comes. And another worrying thing about European apologies for Islamic rule is that they are fatally reminiscent of the rationale used first to justify the appeasement politics towards Nazi Germany and later, the collaboration with the German occupying forces.

And so there is a general concession that "the Arabs" have been humiliated - either at the hands of Israel, the USA or the former colonial powers – and this is why they have run riot. This is similar in tenor to the arguments used in relation to the first rumblings of National Socialism in Germany and the "Dictate of Versailles." Another argument is that Islamists are fighting poverty. There is as much unwillingness today to acknowledge the ideological cost of Hizbullah's social work, as there was in the past towards the social policies of the Nazis – quite apart from the fact that this sort of social politics now as then means alms for good behaviour. Another thing that smacks of the appeasement is the reaction towards the dismantling of human rights under the sign of anti-Semitism, racism and the persecution of political opponents. This is being underestimated and trivialised as a cultural issue. This goes not only for the countries in the Middle East, but also for the way immigration to Europe is being handled. Europe is no longer a safe haven for people fleeing Islamic rule. The appeasement of political Islam is already claiming its victims, think of Theo van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. And this is precisely the climate in which the executors of Islamist justice feel at home. At demonstrations where German peace activists walk side by side with people calling "Death to the Jews", the friends of peace do not even register it, let alone distance themselves.

Apparently these apologist tendencies harbour a compulsive desire for repetition, one which surpasses the limits of decency and points to a European affinity for total rule now projected onto the Middle East. That these apologies end up benefiting the self-declared mortal enemies of the Jews speaks today as much as ever to Europeans' need for exoneration from their own history of extermination and collaboration. It's as if the fact that there are anti-Semites everywhere actually proved anti-Semitic allegations of the otherness of the Jews. This fact, however, shows that not only does Israel feel threatened, its existence actually is threatened. And this won't change as long as people fail to ask what makes Israel's opponents so inordinately aggressive. Pending that, Israel will have no alternative but to continue on its present course.


The originally appeared in German in Die Tageszeitung on August 9, 2006.

Tjark Kunstreich is a freelance journalist.

Translation: lp, jab. - let's talk european