Pan-European poll calls Israel the biggest threat to world peace

October 31, 2003

[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach two pieces concerning Israel, with summaries first:

1. "European Poll Calls Israel a Big Threat to World Peace" (The International Herald Tribune, October 31, 2003). "Almost 60 percent of Europeans say that Israel is a larger threat to world peace than North Korea, Iran or Afghanistan, according to a poll scheduled to be made public on Monday by the European Commission. The result is from a survey of about 7,500 people across the European Union...

Pollsters presented a list of 15 countries and asked: "Tell me if in your opinion it presents or not a threat to peace in the world." Fifty-nine percent of Europeans chose Israel. El Pais, the Spanish daily newspaper, said in an article Thursday that the Dutch, Austrians and Luxembourgers were most likely to see Israel as a "threat in the world". The full results, with breakdowns from each country, will be included in the report to be released on Monday..."

[TG adds: This article ran very prominently with a large headline running across the top of page 10 of today's New York Times-owned International Herald Tribune. Also, running across the top of page 4 of today's International Herald Tribune (the editorial page) there was another article and large headline, stating "The road to a new West goes through Jerusalem."]

2. [This is a follow-up to the previous responses I sent earlier this week to Professor Tony Judt's article in the New York Review of Books advocating that Israel cease to exist as a Jewish state.]

"A response to Tony Judt, by Rabbi Danny Gordis" (based on Judt's article and a follow-up letter Judt wrote saying more of the same). "Though I'm sure you weren't wondering, I'll begin by telling you that we had a pretty nice Shabbat here in Jerusalem. The weather was beautiful, we had a house full of guests, there was a wedding across the street that went way into the night. And nothing blew up. Kind of an idyllic day here in Jerusalem. For the most part.

But not entirely. You see, I made the mistake of re-reading your recent piece in the New York Review of Books (Israel: The Alternative) before heading off to shul in the morning. Big mistake. You can imagine how distressing it must be for someone living here in Jerusalem to read an article in a journal as respectable as the New York Review of Books that declares the State of Israel an "insecure, defensive microstate born of imperial collapse," that the idea of a Jewish State is a "late-nineteenth century separatist project" and that Israel, an "anachronism," should be replaced.

... Why did your piece bother me so much? Some of it, of course, was the parts that were plain silly. You note that Ehud Olmert, Israel's deputy Prime Minister, has insisted that Israel still has the option of killing Arafat, which, "you say," reveals Zionism's "fascist" elements.

... I agree with you that Sharon is an unsavory fellow, that we could be doing more to promote some possibility of peace. So what's anti-Semitic about your article, you want to know? It's the fact that not so deep down, you just wish the Jews would disappear. No, of course you don't say it that clearly. That's no longer politically correct in the academic circles you inhabit. So you just hint at it. "In a world where nations and people increasingly intermingle and intermarry at will . where more and more of us have multiple elective identities and would feel falsely constrained if we had to answer to just one of them; in such a world, Israel is an anachronism."

... The real problem, you see, isn't that Israel is an anachronism. It's that Judaism, or Jews, is an anachronism. We are so very annoying in our insistence that we don't want to completely blend in. Now, when you compare us to Islam today, I think we've done a pretty admirable job of blending in. If Islam were to embrace modernity and western culture the way that we have, the world would be a much better place. The World Trade Center would still be standing.

... But, of course, it's not surprising that you focus on Jews, for example, and not Muslims. The world has a history of having a problem with the Jews' identities. It would be hard to imagine a Jewish community more blended into its surrounding culture than German Jewry in the early 1930's. Yet they can't tell you much about their lives, you see, because their history didn't end particularly well. They went up smokestacks.

Oh, no. I've slipped again. I know you don't want to hear about the Holocaust. You've told us to drop it. "The circumstances of [Israel's] birth have thus bound Israel's identity inextricably to the Shoah, the German project to exterminate the Jews of Europe. As a result, all criticism of Israel is drawn ineluctably back to the memory of that project, something that Israel's American apologists are shamefully quick to exploit." ("Project"? My God. That's what you call the genocidal attempt to wipe out the Jews? A "project"? How clinical can someone possibly get?)

... I'm sorry that you find us so bothersome. I'm sorry that the only way you can see ending this conflict is to do away with us. But we're home, Professor Judt, and your transparent objections notwithstanding, we're here to stay.

 



FULL ARTICLES

EUROPEAN POLL CALLS ISRAEL A BIG THREAT TO WORLD PEACE

European Poll Calls Israel a Big Threat to World Peace
International Herald Tribune
October 31, 2003

Almost 60 percent of Europeans say that Israel is a larger threat to world peace than North Korea, Iran or Afghanistan, according to a poll scheduled to be made public Monday by the European Commission.

The result from a survey of about 7,500 people across the European Union was confirmed Thursday by an official at the commission.

Although Europeans have been consistently critical of Israel in recent surveys, the poll appears to show a severe souring of attitudes toward the Jewish state.

Full details of the survey were not available Thursday but an official at the commission confirmed that Israel was rated first when pollsters presented a list of 15 countries and asked: "Tell me if in your opinion it presents or not a threat to peace in the world." Fifty-nine percent of Europeans chose Israel, according to the official at the commission, who said the data were still being processed and could change, but only by "a matter of decimals." The poll was limited to Europe so there is no way to directly compare the results to U.S. attitudes. Americans tend to be sympathetic toward Israel in surveys.

El Pais, the Spanish daily newspaper, said in an article Thursday that the Dutch, Austrians and Luxembourgers were most likely to see Israel as a "threat in the world" whereas the French were less likely. The full results, with breakdowns from each country, will be included in the report Monday.

El Pais said that the survey - which included many questions about Iraq and the U.S. presence there - was due out earlier but that the European Commission waited until after the Iraq donors' conference in Madrid finished last week and then released only partial results on Monday.

Five of the questions, including the one about which countries were seen as a threat, were held back and will be released Monday.

A spokesman for the commission, Gerassimos Thomas, said the delay was due to "technical" reasons. He refused to comment on the substance of the survey or whether it represented the commission's views.

"This is nothing more than providing a service," he said of the survey, which is known as the Eurobarometer.

The commission regularly makes opinion polls public but this was the first time that the question about threatening countries was included.

The survey was coordinated by the commission but carried out by a contractor in October.

The same number of people - about 500 - were polled in each of the EU's 15 countries, giving much more weight to the views of people in small countries like Belgium, Luxembourg and Ireland.

In the parts of the survey made public Monday, 80 percent said they wanted Europe to be more involved in the Middle East peace process.

Some 58 percent of those polled said the United Nations should manage the reconstruction of Iraq, compared with 44 percent who said the Iraqi provisional government should and 18 percent who said it was a job for the United States.

But 65 percent said they thought the United States should pay for the rebuilding of Iraq.

A majority of Europeans surveyed (54 percent) said they were not favorable to sending European peacekeepers to Iraq. And more than two-thirds said that the war in Iraq was not justified.

In a survey conducted last year for the Pew Research Center for the People the Press and the International Herald Tribune, British, Italian, French and German respondents said they sympathized more with the Palestinians than Israelis.

By contrast, 41 percent of Americans said they sympathized with Israelis and only 13 percent with the Palestinians.

 

RABBI DANNY GORDIS' RESPONSE TO TONY JUDT

Rabbi Danny Gordis' response to Tony Judt

Dear Professor Judt,

Though I'm sure you weren't wondering, I'll begin by telling you that we had a pretty nice Shabbat here in Jerusalem. The weather was beautiful, we had a house full of guests, there was a wedding across the street that went way into the night. And nothing blew up. Kind of an idyllic day here in Jerusalem. For the most part.

But not entirely. You see, I made the mistake of re-reading your recent piece in the New York Review of Books (Israel: The Alternative) before heading off to shul in the morning. Big mistake. You can imagine how distressing it must be for someone living here in Jerusalem to read an article in a journal as respectable as the New York Review of Books that declares the State of Israel an "insecure, defensive microstate born of imperial collapse," that the idea of a Jewish State is a "late-nineteenth century separatist project" and that Israel, an "anachronism," should be replaced by a bi-national State of Jews and Arabs, bringing the Zionist project to an end.

Wow. That is one annoying piece of writing. Admittedly, you're not the only intellectual suggesting that it's time to declare the experiment called Israel a failure. A recent issue of The Nation has an article by Daniel Lazare saying more or less the same thing, and even Israelis like Meron Benvenisti have declared Zionism dead, agreeing with you that it's time for Jews and Arabs to share one state before the river and the sea.

So if others have said this already, why did your piece bother me so much? Some of it, of course, was the parts that were plain silly. You note that Ehud Omert, Israel's deputy Prime Minister, has insisted that Israel still has the option of killing Arafat, which, "you say," reveals Zionism's "fascist" elements. "Political murder is what fascists do," you write. I'll be sure to point that out to the American troops hunting for Saddam and Osama bin Ladin. Or your suggestion that the real reason for the war on Iraq was to improve Israel's strategic position in the Middle East. You really expect us to believe that the United States would demolish an entire country for Israel's sake, at the expense of billions of dollars, and then quibble with us about where to put the security fence? To say that that's counter-intuitive would be to put things mildly.

But I can deal with the silly parts of your article. What is much harder for me is the not so subtle anti-Semitic underpinning of the whole argument. Now, I know how you'll respond. You'll say, "There they go again. Any time anyone says anything negative about Israel, they reply, in some knee-jerk fashion, that it's just anti-Semitism." But you'll be wrong if you say that. I agree with you that Sharon is an unsavory fellow, that we could be doing more to promote some possibility of peace. I wouldn't compare him to the inventor of modern terrorism and the butcher of the Middle East, Yassir Arafat, as you do, but I disagree with a lot of what he does. I'm uncomfortable with many of Israel's policies. And I don't believe one has to be Jewish to point out those failures. No, you have a right to critique.

So what's anti-Semitic about your article, you want to know? It's the fact that not so deep down, you just wish the Jews would disappear. No, of course you don't say it that clearly. That's no longer politically correct in the academic circles you inhabit. So you just hint at it. "In a world where nations and people increasingly intermingle and intermarry at will . where more and more of us have multiple elective identities and would feel falsely constrained if we had to answer to just one of them; in such a world, Israel is an anachronism." But here's the rub, Professor Judt. Many Jews (most, I suspect) don't want to intermingle and intermarry at will. Of course, we have multiple identities, but we answer to one before the others. We take pride in the fact that Jews have survived for thousands of years. We believe that Jews have something to contribute (as do other cultures, obviously) to the world, and frankly, we don't think of our Jewishness as an "elective identity." To many of us it's a gift, and a responsibility. We're not around today because our ancestors walked away from their Jewish obligations, and we don't plan to start walking away now.

The real problem, you see, isn't that Israel is an anachronism. It's that Judaism, or Jews, is an anachronism. We are so very annoying in our insistence that we don't want to completely blend in. Now, when you compare us to Islam today, I think we've done a pretty admirable job of blending in. If Islam were to embrace modernity and western culture the way that we have, the world would be a much better place. The World Trade Center would still be standing, the United States would not be in Iraq, there would be no American troops in Afghanistan, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be over, because rejectionist Palestinian leaders would have accepted the State that they were offered in both 1947 (by the United Nations) and in 2000 (by Ehud Barak's government). If there's any group you should be annoyed with for refusing to have "multiple identities," it's Islam, not Judaism.

But, of course, it's not surprising that you focus on Jews, for example, and not Muslims. The world has a history of having a problem with the Jews' identities. It would be hard to imagine a Jewish community more blended into its surrounding culture than German Jewry in the early 1930's. Yet they can't tell you much about their lives, you see, because their history didn't end particularly well. They went up smokestacks.

Oh, no. I've slipped again. I know you don't want to hear about the Holocaust. You've told us to drop it. "The circumstances of [Israel's] birth have thus bound Israel's identity inextricably to the Shoah, the German project to exterminate the Jews of Europe. As a result, all criticism of Israel is drawn ineluctably back to the memory of that project, something that Israel's American apologists are shamefully quick to exploit."

Well, if mentioning the Shoah is shameful or exploitative, I'm guilty as charged. Since you're a historian, though, I suggest that what's shameful is not our mentioning the Shoah, but your subtle minimizing of its scope. Because you, more than almost anyone else, know much better. The Shoah wasn't just Germany's project. If I remember my European history correctly (but correct me if I'm wrong, because you're the Professor of European History), there were quite a few other countries who joined in this "project." ("Project"? My God. That's what you call the genocidal attempt to wipe out the Jews? A "project"? How clinical can someone possibly get?)

Nor was the target just "European Jewry." Those are the Jews who were, indeed, destroyed. But Hitler had a grander plan. Surely, he didn't plan for a "Museum of a Vanished Race" because he planned to leave non-European Jewry alive. When he was done, there were going to be no Jews left anywhere. It wasn't about European Jewry, which would have been bad enough. It was about Jews everywhere. It was about eradicating Judaism, a "project" I suspect you'd like to see completed, but we'll come back to that.

Even those who fought the Axis powers weren't exactly wild about the Jews. Roosevelt closed the borders of the United States, Canada didn't let the Jews in, and the British also sealed the shores of Palestine. In that regard, you're in good company when you express your distaste for the Jews, and I suspect you'll have good company for a long time to come. This month, you've got the Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahatir Mohamad, who is annoyed with the Jews for ruling the world. But others will follow.

The problem for Mahatir Mohamad, and for you, is that the Shoah and its tactics are no longer politically correct. The world frowns on ethnic cleansing these days (which is why you accuse Israel of being willing to do that, even though you know it's absurd; we've long had the power and have never done anything of the sort, and anyone who knows anything about Israeli public opinion knows that it's unthinkable to the vast majority of Israelis), so one has to subtly come up with other ways to end not just Zionism, but the Jewish people. And that's where your article comes in. Let's just end the Jewish State and put an end to the fighting. Sounds reasonable. But you know what many others, Jews included, haven't yet figured out. The end of the Jewish State is the end of Judaism as we know it.

Would there be some Jews left who would practice a several thousand year old religious tradition? Of course there would, you're right. But the thriving, flourishing Judaism that the world knows today is a Judaism that can exist only with a Jewish State. How many novels are written in Hebrew outside of Israel? I'm not aware of a single one, but there are certainly very, very few. How significant is the production of Jewish art, or high culture, outside of Israel? Relatively speaking, there's almost none. How many people would speak Hebrew -- the language that allows access to Judaism's critical and formative texts -- if not for Israel? Very few, indeed.

But Israel has the Jewish cultural productivity that it does because it is only in Israel that Jews make up the majority of the population, it is only in Israel where a Jewish consciousness is part of the rhythm of the society, its media, its artists, its women and men of letters. Where else, as Israelis debate whether or not to follow through on a prisoner exchange that would free Elchanan Tenenbaum in exchange for hundreds of terrorists, even though Tenenbaum now appears to have been captured when he traveled to Abu Dhabi for some illegal purpose, would even secular citizens offer their opinion about a possible prisoner of war trade by citing the case of Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg, the great Talmudic sage of the 13th century? The Maharam of Rothenburg, as he's known, was also kidnapped, but when he heard that the Jewish community had raised the money for his ransom, he realized that if he were freed, other Jews would be similarly kidnapped, and he refused to allow the deal. He rotted in prison until his death. Many of us take pride in conversations like that, in dialogue in which the richness of Jewish history, law and expression is often the foundation of our contemporary discourse. But only in a country that's Jewish at its core will the radio waves be filled with the discussion of a 13th century Talmudist as people opine on a current affairs topic. It's that sort of cultural richness which is unique to post-War Judaism; it's that sort of cultural richness that only a Jewish culture in a Jewish state can provide. And it's that cultural richness that you want to see eradicated.

No, I understand. You'll say that you have no objection to that cultural richness surviving. You just want the political and military battles to cease. Enough bloodshed. Let's share the land, and then Jews can flourish without having to die in a never-ending conflict. But there are solutions to this conflict, though you deny them, that do not require dismantling our country. They'll be hard to implement, true, but they're not impossible. So why advocate doing away with us? Because, Professor Judt, you know in a bi-national state, Jews would almost immediately become a minority. And with time, a rather small minority. How well would we fare there? Well, let's ask ourselves. How many westerners do you see running to Egypt, to Saudi Arabia, to Jordan, to Syria, to Iraq, to Iran or to Lebanon (for starters) so that they can live in an environment in which they'll have complete and unfettered access to cultural expression and flourishing? (Even Israeli Arabs overwhelming say that they wouldn't move to Palestine when the State is created; they'd rather live in the Jewish State.) Those are the kinds of places that you suggest we re-create in order to permit the Jews to thrive? Surely you jest.

And one final question, if you don't mind. Why is it that when Ceausescu turns Romania into a living hell, no one suggests doing away with Romania? Or when Iraq menaces the world, the United States invades Iraq, not to destroy it, but to save it and return it to her people (with minimal success, I agree). When North Korea announces its arms proliferation program, the discussion is about how to contain North Korea; no one says that North Korea has no right to exist. Why do we hear claims that a country has no right to exist only when it comes to Israel? Doesn't that strike you as odd?

Sadly, though, it's not that odd. Throughout your article, you keep reminding us that the world has changed. But your brave new world doesn't seem all that brave to me, or all that new. The French still have a country of their own, and a place to root their culture. And the same with the Germans, and the Swiss, and the English and so on. No, the only culture that you think doesn't need or deserve a place to have roots is Jewish culture. The only people threatened by your view of the world are the Jews. No one's talking about doing away with France. Alas, the world hasn't changed almost at all. That's the real problem.

Happily, though, reading your piece wasn't the last thing that I did on Shabbat. When we got home from shul, the whole discussion of Elechanan Tenenbaum started again. Books flew off shelves, Jewish history suddenly came alive, and our kids avidly participated in the kind of discussion they could have only in a country where they have a right to believe that Jews should make distinctly Jewish decisions about the fates of other Jews. Not bad given where the Jewish people was half a century ago. Then, at night, my wife and I went to the movies. We saw Costra-Gavras' film, AMEN. I know. More Holocaust. I apologize.

As we waited for the movie to begin, we couldn't help but notice the makeup of the crowd. Four native Israeli thirty-somethings in the row in front of us, some American retirees in the row behind us, and to our left, two elderly men speaking French. The movie, as you know, isn't an easy one to watch. But as powerful as it was, perhaps the most moving thing was what we heard during the very few scenes that take place in the concentration camps. It was, obviously, silent in the theatre, except for the sound of the film, and except for the sound of one of the French men weeping as he saw the place in which he had undoubtedly been. You watch that movie and the world's refusal to care, you hear the sounds of this man sobbing, remembering God only knows what, and I must tell you, Professor Judt, that with all the problems that Israel has, and they are many, I walked out of the theatre with renewed gratitude that we have this place, and like my fellow Israelis, I suspect, determined that we'll never give it up. Never.

Virtually every other major culture in the world has a home, Professor Judt. Almost everyone. Jews have learned what happens when we don't have one. We've been there, and we're not going back. Everything about this place reminds us that we are home, and everything about our history reminds that we need this home.

I'm sorry that you find us so bothersome. I'm sorry that the only way you can see ending this conflict is to do away with us. But we're home, Professor Judt, and your transparent objections notwithstanding, we're here to stay.


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.