Kneejerk Responses

‘As de Gucht has proved, if anyone is being irrational about the Middle East, it’s not the Jews, it’s the EU’

EU Israel Judaism Middle East Points East & West

Much has been said about the EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht’s outrageous remarks on the  alleged Jewish influence over US politics. De Gucht’s attack on the “grip” that the “Jewish lobby” supposedly has on the US Congress evoked imagery rooted in a history of prejudice. It assumes that Jews promote an unpatriotic agenda through stealth and deception, using money and power.

The old canard has morphed over the years, as anti-Semitism has lost the social respectability it enjoyed until not so long ago. But there is a residual prejudice in Western societies about Jews that has been recently camouflaged by what people increasingly call “legitimate criticism of Israel”. There are many ways to criticise the conduct of foreign affairs and domestic policies by a government. But evoking the grip of a “Jewish lobby” should not be one of them. It has, however, become a sign of our times — repeatedly propped up in the last decade by mainstream media and politicians. There have been at least two prominent cover stories in leading UK magazines about the supposed power of the “lobby”, which were accompanied by images clearly bordering on anti-Semitism. A recent BBC Panorama documentary promoted the same notion. 

But what was particularly surprising was not de Gucht decrying Jewish influence — it was his sweeping and derogatory characterisation of Jews as irrational creatures. Regardless of political persuasions and religious backgrounds, they are all wrong about the Middle East and all are stubbornly convinced that they are in the right: “It is not easy to have, even with moderate Jews, a rational discussion about what is actually happening in the Middle East,” said de Gucht.

And here, we should listen more carefully, because de Gucht, as an EU Commissioner, should know a thing or two about being invariably irrational and persistently wrong about the Middle East. Consider the EU’s reaction to the flotilla incident off Gaza back in May. The day after, its Foreign Minister, Baroness Ashton, said: “The EU condemns the use of violence that has produced a high number of victims among the members of the flotilla and demands an immediate, full and impartial inquiry into the events and the circumstances surrounding them.”

The European Parliament, almost three weeks later, passed a lengthy resolution condemning “the attack against the flotilla in international waters, which is a breach of international law”. It “calls for a prompt, international and impartial inquiry into this attack, insists that the principles of accountability and liability be upheld and urges the HR/VP [Lady Ashton] and EU Member States to take action to ensure that all appropriate steps are taken in order to make this demand effective”.

One important difference between the two statements is the vagueness of Lady Ashton on the nature of the inquiry. The European Parliament put an end to that by specifying it had to be an international inquiry, making it clear therefore that Israel, guilty before proved so, could not possibly be trusted to conduct an impartial, independent, transparent and credible investigation into the events of the night of May 30/31 on board the Mavi Marmara.

Differences aside, there is something disconcerting in these two statements. Both Lady Ashton and the Parliament issued a verdict of condemnation while at the same time calling for an inquiry which, presumably, should rest on the principle of “innocent until proved guilty”. If we know who the guilty party is, why hold an inquiry?

Then there was the Parliament’s decision to debate draft Israeli legislation which called for NGO transparency on foreign funding — even after the proposed law’s aspects that vexed European critics of Israel had been removed. 

Just as unusual was de Gucht’s lofty statement, one day after his interview, that anti-Semitism had no place in the world, given that only 24 hours earlier he had so brazenly besmirched Jews everywhere. Was he condemning himself? Was he distancing himself from what he had just said? Or just pretending that he hadn’t said them? And these are just recent examples of Europe’s irrational, kneejerk responses to Middle East issues where Israel is blamed. 

We shall leave it to others to offer an accurate characterisation of de Gucht’s comments. But, surely, if one were to be fair, it is not the Jews who have displayed, over the years, a consistent propensity to act irrationally towards the Middle East. It is the EU. And de Gucht’s comments, whatever else they may be, are the latest evidence of that irrationality.