Opinion
Protesters throw projectiles in Place de la Republique during a banned demonstration in support of Gaza in central Paris, July 26, 2014.   REUTERS/Benoit Tessier  Protesters throw projectiles in Place de la Republique during a banned demonstration in support of Gaza in central Paris, July 26, 2014. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier   

Europe’s Projection Problem

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Jonathan Bronitsky
Political Strategist and Historian
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      Jonathan Bronitsky

      Jonathan Bronitsky is a political strategist and historian specializing in intellectual movements, foreign policy, international relations, and American culture. He received his M.Phil. and Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge and his B.A. from The Pennsylvania State University. You can follow Jonathan on Twitter @jbronitsky and read his writings at www.jbronitsky.com.

Another week, another wave of demonstrations throughout Europe protesting Israeli “war crimes” in the Gaza Strip. And yet the outpouring continues to astonish many American defenders of the Jewish state. Left with no other explanation, they interpret the vehement and recurrent criticism of Israel to be evidence of a subtle, yet still insidious, ethnic animus.

Their trite rallying cry: “If those who stand against Israel genuinely care about human rights, they should also stand against genocide in Sudan, Syria, and North Korea! And because they don’t—anti-Semitism!” Undoubtedly, the volume and intensity of European disapproval of Israel, one of the international community’s most vibrant democracies, is unwarranted. But the issue here is that supporters of Israel on this side of the Atlantic simply don’t understand Europe — or more precisely, the idea of Europe — and, therefore, don’t understand their opposition. By reflexively associating, if not equating, pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist sentiment with anti-Semitism, they are misdirecting resources and waging an ineffective moral contest.

There are certainly people in Europe, particularly within the continent’s Muslim communities, who despise Jews and wish them harm, and they frequently display their noxious beliefs while pounding the pavement. But the intellectual and motivating facet of the pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist, and BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movements, at least as I witnessed it firsthand, was predominantly white, left-wing, and educated. The majority of Europeans who disparage Israel do so, not because they dislike Jews, but because Israel embodies and exudes principles they unequivocally reject as “enlightened” social-democratic multiculturalists: spirituality, individualism, and patriotism. If the character of Israel was not insulting enough, Europeans have becoming gradually aware that the European Union, their ambitious attempt to transcend the aforementioned principles, has resulted in their continent’s demise whereas the Jewish state’s embrace of them has yielded prosperity.

Elites, by virtue of their elevated positions, chiefly shape the conversation about Israel, in addition to other lofty matters, in Europe. By “elites,” I am referring to the self-proclaimed highbrows who have slogged away at, or will go on to slog away at, institutions like Chatham House, the United Nations, the BBC, and the European Parliament and have blathered at, or will go on to blather at, universities like Oxford, Cambridge, Erasmus, and École Normale Supérieure. As a postgraduate at the University of Cambridge, I had the opportunity to interact with — or, rather, was unable to escape from — throngs of them. Very few, if any of these elites, that is except for the occasional self-hating Jewish professor or student, were anti-Semitic. That being said, I was in England in 2012 during Operation “Pillar of Defense,” which involved the killing of Ahmed Jabari, chief of Hamas’ military wing, whenever the conversation turned to the Middle East, a torrent of vitriol was unleashed against Israeli society.

A psychology degree was not necessary to grasp the mental dynamics at play. My esteemed Cantabrigian colleagues were projecting entrenched feelings of guilt and insecurity onto Israel. Feelings of guilt and insecurity about what? And why Israel? Let’s address the questions in turn. In 1952, the European Coal and Steel Community was launched in order to, according to its leading proponent, French foreign minister Robert Schuman, “make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible.” The ECSC initially tied together the economies of France and Germany with the intent of eventually expanding the common market for commodities across the continent. While that did occur, economic objectives were steadily eclipsed by distinct cultural ambitions as the ECSC metamorphosed into the European Economic Community and the EEC mutated into the labyrinthine European Union. Elites, high on the vision of a multicultural paradise, sought to corral the diverse peoples of Europe by indoctrinating them with the concepts of tolerance, progress, and collectivism. (The absurdity of this quixotic effort was epitomized by Rem Koolhaas’s vertigo-inducing design for the EU flag.)

Since the Second World War, European citizens have been instructed through media, schooling, and public institutions to feel awesome shame for the sins of their past. They have been impelled to abhor national pride, so they can no longer distinguish it from imperialism; distrust the free market, so they can no longer distinguish it from fascism; and detest spirituality, so they can no longer distinguish it from religious zealotry. By various measures, this reeducation program of sorts has had its intended effect. National pride, favorable attitudes toward capitalism, and church attendance have all fallen considerably over the decades. But dramatically declining birthrates across the board provide possibly the starkest evidence that an entire civilization has been persuaded that it is no longer worthy of perpetuating itself.

In retrospect, remorse paired with immediate memory of the Holocaust was perhaps solely responsible for keeping the elites’ utopian scheme afloat. Younger Europeans have been less willing to comply with demands levied on them from Brussels. Amidst a rapidly deteriorating cultural and economic situation, they are refusing to abandon their ethnic, religious, and nationalist affiliations for the highfalutin precepts devised by an aloof bureaucracy. What started on the periphery with the Serbian slaughter of Bosnian Muslims in the Balkans has broached the core. Western Europe is now beleaguered by xenophobia, racism, religious fanaticism, and sub-state nationalism. Far right political parties have made electoral gains, whole regions of countries are aspiring to break away, Jewish worshippers are attacked at synagogues, and “infidels” are gunned down by Islamists in broad daylight. As socialist project after socialist project has revealed, it is only feasible to suppress intrinsic human tendencies for so long until they boomerang and detonate.

So why is Israel such a prominent recipient of European scorn? Simple. Because it is a proud, entrepreneurial nation founded on and motivated by religious ideals. In other words, it stands for everything that the dogmatic, Big Government, holier-than-thou European has arduously worked to extinguish over the past seventy years. Of course, its tremendous economic and cultural vitality, buttressed by remarkable social diversity, twists the knife even deeper. The very nature of Israel’s multifaceted success is a constant humiliating reminder to Europe that it orchestrated its own death.

While abroad, it did not take long to further realize that the envy and self-loathing stirring European anti-Zionism was also the root cause of European anti-Americanism. Exacerbating irritation was the fact that the United States, like Israel, attained greatness not despite, but because of belief in a preordained destiny, veneration for liberty, and sense of common purpose. I vividly recall that Europe’s odium for the trifecta of religion, individualism, and patriotism was underscored with the emergence of the Tea Party in 2009. An anaphylactic reaction was inevitable since the right wing movement hails American exceptionalism, praises individual liberty in the form of the free-market and limited government, and acknowledges the Judeo-Christian foundation of America. (It is worth checking out the extensive list that Soeren Kern compiled of the colorful ways in which European media depicted members of the Tea Party.)

With anxieties in overdrive, it was no coincidence that Europeans accused America, as they have with Israel, of suffering from the ills plaguing their own countries. In a stunning exhibition of cognitive dissonance, widely acclaimed scholars pilloried American capitalism and glorified collectivism while Europe’s disintegrating economies were collapsing under the weight of the welfare state. Concurrently, Americans themselves were described as rapacious brutes and heartless mavericks. Yet in all of my travels throughout Europe, I did not encounter one country whose society even remotely resembled the United States’ with its vast assortment of faith groups, civic associations, and charitable organizations.