What is Europe’s problem and hang up with the State of Israel? Why is it so focused on this Middle Eastern conflict, almost to the exclusion of other seemingly greater issues closer to home? Anti-Semitism certainly plays a role in this European fixation regarding Israel but I do not believe that it is the sole, and perhaps not even the main catalyst driving European policies, statements and actions.
I feel that a great deal of the attention that Israel claims from the European nations is a residue of the revolutionary inconclusiveness of World War I, a century ago. In Europe, World War I is still referred to as The Great War. Even though World War II was ever more brutal and costly in human life than its predecessor, it is World War I and its residue that has affected European thinking and behavior till this very day.
World War I changed Europe forever and destroyed its veneer of civilization, scientific and social progress, and peaceful stability. Twenty million people died as a result of the war, and apparently for no reasonable aim or end. The brave slogans that the war was being fought “to safeguard human values and democracy” or to bring about the utopia of “a war that would end all wars” all proved to be empty of meaning and value.
The new nations that were created in Europe – Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland – all proved to be sources of trouble, bigotry, hatred and aggression. And the carving up of the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East into many artificial countries – Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and later Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Mauritania, etc. – has proved to have been disastrous folly. So, there is a heavy layer of guilt that encompasses Europe over the wasted lives of tens of millions of people caused by The Great War. So, therefore, enter Israel.
Israel remains practically the only success story produced by World War I. A product of the Balfour Declaration and of the League of Nations mandatory policies, Israel was nurtured by the Zionist movement and parts of the Jewish people, and fulfilled its promise of becoming an independent state and a homeland for the Jewish people.
Not only that, against all odds and expert opinions, it has prospered economically and socially, over-coming enormous odds in so doing. It became the dominant military power in the Middle East and has been able to successfully defend itself against a host of enemies that have created a century of conflict. Out of all of the chaos and disappointment that The Great War created, it alone stands as a positive result of that disaster.
This preys on the European mindset. Everything else that Europe created after and as a result of World War I lies in the ash heap of history and current events. Eastern Europe is still quite destabilized, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia are no more, and Germany is again too big and too powerful.
That Israel has somehow escaped this fate of failure is very troubling to the European mindset. It points to a mockery of human planning and alleged wisdom. It underlines the failure of nineteenth and twentieth century European diplomacy and civilization. It diminishes Goethe and Schiller, Rousseau and Renoir, Locke and Wordsworth. So, if Europe feels itself discredited, then it must discredit everything that it also feels it created – especially the State of Israel.
On a deeper psychological level this explains, though it certainly does not justify, the European fascination with suicide bombers and those that behead others. Though it recoils in horror at such events, there is a deep empathy for this type of extreme violence, which is then unfortunately elevated to martyrdom in the European mind.
The Great War and its aftermath created a climate of nihilism and detachment from reality, which still pervades European society. It is in such an environment that anti-Semitism flourishes and expands. Somehow, the destruction of Israel, God forbid, would complete the cycle of the tragic residue of World War I in European minds and hearts.
It cannot be that Israel alone should survive as the sole positive product of the European upheaval that claimed so many millions of lives. There is a death wish that exists within European society and that death wish is not only aimed at Christian Europe itself, which is disappearing in front of our very eyes, but it is now focused on the state of Israel as well.
After one hundred years, the residue of The Great War is still with us and remains relevant as ever. The future of Europe - and certainly of the Jews in Europe - remains clouded and truly uncertain.