Europe and Israel 100 Years After Balfour

Europe’s victors in The Great War set the stage for establishment of a national home for the Jewish people. The events leading to the signing of the Balfour Declaration in November 1917 are described in the previous blog post on Fifty Year Perspective [LINK]. The path to the eventual formation of the State of Israel in 1948 was tortuous and deadly. The attitude of Europe’s countries toward Israel today is a mix of admiration and disapproval, cooperation and opposition, as described in a recent article in Foreign Affairs.

Among Israel’s most steadfast supporters are Eastern European countries, whose Jewish populations were lost in the Holocaust, and Germany, which institutionalizes remembrances for its role in the Holocaust. Foreign Affairs reported that trade activity between Israel and European countries is at historic highs, with 14.8 billion dollars of Israeli goods going to Europe, and Israel importing 21 billion euros worth of goods and services from Europe. “Israel’s reputation as the so-called start-up nation is much admired on the Continent.”

Israel maintains strong security ties with many European countries. “The interest in partnering with Israel’s military spans the continent. In November, Israel will host an air force exercise involving France, Germany, Greece, Italy, and Poland…. European states especially value Israeli intelligence on the threats posed by Sunni jihadist groups.”

And yet, there is support among many European governments for recognition of a Palestinian state. “The EU’s 1980 Venice Declaration was a watershed in recognizing the Palestinian right to self-determination.” In 2014 Sweden officially recognized a Palestinian state, the first western European country to do so. Internationally, a movement called Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) has grown as an attempt to apply economic and political pressure on Israel to withdraw from territory it has controlled since the 1967 war between Israel and neighboring Arab countries. The BDS movement targets companies that contract with businesses in the West Bank.

Conflict between Israel and Hamas in 2014 led to a rise in anti-Israel demonstrations in London, Berlin and Paris, and anti-Semitism across Europe. In June of that year, a French-born gunman of Algerian descent killed four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. Four Jews were murdered in a kosher supermarket in Paris in January 2015, by a gunman pledging allegiance to Islamic State. Although Muslims committed these attacks, anti-Semitism in Europe is not limited to its growing Muslim population.

A mid-2015 survey was conducted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of 10,000 adults, mostly in European countries, concerning their attitudes and opinions toward Jews. The results were compared to those of a similar 2014 survey. Pronounced changes in attitudes were found in France, Germany and Belgium, with one year decreases of as much as 20 percent. Strong and sustained denunciations of anti-Semitic violence by European leaders received credit for contributing to the decreases in anti-Semitic attitudes. The ADL poll has not been repeated since 2015. The opposite trend was found in the UK; anti-Semitic incidents there increased in 2016.

Events of recent years favor enduring cooperation between Europe and Israel, as the Foreign Affairs article asserts:

Israeli and European interests are aligned in shoring up Western-aligned Sunni Arab states and containing anti-Western extremist forces…. Terror attacks in European cities, searing images of Islamic State butchery, and waves of Syrian refugees pouring into Europe have made it harder to sustain the idea that Israel is the source of Middle East instability, or the poison in relations between Islam and the West.

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