Can Israel Ever Trust Europe? Part III

By Manfred Gerstenfeld, INN

For parts I and II, click here.

Part Three

Gerstenfeld2When one asks Segre where this all leads, he replies, “According to an ancient Jewish saying, since the Temple was destroyed, prophecy is reserved for babes and fools. I am not a babe and do not want to look a fool. I cannot make prophecies. All I can do is indicate trends, which may or may not be realized.”

He identified three major trends. The first is geographical. Israel is the only modern state halfway between Washington and Peking. This has many implications and creates multiple opportunities.

“Until a new satellite was launched recently, a TV satellite farm in Herzliya supplied TV stations all over the world with recordings from central Asian stations,” he says. “Now, following the political changes in Eastern Europe, a sort of new silk road has opened up for Israel to India and China.”

One paradoxical result of the Arab boycott has been that Tokyo and Mexico City are closer to Tel Aviv than Damascus or Cairo, at least in economic terms.

He notes that the boycott has cost Israel billions of dollars, but has forced it to diversify its production and to enter competitive markets, while Arab economies have remained mainly either agricultural or oil-dominated.

Today, he says, the economies of Israel and the Arab countries are not complementary. One possible beneficial consequence of the agreements between Israel and the PLO may be to increase the present low flow of trade, manpower and technology between Israel and the Arab countries. Although a Middle East common market may not emerge tomorrow, Segre says, the breakdown of economic barriers between Israel and the Arabs may turn out to be an energizing factor for both sides.

The second trend identified by Segre is a political one. “There may or may not be peace,” he says. “If peace comes, it will not be a lengthy process. It will have rapid, explosive results. Many foreign companies will open offices in Israel. Israel will fast become an international business center.”

But Segre also sees reason for caution here. He quotes the hero of his most recent book: “An Italian ambassador, Amedeo Guillet, the Italian Lawrence of Arabia, told me more than 40 years ago that the Arabs are a body without a head and the Jews are a head without a body.

“The problem is how to get the two together,” he continues. “Guillet is probably right even today. Arabs and Israelis are complementary in many fields. Their joining of forces will never put one in control of the other, but rather would be beneficial to both.”

Segre points to one of many examples. “Just think of the Palestinians. They have two science teachers for every vacancy in their schools, while Israel is short of such teachers.

“In a true partnership, we must be very careful not to see ourselves as a potential new Venice, the Italian state which for many centuries was only interested in commerce. Money is not the only thing that counts. Israel should not act in the Middle East with a European approach. Rather, it should see itself as an integral part of the Middle East, and as a neutral bridge between countries.”

The two trends mentioned so far combine as the opening of new Eastern European and Asian markets to Israel diminishes its dependence on Europe. In the past, he notes, the EEC has made many hostile declarations against Israel and even threatened it occasionally with sanctions.

It is again symbolic that the best known of these declarations was one made in – of all places – Venice, in 1980. In it, Europe tried to impose its non-existent strength on Israel to please the Arabs.

In recognizing the right of the Palestinian Arabs to a homeland, the Venice declaration undermined the position of Jordan, which at that time was still the legal authority of the Palestinians – a fact the Europeans “forgot” to mention, thereby delegitimizing a country, which had been a reliable European ally.

In the Venice declaration, Segre says, Europe rewarded the PLO for terrorism at a time when it refused to accept the existence of Israel. Later, the Europeans did not support the only peacemaking event in the Middle East, the Camp David agreements.

Segre has even stronger words of distrust for Europe: “Europe does not seem to have renounced some aspects of its Shylock policy,” he says. “It wants from Israel a pound of flesh in territorial concessions without paying attention to the damage these may cause to the whole body as far as the defense capabilities of Israel are concerned. To insist on unilateral concessions after the Yugoslav experience would look comic if it was not so tragic.”

The third trend Segre sees is even more difficult to define. It concerns religion, ethics and morality, and is linked to what he calls “the Machiavellian dilemma”. Machiavelli said that a Christian prince is a contradiction; either one is a prince or one is a Christian. Israel cannot solve this dilemma for Christian Europe, but Segre sees some light.

“Perhaps Israel can offer some suggestions,” Segre says. “One is to invite the Europeans to follow with some humility the efforts of a small state, which is struggling with the problem of how to return to its sacred traditions without throwing away the modernization of which Jews have been major promoters in the last 150 years. One only has to think of Einstein, Freud and Marx.

“This is not just an Israeli problem,” he says. “It is a vital problem facing Europe, and a common problem shared with the Arabs. They are confronted with the challenge to find ways to modernize quickly without breaking with their very strong traditions. In this area, Europe could help break new ground that could lead to understanding.”

Only recently has Europe overcome religious and nationalistic wars and hatred, which have filled its rivers with blood for centuries. If Europeans wanted to make a genuine contribution to a stable peace in the Middle East, they could distill certain useful elements from their own experience.

Both sides could benefit by developing regional market institutions, he suggests. It could give preferential treatment – including full association with the EEC – to both Israel and the Palestinians on condition that they cooperate in specific fields such as energy, water, science and banking.

More importantly, the EEC should see itself as the international organization replacing the old European Hapsburg, Czarist and even Ottoman empires as an economic framework that could help many “tribes” find accommodation and reasons to cooperate by balancing traditions and modernization. This may be difficult, Segre acknowledges. It surely will be less exciting for newspaper and TV journalists than what is happening today. It is certainly, however, a civilized way to compensate for all the damage Europe has done to Israel in the past and create a space in which the two can work together in the future.

He insists that there are better European traditions than those established by the Dominican monks when they burned the Talmud, or by Napoleon, who wanted to civilize Egypt and proclaim a Jewish state to get supplies more easily for his army. The message of Europe, he says, should be that of Erasmus, which he sums up this way: “Rationalism, compassion, moderation and self-criticism, all of which have become scarce commodities in Europe.”

October 10, 2014 | 5 Comments »

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  1. Hopefully, Putin is solidifying ties and not toes with China and Russia. Would that a perfect world would not permit me to leave typographical errors in my comments. HaShem, where are you when I need you?

    Arnold Harris
    Mount Horeb WI

  2. The best European policy for Israel, now and into the future, is to build closer economic, scientific, industrial, diplomatic and even military relationships with China, Russia, and India, and work at solidifying all those relationships. Follow the example of Putin’s Russia, which has responded to Obama’s and EU anti-Russian sanctions, imposed because of Putin’s defense of Russian national rights in Ukraine’s eastern and southern borderlands, by intensifying their toes with China and India.

    Europe in fact may not be overwhelmed by Islamism across their continent. As is now happening in France, right-wing and even old-fashioned fascistic governments may come to power as Christian and nationalist responses to the growth of Islam within their borders. If so, it would be wise for European Jews to side with such political movements. But it is also unlikely that traditional Euro-antisemitism will ever disappear from the bodies politic of the various European states. In any case, separatist movements are growing stronger in numerous European states, especially those with multinational populations such as the Vlaamische and Walonians of Belgium whose inter-community relationships grow continually weaker. Multistate solutions probably will never be agreed to in Israel. But they have broken up multinational states such as Austria-Hungary, and then 70 years later, two of that empire’s successor states of Czechoslovakia and Jugoslavija.

    All things considered, European weakness is good for the Jewish nation and the Jewish state.

    Arnold Harris
    Mount Horeb WI