Background: Does Israel have the right to exist? Do Jews?
As evidence of anti-Semitic sentiment mounts across Europe, Israelis have begun asking if foreign criticism of their government's policies has crossed a line of no return into virulent Jew-hate and serious debate over the very right of Israel to continue to exist.
The Sharon government has been accused of late of working to prevent a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, effectively blocking off the option of an independent Palestine alongside the Jewish State.
But if recent polls are an indication, substantial numbers of Europeans may have a different one-state solution in mind: the end of the independent state of Israel.
As evidence of anti-Semitic sentiment mounts across Europe, Israelis have begun asking if foreign criticism of their government's policies has crossed a line of no return into virulent Jew-hate and serious debate over the very right of the Jewish state to continue to exist.
The latest catalyst for discussion - and outraged fear - were statements by the noted Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis, composer of the score for the 1964 film "Zorba the Greek" and of the acclaimed Ballad of Mauthausen, a commemoration of the victims of a Nazi concentration camp.
In comments that sparked huge red-backed headlines in Israeli tabloids Wednesday ("ZORBA THE ANTI-SEMITE," roared Yedioth Ahronoth) Theodorakis declared: "Today we can say that this small nation is the root of evil, not of good, which means that too much self importance and too much stubbornness is evil.
"We are two nations without brothers in the world, us and the Jews, but they have fanaticism and are forceful," Theodorakis told a news conference last week.
He also derided the biblical patriarchs Abraham and Jacob, contending that the Greeks "did not turn aggressive like them" because of the Greeks' rich history and mythology. "They only had Abraham and Jacob, shadows... We had the great Pericles here."
The statements came as the latest in a series of shocks to Israelis, already reeling from indications of anti-Jewish and virulently anti-Israel sentiment in other areas of Europe.
"When a creative artist as influential, as esteemed throughout the world, as identified with the struggle against fascism and racism as Mikis Theodorakis makes these grave statements, this has to set off an additional warning light, along with the many lights already turned on in the recent period," said Avner Shalev, director of Israel's national Yad Vashem memorial to the Holocaust.
Late last month, the results of a European Commission opinion survey, leaked to the press, showed that EU citizens believed Israel to be the biggest single threat to world peace among the nations of the globe.
In the poll, 59 percent of EU citizens answered "yes" when asked if Israel "posed a threat to the peace of the world." It was cited by many more of the European respondents than any other country, beating out the likes of North Korea and Iran.
The current tide of anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli statements was kicked off by a member of Germany's conservative opposition Chritian Democratic Union, who marked German Unity Day on October 3 by comparing the Jews to the Nazis.
Christian Democratic Union member Martin Hohmann said that if the Germans were a "guilty people," the same could be said of the Jews, citing their role in the 1917 Russian revolution that brought Bolshevik Communism to power.
Last week, Brigadier General Reinhard Guenzel, chief of the German military's special forces, was sacked for having written to Hohmann to compliment his "excellent speech," which he said was of a sort "only seldom read or heard in this country."
Further fuel was added by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who told an October summit of the world's Islamic nations: "The Europeans killed six million Jews out of 12 million. But today the Jews rule this world by proxy."
Mohamad's remarks were widely condemned in the West, but were greeted with understanding and support in parts of the Islamic world. Israelis were little assuaged by European criticism of the Mohamad speech, when French President Jacques Chirac reportedly sought and won a markedly softened EU reaction.
Israeli sensitivity toward the issue reached fever pitch this week, with the publication of a second European poll, which appeared Monday in the respected Italian daily Corriere della Sera.
More than a sixth of the Italians surveyed said they thought it would be best if Israel ceased to exist altogether, and fully 22 percent of respondents said that Italian Jewish citizens "are not real Italians."
Shalev said the timing of Theodorakis' comments was no coincidence. "Where was Theodorakis and why did he not disclose his striking 'discovery' until now? The change is in the atmosphere being created in Europe," Shalev told Army Radio.
The rising tide of anti-Semitic sentiment has granted fresh legitimacy to attitudes long buried under fears of a return to the views that paved the way for the Holocaust, Shalev continued.
"These comments did not come out beforehand, because until now, such comments was not legitimate. Now, suddenly it has become legitimate, and this is what is so frightening," Shalev argued.
"These cracks that remain on the surface of Europe are what allow these 'disclosures' to burst forth, and they are becoming very dangerous, because they are effectively saying that our very existence is not legitimate. This invites the next step, and there will always be someone there to take it."
For many Israelis, the next step is embodied in the question of whether Israel has a right to exist, an issue that, officials note, is seldom raised with respect to any other nation in the world.
In a test case of sorts, Israel last week broke long-standing precedent and introduced a resolution to the UN General Assembly - believed to be the first resolution submitted by Israel since 1976.
The wording of the draft resolution is the mirror of a measure passed overwhelmingly by the General Assembly last year, calling for the protection of Palestinian children from Israeli violence.
The Israeli version urges that Israeli children be protected from Palestinian terrorism. Israeli UN mission spokesman Ariel Milo said the vote on the draft will reveal whether the General Assembly "thinks that the lives of Israeli children are less important than those of Palestinian children."
The Israeli move stunned and enraged Palestinian officials, for whom the General Assembly has for decades been a theater for reliable, if solely symbolic, victory.
"This reflects a complete lack of sensitivity with regard to the suffering of the Palestinian children," said Palestinian observer to the UN Nasser al-Kidwa, adding that Israel had added "absolutely unacceptable political substance in each paragraph." The resolution is expected to be discussed in a UN committee on Wednesday or Thursday.
Israel has long dismissed Arab-sponsored resolutions as one-sided, noting that the language uniformly condemned Israeli actions while refraining from any mention of Palestinian terror attacks.
But al-Kidwa defended the wording of past resolutions, saying that the case of Palestinian children was unique because they are "deprived of every single right in the Convention on the Rights of the Child - from statehood and nationality up to the physical safety. It is not the case of any other child in the world."
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