For a moment, I felt like Sayed Kashua. I'd been asked to speak to the spokespersons of the 27 members of the European Union based in Israel. I was asked to speak about coverage of Europe in Israel, or in other, somewhat frank words, to explain our apathy toward the Continent, the meaning of the contempt we express toward it, the fact that some of us even hate Europe.
Kashua would most probably write here that he was being sent to sell ice to Eskimos. After all, all of these spokespeople, whose job it is to rummage through the local media, have long ago earned their Ph.D. in the subject.
I considered throwing in the towel, but then I was reminded that at the end of his existentialist meditations, Kashua invariably produces a laudable weekly column. Thus, despite my modest ambitions, I found myself explaining something along these lines:
First, it is hard to swallow this unique project known as the European Union. How, for example, can one explain the differences between the United States of Europe program and the one that espouses a European Union of Nations? What are the differences between the Council of Europe and the European Council, and between these and the European Commission and Parliament?
Also how should one pinpoint the nuances that differentiate between terms such as "Variable-geometry Europe" and "Multi-speed Europe"? The surveys indicate, after all, that the Europeans themselves are unaware of the most basic aspects related to the continent's unification process that influences their daily lives dramatically.
Second, Israelis' Euroskepticism has to do with a conflict that they are experiencing in the Middle East: In their opinion, nation-states that are separate and even hostile to one another are natural and logical. Conversely, the model of a federal and supra-national Europe is considered an unrealistic utopia, the illusion of dreamers. The fact that Europe has failed time and again in its attempts to reach consensus on critical issues - most recently, for example, in the matter of the Palestinian statehood initiative in the United Nations - only strengthens this point of view.
Third, Israelis are troubled with existential problems, and are therefore much more interested in what is happening in their own home than in what is happening outside it. Henry Kissinger's observation that Israel has no foreign policy, only a domestic policy, is every bit as accurate as it ever was.
Even if the (external ) Iranian threat becomes a typical internal problem for us, Europe's stand against Iran, a firm stand, it should be noted, remains an international issue that's almost a given.
As such, Israeli interest shown in how Europe deals with Iran will always wane in the face of a tent protest struggle, or a battle over the makeup of the Supreme Court or a war on freedom of expression.
Fourth, even if Obama is viewed here as a weak leader who can be humiliated in Congress, and even if his administration is viewed as ultimately critical and even hostile, the U.S. will remain, in the eyes of Israelis, the only ally that can play a significant role here.
These factors cannot be separated from history and the perception that Europe is the place where Jews experienced the worst discrimination and persecution, the continent of the Holocaust, whose powers betrayed Israel one after the other - Britain during the Mandate, the Soviet Union in the 1950s and France in the 1960s.
Europe is currently viewed among Israelis as a continent that has been subjugated by Islamic marauders, and a continent that seeks to atone for its own crimes of colonialism by punishing Israel as "the new colonialist."
All of this could have been different, of course. Ultimately, Israel worships and reveres power. However, when David Cameron tries to intervene in matters of the Euro bloc (which is revolting to Britain ), when Nicolas Sarkozy tells him in response to "shut up," and when Angela Merkel talks about "the most difficult hour Europe has seen since the World War," it is at that point that Israelis feel that the much-touted EU remains nothing but a straw man that will soon be thrown onto the trash heap of history. This perception is wrong, first because Israel has an immediate interest in strengthening ties with the Continent, which is today its main business partner, even ahead of the U.S. Second, one should know Europe has always grown out of crises.
The current crisis charts the way to the next phase of growth. This must be the way of the political union, without which the monetary union is hopeless. This can only be achieved in a "Multi-speed Europe," in which the strong EU states run ahead. Until that happens, the Israelis will continue to avoid Europe, or at the very least yawn whenever the name is mentioned.
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