First Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion’s adage ‘what matters is not what the goyim say, but what the Jews do," may have been charming when Israel was a young state, but does not befit a mature country. Nevertheless, current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has made this adage into a whole worldview.
About a month ago, Israel’s foreign ministry issued a statement that Europe was becoming irrelevant because of its criticism of settlement construction in the West Bank. Defense Minister Ehud Barak reacted by saying that it was highly unwise to increase tensions with Europe. The Foreign Ministry’s reaction was: “We do not respond to parties who have less than six mandates”. In other words: not only is Europe irrelevant; so is Barak, if he disagrees with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Disregard for international law is presented with pride. MK Yaakov Katz sees great weakness in “adhering to the laws of the gentiles”.
International norms, international law and international institutions, in their view, are irrelevant for Israel, and they see a sign of great strength in disregarding them. Diplomacy, nurturing alliances and friendships to them are signs of faint-heartedness.
Well, Europe has not acquiesced with its “irrelevant” status, nor does it intend to accept the Netanyahu government’s gradual killing of the two-state solution.
Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has recently called Israel’s settlement policy “deliberate vandalism” destroying the chance of a viable Palestinian state. The French parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee speaks of Israel’s water apartheid policy in the West Bank.
More and more anger and condemnation is building up in the EU. The heads of European Union delegations to the Palestinian Authority have proposed steps meant to strengthen the presence of the PLO in East Jerusalem. They are also in favor of unilaterally sponsoring projects of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank’s Area C currently under both Israeli military and civilian control.
The EU Delegation has drafted a document with harsh recommendations: it suggests blacklisting settlers considered to be violent and prevent their entry into the EU. This is a dramatic step: it indicates that the EU is no longer willing to accept either Israel’s unilateral creation of facts on the ground or the continued harassment and persecution of Palestinians that are lately called “price-tag” reactions.
The reactions from the Netanyahu camp can be predicted: they will range from “Europeans don’t understand us” through “Europe is always anti-Israel” to hysterical incantations about the rise of European anti-Semitism.
None of this is true: I have many conversations with European politicians and diplomats, many of whom are genuine friends of Israel. They are taken aback and offended by the Netanyahu government’s behavior; but most of all they are truly worried. They feel that this government has completely lost its grasp of international reality and has no viable vision for Israel’s place in the world.
They are right. The Netanyahu coalition lives in a fantasy universe. Most of its members truly believe that their parliamentary power reflects the world at large. Bullying for them has become not just a way of life, but a replacement for strategy.
Unfortunately, a part of Israel’s electorate mistakes Lieberman’s offending European politicians and diplomats for strength, and Netanyahu’s manipulative playing for time for political wisdom. They do not understand that in the world at large, Lieberman is not taken seriously by anyone, and that Netanyahu’s credibility and credit is at an all-time low: from Hillary Clinton through Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, he is simply seen as totally unreliable.
They do not understand that Israel’s alliance with and belonging to the Free World is not just a matter of convenience; that Israel’s technological and economic achievement is part and parcel of a liberal culture. Many of them believe Lieberman’s myopic line that Israel can exchange the Free World by alliance with autocratic regimes in the East, and yet remain an innovative country.
But there are many Israelis whose basic outlook and values are very different. For us belonging to the Free World, adherence to democratic norms and respect for human rights is not only a matter of strategy, but also an expression of our core identity. For us it is deeply saddening that the relations with Europe have reached the current Nadir.
A change for the better will only come when Israel’s citizens understand the profound damage this government inflicts on Israel. Europe needs to make its voice heard clearly. It needs to speak to the Israeli people and differentiate clearly between friendship for Israel and its condemnation of the Netanyahu government’s policies. It needs to express empathy for Israel’s genuine concerns while leaving no doubt that the Netanyahu government has tainted Israel’s status as the Middle East’s only liberal democracy.
I hope that Israel’s citizens will soon realize how grievously harmful this government’s policies and its profound lack of civility and long-term strategic-thought have been; and that they will understand that Israel’s future does not reside with boorishness, but with its natural place: the Free World.
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