Opinion |

Europe Is Beginning to Tire of Israel

Only when Israelis begin to feel that they are no longer welcomed in Europe as equals because of the occupation will it become the main election issue

zeev sternhell
Zeev Sternhell
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Israeli soldiers quizzing Palestinians in Hebron
Israeli soldiers quizzing Palestinians in Hebron.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
zeev sternhell
Zeev Sternhell

Not only Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem, but all human rights groups, should be grateful to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his acolytes Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev and Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, for placing them on the world stage as key players in Israeli politics. The meetings these groups hold with foreign diplomats also show that the outside world, governments and media outlets alike, attribute greater credibility to Israel’s civil society than to government spokesmen.

In their actions and words Netanyahu and his minions reveal not only their deep disdain for democracy, a sin shared by all of Israel’s right wing, but also demonstrate yet again that the only way to influence Israeli politics is through external pressure. In other words, what doesn’t work with pressure will work with more pressure. Before Germany and its rejected foreign minister, there was little Belgium, which was also not deterred by Netanyahu’s bad manners, and thus will it be with other Western European countries. They share a resolute stance: The occupation is illegal and illegitimate and apart from the Israeli right wing no one recognizes it, including the United States of President Donald Trump.

The blowup with Germany showed that the world is beginning to tire of Israel, of its slick sanctimoniousness and slippery, olive oil-coated arguments, of its blindness to Palestinian suffering and indifference to their human rights, of its cynicism concerning apartheid in the territories. And so, a different question of critical importance must be asked, about the degree to which every Israeli citizen holds personal responsibility for everything that takes place in the territories. The occupation is not solely the concern of ideologically driven settlers, fanatic West Bank rabbis and the “hilltop thugs,” and not only of the Jews who choose to live in the territories out of convenience or of necessity, for the employment or the cheap housing. The occupation is within the scope of personal responsibility of each of us. We are all guilty, because we all allowed it to develop, we did not fight it or rise up against it and most of us supported it in practice even when we voted for the Labor Party of Shimon Peres, the patron of Elon Moreh. Back then it would have been relatively easy to eliminate the occupation, but too many of us viewed the occupation as a continuation of the traditional Zionist activity of taking over the land.

Now, 50 years after June 1967, we all live quite well with the settlement of the territories, since none of us is injured by it. No Israeli has yet been denied entry to any country for being an accomplice to the apartheid regime in the territories. As long as it is still possible to export goods from the territories, openly or otherwise, the protests in Europe’s capitals will be ineffective.

Indeed, everyone recognizes that as long as Israelis are not affected personally, in their wallets and their comfort, as long as they can, for example, fly to London for a weekend on a whim, to see a good show or decent soccer, they will have no reason to get upset over the plans to annex the area between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim. But if a visit to Europe meant waiting a month for an expensive visa, perhaps we Israelis would begin to think in terms of benefit versus cost.

The bottom line is that only when Israelis begin to feel they are no longer welcomed in Europe as equals, on account of the occupation and the settlement of occupied territory, will the occupation reach our agenda and become the main election issue. Only then will the pitiful “opposition” be forced to decide: between fighting for our future or continuing to capitulate to demagoguery while cloaking itself in its inconsequentiality.



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