Israel finds more sympathy in Europe
Concerns about Islamist threat have influenced traditionally pro-Arab Europe's view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
(Page 2 of 3)
Europe itself is not the Europe of decades past, dominated by French diplomacy, with its Arab ties. There are 27 nations. Eastern and former Soviet states, like Poland and the Czech Republic, often take American positions on foreign affairs. As Prague took over the EU presidency last week, it issued a statement that Israel's actions in Gaza were "defensive" – later backing down under French and British censure.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In Scandinavia, traditionally pro-Arab states have found social tensions with new Muslim populations – the crisis in Denmark over a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad, for example – and public support for Arabs is down in polls. In Europe today, nearly all major leaders – France's Nicolas Sarkozy, Germany's Angela Merkel, Britain's Gordon Brown, and Italy's Silvio Berlusconi – are seen as leaning toward Israel. The lone pro-Arab leader is Spain's José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.
"There is a general 'Arab fatigue' in Europe," says Denis Bauchard, an adviser to the French Institute for International Relations in Paris. "The Palestine issue continues, the violence continues, the Palestinians are divided, and it just creates a kind of fatigue."
"Europe fears an Islamist threat, whether internal or external, and this has begun to change the overall views on the Israel-Palestine conflict," says Aude Signoles, an expert on Palestinian movements at the University of La Réunion in Madagascar.
A Pew Global Attitudes poll in 2006 found that French sympathies were evenly divided (38 percent) between those sympathizing with the Palestinians and with Israel, marking a doubling of support for Israel and a 10 percent gain for Palestinians over the previous two years. In Germany, 37 percent sympathized with Israel – an increase of 13 points over 2004 and more than double those who supported the Palestinians.
To be sure, Europe retains deep reservoirs of solidarity with North Africa. Public opinion here is outraged by the Gaza inferno. There is widespread condemnation of the Israeli attack, including by French President Sarkozy. European media have been overwhelmingly sympathetic to the Gazans, even while being barred from entering the Strip.
More fundamentally, says Antoine Sfeir, founder of the Middle East review "Cahiers de L'Orient," European leaders understand the political realities in Israel, the problems of a state attacked by rockets, and the need to protect citizens. Even if he disagrees with the framing of the issue, "The Europeans don't see this as a Palestinian thing. They see it as a Hamas thing," he says. "In fact, this is not about terrorism; it is a war between Israel and Palestinians that is being called a war on terror."
Ironically perhaps, Europeans were the most vocal critics of the Bush administration-coined phrase "war on terror." It is seen as overreaching and simplistic while being used to sanction wars like Iraq.