"Old" Europe and Israel

Richard Baehr's detailed analysis of the stark contrast in popular support of Israel here in the US and across the Atlantic left out, I think, one critically important piece: Europe's history, which differs markedly from that of the US.

Europe's history is that of the rolled-back conquest of the world. A seventy-year-old world map shows a whole lot fewer countries - because huge hunks of the world were owned by a few European empires. But World War II made colonialism morally unsupportable - and the twenty-year period since the end of the war saw restoration of political independence to huge territories and vast populations.

In Europe, the process of justifying the reversion to native rule simply had to be accompanied by a campaign of mea culpa chest-beating and publicly expressed repentance. The sense of guilt for colonialism became deeply imbedded in the European psyche.

But we in the US are not burdened by such guilt. Americans have a far healthier mindset, and are beset by far fewer demons of that kind - not because we are less sensitive than he Europeans, but because we've committed much fewer sins. To be sure, dispossession of the native Americans did happen - but it has been acknowledged, and accommodated for, with much less psychological trauma. Imperialism was never a popular concept in the US, and is not part of the American history. American psyche, in contrast to that of the Europeans, has much less to be ashamed of and to suppress into the unconscious, and is therefore fundamentally healthy - with the result that Americans judge issues on their own merits, rather than see the troubles of others as reflection of their own suppressed phobias.

Hence, the stark difference in attitude to Israel.

Mr. Baehr pointed out that Europe's turn around in sympathies happened after the six-day war. There is a good reason for that. A decade earlier, the attempt by France and England to regain possession of the Suez canal that was nationalized by Nasser - that last instance of the take-charge, robust old ways, matter-of-factly acted by the men of old generation, who saw nothing wrong with having possessions on the other side of the globe (especially if they were fairly paid for in hard cash, as was the case of the Suez canal) - was nipped in the bud by the Eisenhower administration. And the public support for colonialism at home was gone - to the point that in the early sixties, France had to evacuate from Algiers because of the mounting public pressure. The fair-minded post-world-war generation of Europeans no longer saw imperialism in Kipling's noble terms of uprooting savagery and bringing civilization to the "half-devil and half-child" of the colonies. Instead, it became detested as robbery, pure and simple; and the cultures that in the old days were seen as so "primitive" as to be counter to the well-being of the very people who represented them, now became valid expression of diverse human experience.

It was in this moral and intellectual climate that Israel, in an act of existential desperation, responded to declarations of imminent attack and to closing of the straits of Tirana to Israeli shipping by a lightning strike in 1967. To the Americans, unburdened by suppressed guilt of imperialism, nothing was off. To the new-generation, fair-minded Europeans, however, it was a fresh reminder of the wrong ways of Europe's colonial past. What Europeans were trying to forget and heal, or at best suppress into the unconscious, they saw re-enacted in broad daylight. In what to Israel was as a mere act of self-defense, the good people of Europe saw a repetition of precisely what had been repudiated by the long history of European colonialism. To Europeans, Israel was actively engaged in the behavior that Europe became deeply ashamed of, and tried diligently to redress by de-colonization and aid. (That perception was also fed by a sheer ignorance of history: Europeans failed to realize that all "Arab lands" outside of the Arabian peninsula were gained through conquest, and therefore had previous owners, and that the Arabs were just as imperialistic as were the Europeans. Illogically, while they took a position of supported "natives" against "invaders" all over the world, they made one exception for Israel. European "intellectuals" are a rather surprisingly ignorant lot.)

Donald Rumsfeld's distinction between "old" and the "new" Europe, which galled Europeans so much and made him such a hated figure across the Atlantic, is fundamentally sound. Eastern Europe, which did not participate in colonialism - but was, in fact, itself colonized by the Soviets, has a very different psyche, and much fewer demons to fight, than many western European countries, and so can be much closer to the US on many issues, Israel including.

European attitude to Israel is, first and foremost, a product of the "old" Europe's past - of those aspects of it, in fact, that have nothing to do with anti-Semitism or Jews. Israel is an irritant to the Europeans, because it unintentionally reminds them of so much of perceived wrongs in the "old" Europe's past.

Vel Nirtist writes on the role of religion in fostering terrorism. He is author of The Pitfall of Truth: Holy War, its Rationale and Folly.  His blog is here.
Richard Baehr's detailed analysis of the stark contrast in popular support of Israel here in the US and across the Atlantic left out, I think, one critically important piece: Europe's history, which differs markedly from that of the US.

Europe's history is that of the rolled-back conquest of the world. A seventy-year-old world map shows a whole lot fewer countries - because huge hunks of the world were owned by a few European empires. But World War II made colonialism morally unsupportable - and the twenty-year period since the end of the war saw restoration of political independence to huge territories and vast populations.

In Europe, the process of justifying the reversion to native rule simply had to be accompanied by a campaign of mea culpa chest-beating and publicly expressed repentance. The sense of guilt for colonialism became deeply imbedded in the European psyche.

But we in the US are not burdened by such guilt. Americans have a far healthier mindset, and are beset by far fewer demons of that kind - not because we are less sensitive than he Europeans, but because we've committed much fewer sins. To be sure, dispossession of the native Americans did happen - but it has been acknowledged, and accommodated for, with much less psychological trauma. Imperialism was never a popular concept in the US, and is not part of the American history. American psyche, in contrast to that of the Europeans, has much less to be ashamed of and to suppress into the unconscious, and is therefore fundamentally healthy - with the result that Americans judge issues on their own merits, rather than see the troubles of others as reflection of their own suppressed phobias.

Hence, the stark difference in attitude to Israel.

Mr. Baehr pointed out that Europe's turn around in sympathies happened after the six-day war. There is a good reason for that. A decade earlier, the attempt by France and England to regain possession of the Suez canal that was nationalized by Nasser - that last instance of the take-charge, robust old ways, matter-of-factly acted by the men of old generation, who saw nothing wrong with having possessions on the other side of the globe (especially if they were fairly paid for in hard cash, as was the case of the Suez canal) - was nipped in the bud by the Eisenhower administration. And the public support for colonialism at home was gone - to the point that in the early sixties, France had to evacuate from Algiers because of the mounting public pressure. The fair-minded post-world-war generation of Europeans no longer saw imperialism in Kipling's noble terms of uprooting savagery and bringing civilization to the "half-devil and half-child" of the colonies. Instead, it became detested as robbery, pure and simple; and the cultures that in the old days were seen as so "primitive" as to be counter to the well-being of the very people who represented them, now became valid expression of diverse human experience.

It was in this moral and intellectual climate that Israel, in an act of existential desperation, responded to declarations of imminent attack and to closing of the straits of Tirana to Israeli shipping by a lightning strike in 1967. To the Americans, unburdened by suppressed guilt of imperialism, nothing was off. To the new-generation, fair-minded Europeans, however, it was a fresh reminder of the wrong ways of Europe's colonial past. What Europeans were trying to forget and heal, or at best suppress into the unconscious, they saw re-enacted in broad daylight. In what to Israel was as a mere act of self-defense, the good people of Europe saw a repetition of precisely what had been repudiated by the long history of European colonialism. To Europeans, Israel was actively engaged in the behavior that Europe became deeply ashamed of, and tried diligently to redress by de-colonization and aid. (That perception was also fed by a sheer ignorance of history: Europeans failed to realize that all "Arab lands" outside of the Arabian peninsula were gained through conquest, and therefore had previous owners, and that the Arabs were just as imperialistic as were the Europeans. Illogically, while they took a position of supported "natives" against "invaders" all over the world, they made one exception for Israel. European "intellectuals" are a rather surprisingly ignorant lot.)

Donald Rumsfeld's distinction between "old" and the "new" Europe, which galled Europeans so much and made him such a hated figure across the Atlantic, is fundamentally sound. Eastern Europe, which did not participate in colonialism - but was, in fact, itself colonized by the Soviets, has a very different psyche, and much fewer demons to fight, than many western European countries, and so can be much closer to the US on many issues, Israel including.

European attitude to Israel is, first and foremost, a product of the "old" Europe's past - of those aspects of it, in fact, that have nothing to do with anti-Semitism or Jews. Israel is an irritant to the Europeans, because it unintentionally reminds them of so much of perceived wrongs in the "old" Europe's past.

Vel Nirtist writes on the role of religion in fostering terrorism. He is author of The Pitfall of Truth: Holy War, its Rationale and Folly.  His blog is here.