Europe and 'Those People'

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Europe and 'Those People'

By Charles Krauthammer
reprint from The Washington Post Friday, April 26, 2002

France can hardly contain its contempt for that muscle-bound naif, the American hyperpower, stomping around the world in search of "evildoers." The French roll their eyes at such primitive moralism, so devoid of Gallic nuance.

How inconvenient, then, that the same French have just put on the presidential ballot Jean-Marie Le Pen, the modern incarnation of European fascism. Le Pen defeated the Socialist prime minister for second place, making him a runoff candidate for president of the Fifth Republic.

No matter. This will not restrain French intellectuals and foreign ministers from lecturing Americans on their simplisme -- their preference for morality over realpolitik, their reliance on military power, their fantasies about an "axis of evil" and, perhaps most unbearable, their principled support for Israel.

Israel -- that "sh---- little country," as the French ambassador to Britain recently said at a London dinner party. "Why should we be in danger of World War III because of those people?" This contemptuous sneer at "those people" occasioned a minor scandal. No, the scandal was not the ambassador's statement but the hostess's indiscretion in revealing it -- and then adding how utterly commonplace the ambassador's sentiment had become in London's better circles.

And not just among the cocktail set. The European "street" has lately been expressing itself on the subject of Jews as well. In France, synagogues have been burned to the ground and Jewish youths savagely attacked. In Belgium, two synagogues were firebombed, a third sprayed with bullets. A Berlin police official advised Jews, for reasons of safety, not to wear outward symbols of their religion.

In Europe, it is not very safe to be a Jew. How could this be?

The explanation is not that difficult to find. What we are seeing is pent-up anti-Semitism, the release -- with Israel as the trigger -- of a millennium-old urge that powerfully infected and shaped European history. What is odd is not the anti-Semitism of today but its relative absence during the past half-century. That was the historical anomaly. Holocaust shame kept the demon corked for that half-century. But now the atonement is passed. The genie is out again.

This time, however, it is more sophisticated. It is not a blanket hatred of Jews. Jews can be tolerated, even accepted, but they must know their place. Jews are fine so long as they are powerless, passive and picturesque. What is intolerable is Jewish assertiveness, the Jewish refusal to accept victimhood. And nothing so embodies that as the Jewish state.

What so offends Europeans is the armed Jew, the Jew who refuses to sustain seven suicide bombings in the seven days of Passover and strikes back. That Jew has been demonized in the European press as never before since, well . . . since the '30s. The liberal Italian daily La Stampa ran a cartoon of the baby Jesus, besieged by Israeli tanks, saying, "Don't tell me they want to kill me again."

Again. And this time the Christ-killers come in tanks. Just when Europe had reconciled itself to tolerance for the passive Jew -- the Holocaust survivor who could be pitied, lionized, perhaps awarded the occasional literary prize -- along comes the Jewish state, crude and vital and above all unwilling to apologize for its own existence.

The French were the vanguard of this modern anti-Semitism that can tolerate the Jew as victim but not as historical actor. It was 35 years ago at the outbreak of the Six Day War that Charles de Gaulle cut off French support for Israel, denouncing its audacity in fighting for its life over his objections. But he did not stop there. He later went on to famously denounce the Jews as "an elite people, sure of itself and domineering."

The rejection of docility -- "sure of itself" -- was Israel's real crime 35 years ago. It remains Israel's crime today. Israel's recent three-week Operation Defensive Shield, the boldest and most justified Israeli military offensive since the Six Day War, provokes precisely the same reaction, though not always expressed with de Gaulle's candor.

Three people have been chosen by the United Nations to judge Israel's actions in Jenin. Two are sons of Europe, and one of those is Cornelio Sommaruga. As former head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Sommaruga spent 12 years ensuring that the only nation on earth to be refused admission to the International Red Cross is Israel. The problem, he said, was its symbol: "If we're going to have the Shield of David, why would we not have to accept the swastika?"

This man will sit in judgment of the Jews. Marx was wrong when he said that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. The second time is tragedy too.

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