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Stuck between Washington and Brussels

The Europeans are attacking Israel over the sovereignty issue, but their real target is US President Donald Trump, whom many Europeans view as an adversary.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a press conference announcing the Trump administration’s Mideast peace plan on Jan. 28, 2020, in the East Room of the White House. Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a press conference announcing the Trump administration’s Mideast peace plan on Jan. 28, 2020, in the East Room of the White House. Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead.
Eyal Zisser
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.

After eradicating the coronavirus that ravaged the countries of Europe and mending the deep rifts within its ranks, the European Union has circled back to focus on its favorite pet issue: Israel.

The new Israeli government, which was barely assembled and hasn’t even published a plan of action yet, is already facing E.U. threats of punitive action, including economic sanctions and even the suspension of diplomatic ties if Israel dares follow through with its intention to apply Israeli law in parts of Judea and Samaria.

The bureaucrats at E.U. headquarters in Brussels can’t actually drag Europe into a war on Israel, which has close ties with many countries on the continent, such as Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary and others. These countries all harbor animosity for the European Union, which failed in the moment of truth and left them, each on their own, to contend with the quarantines, deaths and economic crises caused by the coronavirus. But several leading European countries, chief among them France, Belgium, Spain and Ireland, are determined to spearhead an anti-Israel initiative and have threatened to enact punitive measures even if the majority of E.U. countries don’t join them.

Disagreements between friends are legitimate, but when it comes to Israel-Europe relations, or to be more precise, Israel’s relations with several specific E.U. countries, this isn’t the case. The European Union doesn’t care about the Palestinians whatsoever. Its concern for international law, which it says Israel is violating, also isn’t a top priority. After all, the European Union is indifferent to the Turkish occupation of Cyprus, and Brussels doesn’t typically care about Tibet or Western Sahara either.

Israel, however, is always seen as an attractive target to flagellate, for the purpose of winning Arab and Muslim brownie points. Beyond that, the European Union still abides by its decades-long fixation whereby the Palestinian issue is the key to solving all of the Middle East’s ills. And while the Europeans don’t care much about the levels of poverty and distress throughout the Middle East, they are worried about the waves of immigration flooding their continent due to unrest and instability in the Arab world, and are convinced that reprimanding Israel will help them turn the tide.

It appears, however, that there’s another inherent motive for this European obsession with Israel: The Europeans flog Israel, but their aim is to hurt U.S. President Donald Trump, who many Europeans view as an adversary. It is a symptom of deeply rooted anti-American sentiment, which combines jealousy with a touch of condescension, toward a president who represents such a successful antithesis to the “old continent.”

The close-knit alliance between the United States and Israel undoubtedly adds to Israel’s clout and opens up numerous paths for Israel across the globe. Not in Europe. After all, in the eyes of the Europeans, the increasingly intimate bond shared by Washington and Jerusalem is something akin to original sin. Hence the arrows being launched from Europe at Israel—instead of at Washington—in the hope that the White House feels the sting along with the Israeli government.

This, therefore, is a profound European undercurrent that even an arrangement with the Palestinians isn’t likely to reverse. Israel’s relations with these European countries will inevitably return to normal, as there are enough mature leaders in Europe—for example, German Chancellor Angela Merkel—who are attentive to Israel and its problems and are cognizant of Europe’s own interests in maintaining ties with it. But we can assume that the bureaucrats in Brussels, supported by several European countries, will wait for the next opportunity to kick Israel.

Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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