This article by Dr.Gerstenfeld was first published by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA), and republished here with the author’s consent.
TENS OF MILLIONS EUROPEANS DEMONIZE ISRAEL
By now a rough yet clear picture of the massive European demonization of Israel is available. This is thanks to an increasing number of studies with quantitative data. One of the most detailed is the recent report commissioned by the Hungarian Action and Protection League and prepared by the country’s Inspira Ltd.1
The pollsters interviewed representative samples of the adult population between the ages of 18 and 75 by gender, age group, settlement size, and education in 16 European countries. Twenty-five percent of the interviewees disagree that Israel is in legitimate self-defense against its enemies.2 Twenty-seven percent disagree that Israel is the only democratic country in the Middle East.3 The poll reports that when 25% think of Israel’s politics, they understand why some people hate Jews.4 Twenty-four percent think that Israeli policy toward the Palestinians justifies an international boycott of Israel.5 The same percentage thinks that Israelis behave like Nazis towards the Palestinians.6
In today’s Western societies behaving like Nazis or wanting to commit genocide are the symbols of absolute evil. Those familiar with the history of antisemitism recognize the ancient antisemitic core hatred motif in this, which has played a crucial role in persecution of Jews throughout history: the Jew as absolute evil.
In Christian antisemitism that hate motif was expressed as the false claim that all Jews in all generations are responsible for the execution of God’s alleged son, Jesus. National/ethnic antisemitism reached its lowest point with Nazism. In Nazi Germany the absolute evil motif mutated into the promotion of the hate concept that Jews were subhuman and thus should be exterminated.
As beforementioned, Israel and Jews in today’s world, are confronted with the new mutation of absolute evil: that Israel, the Jewish state, behaves like Nazis or intends to commit genocide of the Palestinians. The Inspira study has provided new data on this. Previous studies had already indicated the same, often in less detail. While the numbers can vary substantially between studies they always translate into many tens of millions of Europeans who believe that Israel fits this contemporary definition of absolute evil.
The main representative study before Inspira was carried out by the University of Bielefeld on behalf of the German Social Democratic Friedrich Ebert Foundation. It was published in 2011.7 Their research was undertaken in seven European countries. The interviewers polled one thousand people per country — over the age of sixteen — in the fall of 2008. One of the questions asked was whether they agreed with the assertion that Israel is carrying out a war of extermination against the Palestinians. The lowest percentages of those who agreed were in Italy and the Netherlands, with 38% and 39% respectively. Other figures were: Hungary 41%, United Kingdom 42%, Germany 48%, and Portugal 49%. In Poland, the figure was 63%.8
In the first years of this century, the University of Bielefeld undertook a similar study covering only Germany. More than 2,500 adults in the country were asked whether they agreed with the statement: “What the state of Israel does today to the Palestinians is in principle not different from what the Nazis did to the Jews in the Third Reich.” Fifty-one percent of the interviewees answered in the affirmative.9 Sixty-eight percent agreed with the statement that: “Israel undertakes a war of destruction against the Palestinians.”
This study concluded that criticism of Israel is to a certain extent a cover for antisemitic attitudes and opinions. In their earlier-mentioned definition of antisemitism, the study group of the University of Bielefeld stated that it was antisemitic to compare “Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians and the persecution of the Jews in the Third Reich.”10 “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” is one of the examples of contemporary antisemitism in the widely-accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of this hatred.11
According to this definition, the majority of Germans polled then held extreme antisemitic views. Thirty-five percent fully agreed and 33% were inclined to agree that Israel is working to destroy the Palestinians. Twenty-seven percent fully agreed and 24% were inclined to agree that Israel’s conduct toward the Palestinians is essentially the same as the Nazis’ toward the Jews. Only 19% totally disagreed and 30% were inclined to disagree.12 The findings of this survey, published in 2004, reinforced findings of earlier surveys on German antisemitism.13
An Italian poll conducted by Paola Merulla in the fall of 2003 found that seventeen percent of Italians said it would be better if Israel did not exist.14 A study published in Switzerland by gfs.bern in 2007 found that 50% of the Swiss population see Israel as “the Goliath in the extermination war of the Palestinians.”15 In 2012, in a study carried out by the Center for Studies of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities in Norway, a sample group of people were asked, “Is what Israel does to the Palestinians identical to what the Nazis did to the Jews?” Thirty-eight percent of Norwegians interviewed gave an affirmative answer.16
A poll conducted by the Bertelsmann Foundation in 2013 found 41% agreement among the German population to the statement that Israel behaves like Nazis when it comes to the treatment of Palestinians. In 2007, the figure was 30%.17 The 2013 figure translates into more than 25 million German adults who believe that Israel is absolute evil.
In September 2014, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and Bielefeld University carried out another study in Germany. One of the questions was again whether people agreed with the statement, “Israel conducts a war of extermination against the Palestinians.” Forty percent of Germans agreed. As beforementioned the comparative figure for 2004 was 68%. The question was asked also in another way: “What the state of Israel does today to the Palestinians is in principle no different from what the Nazis did to the Jews during the Third Reich.” In 2014, 27% answered affirmatively, compared to 51% in 2004.18
The 2019 Berlin Monitor found that 28% of German-born respondents in the city agreed that Israel’s founding had been a “bad idea.” Among new immigrants without German citizenship it was 45%. These are mainly Muslims. Thirty five percent of German-born Berliners considered that the Israeli policy toward the Palestinians was as evil as that of the Nazis during the Second World War. Among new immigrants that was 55%.19
A representative British study in 2017 found that 23% of the British population think that Israel is deliberately trying to wipe out the Palestinian population. Twenty four percent thought that Israel is committing mass murder in Palestine.20 Twenty one percent considered that Israel is an apartheid state. Eighteen percent thought that the interests of Israelis are at odds with the interests of the rest of the world. Ten percent thought that Israel is the cause of all the troubles in the Middle East and 9% thought that people should boycott Israeli goods and products. 21 The study also found that anti-Israel attitudes among Muslims in the U.K. are at a higher level compared to the general population.22
In 2003, a Eurobarometer study asked whether a number of countries were a threat to world peace. It turned out that 59% of Europeans believed Israel posed such a threat. No other country on the list was considered a similar threat by such a high percentage. Iran and North Korea tied for second place at 53%. At the bottom of the list was the European Union, which only 8% of Europeans saw as a danger to world peace. Among the then fifteen EU countries, the highest percentage viewing Israel as a threat to world peace was found among the Dutch at 74%. Next in line were the Austrians with 69%.23 In hindsight we understand that these perceptions were just another aspect of the demonization of Israel in Europe.
The EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency did a non-random study among European Jews in 2018. It found that the most common antisemitic statements that Jews come across on a regular basis is that Israelis behave like Nazis towards Palestinians. This was mentioned by 51% of those interviewed.24 This is one of several aspects of how the demonization of Israel impacts European Jews.
There are thus many facets to the demonization of Israel by tens of millions European citizens. Not all of them can be mentioned here due to lack of space.
Two major operational conclusions from the above should be drawn. First the European Union (EU) and its member states are required by law to do everything in their power to combat antisemitism effectively and to safeguard the dignity of Jewish people. As substantial percentages of the widespread antisemitism in Europe are related to the demonization of Israel by tens of millions of Europeans, the EU has to address this issue as well. So far it has greatly failed in addressing European antisemitism.
Second: Successive Israeli governments have largely failed their citizens by giving far too little attention to the widespread demonization of Israel abroad and in particular, in Europe. Nor has there been any pressure from the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, on the government to make efforts to deal with this issue. Israeli attitudes have to radically change to start fighting the demonization.
1 Action and Protection League, “Number of anti-semitic incidents hate crime Incidents per Year”, Report prepared by Inspira.
2 Ibid pg. 27
3 Ibid pg. 28
4 Ibid pg. 31
5 Ibid pg. 33
6 Ibid pg. 32
8 Ibid pg. 57
9 Aribert Heyder, Julia Iser, and Peter Schmidt, “Israelkritik oder Antisemitismus? Meinungsbildung zwischen Öffentlichkeit, Medien und Tabus,” in Wilhelm Heitmeyer, ed., Deutsche Zustände (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2005), 144ff
10 Wilhelm Heitmeyer, “Texte zu Ergebnissen der Umfrage 2004 des Projektes,” Universität Bielefeld, Institut fur interdisziplinare Konflikt- und Gewaltforschung, 2004.
12 Heyder, Iser, and Schmidt, “Israelkritik oder Antisemitismus?”
13 See, e.g., Martin Ulmer, “Current Trends in Germany,” lecture presented at a conference on “Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism in Western Europe since 2000,” SICSA, Jerusalem, haGalil.com, December 18, 2002; www.jcpa.org/phas/phas-urban-f04.htm, 119-130.
14 Renato Mannheimer, “E antisemita quasi un italiano su cinque,” Corriere de la Sera, November 10, 2003.
15 “Kritik an Israel nicht deckungsgleich mit antisemitischen Haltungen,” gfs.bern, March 28, 2007.
16 “Antisemittisme i Norge? Den norske befolkningens holdninger til jøder og andre minoriteter,” HL-senteret, May 20, 2012, www.hlsenteret.no/publikasjoner/antisemittisme-i-norge. (Norwegian)
17 bertelsmann-stiftung.de/fileadmin/files/BSt/Publikationen/GrauePublikationen/Studie_LW_Germany_and_Israel_today_2015.pdf, pages 35-36
18 “Zusammenfassung zentraler Ergebnisse,” Frederich Ebert Stiftung and Bielefeld University, November 20, 2014, 5.
21 Page 31
22 Ibid page 51
23 European Commission, “Iraq and Peace in the World,” Eurobarometer Survey, 151, November 2003, 78.