The European Union is outraged. Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, gave a speech last Thursday lambasting the American media for accusing Europe of anti-Semitism. Such accusations, he said, are "deeply unjust," "of striking brutality," and "don't correspond to reality." Two days earlier, the EU's commissioner for external relations, Chris Patten, published a similar diatribe in The Washington Post, terming such charges "obscenely offensive rubbish," a "mad and grotesque assault on reasoned debate." And both of them reiterated the standard defenses: Not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic; anti-Jewish violence in Europe is "importehttp://christianactionforisrael.org/files/antiholo/d" from the middle east; the government is not responsible for every hooligan who vandalizes a synagogue; European governments always denounce such attacks.
But all of these justifications, though true, fail to explain the one salient fact that Patten and Solana carefully avoided mentioning: While anti-Semitic violence is up sharply in Europe, there has been no similar upsurge in the United States.
Like Europe, the US has a large Muslim community that cares deeply about the Middle East. It also has a very visible Jewish community that would provide an easy target for anti-Semitic attacks. Yet according to the Anti-Defamation League, the US has experienced no increase at all in anti-Semitic incidents over the last 19 months. So why do American Muslims confine themselves to democratic protest – demonstrations, lobbying, articles in the press – while European Muslims add synagogue vandalism and assaults on Jewish schoolchildren to their repertoire? Is it just chance that all the hooligans are in Europe? Discounting this far-fetched thesis, the unavoidable conclusion is that Europe has somehow created a climate conducive to anti-Semitic violence, while the US has not. And if one compares the American media, government, and public to their European counterparts, the "how" is easy to see.
THE MAINSTREAM American media, like its European counterpart, is highly critical of Israel. Nevertheless, there are some key differences. The American press, for instance, does not inflame its readers with classic anti-Semitic cartoons – like the one in the respected Italian paper La Stampa, in which baby Jesus peers up at an Israeli tank and says, "Don't tell me they want to kill me again!"
But perhaps even more importantly, the American media do not obscure such crucial facts as that the IDF operations it so deplores are responses to suicide bombings targeting Israeli civilians. That is not true in Europe – as Jean Daniel, editor of the French weekly, Le Nouvel Observateur, observed in a scathing editorial in February. Daniel, incidentally, is hardly an Israel-lover: In December, he rushed to publish an unverified front-page story accusing Israeli soldiers of raping Palestinian women (he later had to retract it).
Yet by February, even he was appalled by the French media's "unprofessionalism." The media, he wrote, simply ignore the terror attacks that precede Israel's military actions; day after day, they lead the reader to conclude that Israeli troops are killing Palestinians for no reason at all.
And by portraying Israelis (read "Jews") as people who kill without cause, the media create a climate for anti-Semitic violence. Psychopathic killers do not deserve the protections accorded ordinary human beings.
The broader American public also behaves differently from its European counterpart. There is no lack of support for the Palestinian cause in the US; witness the number of non-Muslims attending pro-Palestinian rallies. But you would never find American trade unionists parading in Hamas garb, as Italy's trade unionists did not long ago. Such actions, again, send the implicit message that violence against Jews is acceptable: Since Hamas is the inventor of suicide bombings against Israeli women and children, if its members are heroes worth emulating, then killing Jews must be right and proper.
And finally, there are the governments. The Bush administration is hardly uncritical of Israel: It is the first American government to speak of a Palestinian state and Israel's "occupation of Palestine," and it regularly urges military restraint. Yet it also acknowledges that governments must defend their citizens against terrorism, and therefore not every Israeli military action is automatically wrong.
Though European governments also pay lip service to Israel's right of self-defense, in 19 months of conflict, there is not a single Israeli tactic that they have not unequivocally condemned.
Closures are wrong and roadblocks are wrong, bombing is wrong and ground operations are wrong, even returning fire when shot at is wrong. The underlying message is clear: In reality, Israel has no right to self-defense – the only country in the world so circumscribed.
And if Israel alone has no right to defend its citizens, then attacks on those citizens must be justified.
European hooligans have in fact grasped perfectly the real message being broadcast by their governments, publics, and media: that anti-Jewish violence is "understandable." And as long as this is so, no amount of official condemnation of such attacks can absolve Europe of the charge of anti-Semitism.