DO13. November 2014

Hannes Swoboda: RUSSIA – EU RELATION. FURTHER DETERIORATION OR EXIT STRATEGY

Mutual mistrust

Nobody can deny that the relations between the West, especially the EU and Russia are not in good shape. Maybe some on both sides are happy about it. Some regarded the pragmatically good relations of the times after the break down of the Sovietunion always with mistrust and skepticism. And you could find them amidst the nostalgic dreamers of the Russian empire and the Sovietunion as well as amidst those, especially in some new member countries, for whom the Russian imperialism is „genetically“ founded. For some of them, Putin’s Russia was and is the same as the Sovietunion and therefore Putin was and is another Stalin.

On the other side some nostalgics of the the strong Russia – before or inside – the Sovietunion have a deep mistrust against the West with its liberal values and especially with its new freedoms for homosexuals and secular, even anti-religious tendencies. It is in line with these tendencies that the former KGB officer Putin is on very good terms with the hierarchy of the Orthodox Church. We should never forget the parallelism of the domestic and foreign policy of today’s Russian policy.

Missed chances after the Sovietunion’s breakdown

This trend has its origin in the Russian history and its use by today’s Russian ideologues and politicians. But this new trend, which is based on old and traditional structures, ideologies and policies was also supported by the „one sided“ enlargement of EU and NATO.  Nevertheless one can understand that, regarding the history of Soviet domination and policies after the World War II -and partly even before – there was a strong incentive and pressure to go foreword as quickly as possible with enlargement and integration of the the now liberated countries into the Western political and military structures.

But we have to recognize that the enlargement was planned and at least seen by Russia as a strategy according to the principle: „The winning takes it all.“ And in politics also in international politics, this is never a good and successful principles. The neglect of any strategy to involve and include – parallel to the enlargement process – Russia into a comprehensive defense structure in Europe was a grave mistake. Such a wide ranging and courageous strategy should have been considered from the beginning.

The later reaction of the so called Medvedev Plan, when he was Russian president, was typical for the Western lack of visionary ideas and conceptions towards a wider European strategy. Maybe the Medvedev plan had in mind  to exclude the US from a European security structure, but this was never tested. Anyway, the EU never seriously and in right time tried to present and offer a far reaching and innovative approach to an all – European security structure with Russia and the USA as strong partners.

Acute crisis with Ukraine’s rapprochement with EU

The diverging courses of the EU and Russia became acute with the approaching of the EU enlargement process to the borders of Russia in what was called the „Near Abroad“ of Russia. With a certain stabilization of Russia, also due to high energy prices and the build up of financial reserves, Putin became much stronger and assertive in his new presidential period. Just at this time, the negotiations about an Association and Comprehensive Trade Agreement with Ukraine and some other countries of the common neighborhood came into its final phase. Armenia withdrew from an already fixed agreement. With Georgia and Moldavia Russia had not really new and strong measures and tools of pressure at hand. Both countries already were affected by Russian sanctions and support for breakaway regions. And these countries were not as strategically and ideologically important as Ukraine.

Negotiations with Yanukowitch & Co.

In regarding and evaluating the Russian reactions to the negotiated agreement with Ukraine, it has to be underlined, that these negotiations were done principally with President Yanoukowitch and the government of Prime minister Azarov from the Party of the Region. And all other negotiators like Andriy Klyuyev were representing the same party. And in all talks – and I myself had many talks with them, often bilaterally – they underlined the willingness to sign the agreements negotiated. Only at the very end came the No from Kiev, due to the enormous pressure from Moscow. The decline of signing the agreement had the protest at the Maidan as consequence. This was less a probes against Russia as such as a protest which was directed against the interruption of the association process, which was rightly interpreted as a stop to the internal reforms of a corrupt system. This system with many deficiencies concerning the state and rule of law was an obstacle to the modernization of the country and the development of democracy.

Even then the EU tried to mediate between the Maidan movement and Yanukowitch. But the trust into the Ukrainian President, who recently switched from Yes to No and was seen as the symbol of a corrupt system was no longer existing. And the fact, that Russia is not „using“ Yanoukowitch as the legitimate president and that it had respected the recent presidential and parliamentary elections is clearly a sign for their recognition of him as a persona non grata in Ukraine. As in the years after the break up of the Sovietunion also in course of the negotiations of the association agreements the EU may have made mistakes not considering Russia’s concerns and fears. But we had respected the elected representatives of all these countries and their clear willingness to come to an agreement with the EU.

Crimea and secession

On the other hand, the support for the secessionist movements in the Eastern region and the well prepared and illegal annexation of the Crimea was violating clearly internationally law and also the Budapest agreement in which also Russia recognized the territorial integrity of the new Ukraine. This was and is a behavior the EU could not and cannot accept. One cannot compare this enforced annexation with the lengthy process of giving Kosovo – after many years of suppression – the chance for independence. Even in the case of Kosovo, the EU did not support an annexation by a foreign country, for instance by Albania, and the West especially the EU is trying to find an agreement with Serbia and to establish good relations between Kosovo and Serbia, including supporting the Serb minorities in Kosovo. It is along and internationally accorded process to a new regional order.

The choices of the EU

The EU had basically three choices how to react to the direct Russian interference:
neglect it,
go for the military option, directly or by delivering weapons to Ukrainian government
or decide on sanctions, political a or economic nature.

To neglect the annexation and the support for separatist movements would signify acceptance and would have brought enormous strain and divisions inside the EU. The military reaction would never met consensus inside the EU and even NATO and would have been disastrous. So sanctions are the least damaging reaction for the EU, the least damaging, but not without damages for the EU itself and some serious setbacks!

EU and Russian sanctions

Sanctions in an economically and politically interconnected world create always collateral damages also for the countries who decided on sanctions and apply them and not only in the countries who are the target of sanctions. In addition they go against the ideological supported principle of free trade. And they always raise the questions how and under what conditions to get out of the sanctions, what kind of exit strategy has been considered if any. This was as well the case with the sanctions concerning imports of wine, meat, fruits etc. Russia levied against some of its neighbors. And it is now the case with the different kind of political and financial sanctions decided by the EU.

And we should not forget the very differentiated gas prices as political tools, which sometimes can also be interpreted as sanctions. The same could be said about the insistence to deliver gas to Europe not via Ukraine but either directly or via countries which would have no conflicts with Russia.

What we all missed was the chance to have a joint policy concerning the Russian gas transfer and transition to Europe via Ukraine. Already at that time some of us in the European Parliament suggested a joint EU. Ukrainian and Russian ownership of the transport infrastructure. A joint pipeline ownership would create a strong common interest on the functioning of the gas transport, otherwise everybody would loose. This joint ownership could have been – and may still be – the basis for a common policy on economic policies. Ukraine’s economy and its regional position would give a clear preference for a strategy of a tripartite policy for economic development, the gas business and a security structure.

Concerning the legal basis the EU is bound by the law, which finally is interpreted by the European Court, which already in the past decided against several decisions for example taken against Iran. We have to wait, what kind of decision will be taken in the case of sanctions against Russia or Ukraine. It is known, that several Russian companies and also Ukrainian individuals have appealed to the European Court to challenge the legal basis of the sanctions.

New basis for sanction regimes

Independently from the legal questions, the EU should create a legally sound and reasonable basis and framework for sanction regimes, to which CEPS made recently some proposals. One of the vital questions is of course if sanctions will reach the goal intended with them. And what kind of goals will be chosen. The costs of the sanctions on all side should be taken into account. Also the unintended effects should be considered. And most importantly it should be clearly evaluated if sanctions are in line with the other political aims and objectives of the EU foreign and security policy.

The costs of sanctions

Concerning the costs – of the sanctions imposed on Russia and the counter-sanctions with which Russia retaliated  – a recent study done by the very reliable Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies (WIIW)  shows that they may go up to one percent of Russian GDP for the period 2014 – 2016, primarily on account of increased investment risks. You had already before some capital flights and reduction by foreign investment, but sanctions seemed to have strengthened this development. One of the consequences of sanctions is that Russia is less able to meet the challenges of slow growth and increasing inflation than without. And the devaluation of the Rubel will even increase inflation!

A much smaller impact is evaluated for the EU, alas with a  very wide spread between different countries, depending on their exposure to the Russian market. The Baltic states and Finland are much more affected than for example Austria. For Lithuania and Estonia the costs would be about 0,4% and for Austria less than 0,1%.

Apart from these costs, we have to realize, that Ukraine is of course the biggest victim of the dispute. And Ukraine stays the biggest single trade partner for Russia. And Russia needs Ukraine for energy imports.

Russia’s economy and the oil price

Unfortunately to this day, no exit out of the crises is visible. The separatists still have the support, at least politically and morally by Russia and even the Minsk agreement seems not to be respected. And this means, the sanction imposed by the EU will not be lifted. Especially as some hope, that the decline of the oil and gas price will in particular hit Russia and force Putin to a change of course. Some even speculate, that the lowering of the oil price is artificially manipulated by the US and Saudi Arabia to the detriment and disadvantage of Russia and Iran, which has been officially denied.

Russia today is economically and financially not in a very good position. Some of the sanctions, especially concerning new technologies, the reduction of foreign investment from the West and the decline of income from energy exports is creating a lot of problems for Russia. But Russia still has financial reserves. And politically Putin could rally many friends around him and received strong public support. In addition many elite groups,  who had different views before, now have to support the Russian foreign policy. This is the non-economic effect. Even if it is called „collateral“ it is a major effect.

New Russian alliances?

And of course President Putin and Russia will look for other alliances in the  Eurasian neighborhood and in China. But that will be not so easy, as the Russian actions against Ukraine and other neighbors has met mistrust and not found much support. The resurgence of Russian nationalism and imperialistic tendencies is not a god basis for a close cooperation. Even some Chinese companies, for example those with subsidiaries in the USA, are not happy to work together with Russian companies, because of fears to be sanctioned by USA. On the other hand, some countries like Kazakhstan and Belorussia have got a stronger position because they are the source of western imports into Russia affected by sanctions to Russia.

Looking to the high importance of energy exports, the strong dependence on European markets and the extensive use of Dollar and Euro an alternative direction towards Asia and especially China is not easy. Nevertheless Europe must be careful and vigilant and enhance its relations with all those who could be attracted to a strong alliance with Russia against the EU. Otherwise China would be the big winner, at least politically.

From status quo to Helsinki II

We have to recognize that the overall situation in the relations between Europe and Russia will not easily improve. We will have to leave with frozen and /or lukewarm conflicts, hoping we can avoid of overheating. But this is not a stable and secure situation. We should look for ways to overcome this fragile status quo. And the minimum would be a de-escalation of words. We have to stop the war of words in order to prevent the outbreak of a real war.

What we would need in addition, are channels of dialogue which would prepare an exit strategy for both sides. With the annexation of the Crimea and the support for separatists in Eastern Ukraine and by thus violating the Minsk agreement, it will be difficult. Both sides do not want to be seen as week and compromising too early. But a Helsinki II process to give the whole Europe a new security structure would be necessary. A courageous reset in the relations between the EU and Russia will be vital for peace in Europe. And to be honest it would include a stop of NATO enlargement, should not include a stop to EU enlargement and must include a new all- European security structure. This cannot be done without the USA.

But it will be vey difficult to agree on the neutrality for Moldavia, Georgia and especially Ukraine. The leading politicians in these countries will argue, that only NATO would protect them against Russian intervention. And of course for the USA even if they are not eager to extend NATO into this conflicting zone, they never like neutrality. And if Russia would take that initiative it would be met with much resistance and skepticism. And if we can find an agreement in Europe is at least at the moment doubtful. But the initiative must come from the European Union. And Austria and several institutions like this can be helpful to keep the dialogue going. It is in anyway better than war and also better than economic and political sanctions.

One possibility to take steps towards an agreement is of course to think about a renovation and reconstruction of the OSCE. Here we have European Union countries and other European countries, Russia and the USA and others together and a sincere dialogue would all of them give the possibility to bring in their ideas. The OSCE now as a platform and in future as a reconstructed and strengthened security organization could be the way out of the present stalemate.

Yalta – Helsinki – and now?

Next year, 2015, we will remember speciall  the Yalta Conference of 1945 and the Helsinki Conference of 1975. Both were historic events in reconstructing the political and security landscape of Europe. The one helped to overcome the war started by Nazi Germany, the other confirmed national sovereignty but added the necessity to respect the different human rights as basis for European security. Commemorating these two historic events is not enough. We need a new event which would again bring a new and comprehensive security structure not based on division, confirming the Helsinki principles but finding a new consensus between EU, USA and Russia.

DI11. November 2014

Israel’s One-State Reality

MO10. November 2014

Building Berlin’s Wall helped avoid a nuclear confrontation

FR03. Oktober 2014

How America Helped ISIS

How America Helped ISIS

By ANDREW THOMPSON and JEREMI SURIOCT. 1, 2014

Austin, Texas — The Islamic State terrorists who have emerged in Iraq and Syria are neither new nor unfamiliar. Many of them spent years in detention centers run by the United States and its coalition partners in Iraq after 2003. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, spent nearly five years imprisoned at Camp Bucca in southern Iraq. A majority of the other top Islamic State leaders were also former prisoners, including: Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, Abu Louay, Abu Kassem, Abu Jurnas, Abu Shema and Abu Suja.
Before their detention, Mr. al-Baghdadi and others were violent radicals, intent on attacking America. Their time in prison deepened their extremism and gave them opportunities to broaden their following. At Camp Bucca, for example, the most radical figures were held alongside less threatening individuals, some of whom were not guilty of any violent crime. Coalition prisons became recruitment centers and training grounds for the terrorists the United States is now fighting.
This process began when coalition forces arrived in Iraq in 2003 and detained alleged terrorists with little preparation or oversight. Although soldiers tried to document the circumstances behind the detentions of Iraqis and foreign fighters, the process broke down under the pressure of fighting, the shortage of trained Arabic speakers, and the fog of war.
Simply being a “suspicious looking” military-aged male in the vicinity of an attack was enough to land one behind bars. There were 26,000 detainees at the height of the war, and over 100,000 individuals passed through the gates of Camps Bucca, Cropper and Taji. Quite a few were dangerous insurgents; many others were innocent.
Small-time criminals, violent terrorists and unknown personalities were separated only along sectarian lines. This provided a space for extremists to spread their message. The detainees who rejected the radicals in their cells faced retribution from other prisoners through “Shariah courts” that infested the facilities.
The radicalization of the prison population was evident to anyone who paid attention. Unfortunately, few military leaders did.
At Camp Bucca, the extremists forced moderate detainees to listen to clerics who advocated jihad. The majority of prisoners were illiterate, so they were particularly susceptible. Prisoners frequently refused medical attention and vocational training for fear of breaking religious rules. The prisons became virtual terrorist universities: The hardened radicals were the professors, the other detainees were the students, and the prison authorities played the role of absent custodian.
Policies changed in 2007, as American military leaders began placing more emphasis on understanding the detainee population. Where possible, the military tried to separate hard-line terrorists from moderates. Prisoners gained more access to programs that taught vocational skills, literacy and a moderate version of Islam.
Some of these reforms worked, but the damage had already been done. The terrorists had four years to network, recruit and impose their extreme version of Islam on thousands of detainees.
One of us served at Camp Cropper in 2009 as a compound intelligence liaison officer with the tasks of collecting information on detainees and disrupting extremist activity. Fulfilling the first priority was relatively easy; the second was nearly impossible.
The compound’s “emirs” controlled the prison population. Detainees, for example, refused to watch television or play ping-pong, lest they face the judgment of the Shariah courts. Moderate detainees suffered repeated physical assaults from radicals. When they fought back, they were punished by the prison authorities.
Insurgents with damning evidence against them were released because of the incompetence of the Iraqi court system and America’s refusal to share classified evidence. Efforts at expediency drove both policies, and the mistakes compounded one another.
By December 2009, only a few thousand detainees remained in the prisons and Camp Bucca was closed. Although American soldiers, backed by intelligence agencies, tried to identify the most threatening detainees, that effort was doomed to failure. Poor record-keeping, limited language skills, detainee obfuscation and the pressure to cut costs prohibited the effective evaluation of prisoners.
The most extreme radicals were never slated for release. A number of them had already been sentenced to death and were awaiting transfer to the Iraqi justice system. But after the United States withdrew, these prisoners found themselves in Iraqi custody. The Islamic State made a priority of freeing these extremists as they conquered large parts of Iraq this past summer. With a new lease on life, these former prisoners are now some of the Islamic States’ most dedicated fighters.
The United States should keep this lesson in mind as it begins another counterterrorism campaign in Iraq and Syria. Large detention facilities only create the seeds for further radicalization and violence. There is strong evidence that the prisons run by the Iraqi and Syrian governments have already had this effect.
The United States must convince its regional partners to avoid mixing radicals and moderates, and provide alternatives to prison for small-scale criminals. If we continue to replay the history of mass incarceration in the Middle East, we will remain stuck in the current cycle where our counterterrorism efforts create more terrorists.

Andrew Thompson,a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, served for eight years in the United States military.Jeremi Suri, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, is the author of “Liberty’s Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from the Founders to Obama.”

A version of this op-ed appears in print on October 2, 2014, in The International New York Times.

FR22. August 2014

The Middle East’s Three Timelines

BERLIN – Three distinct timelines are shaping developments in the Middle East: the short-term timeline of daily struggles and politics; the medium-term timeline of geopolitical shifts, which is measured in decades; and the long-term timeline of sociocultural transformation, or what the historian Fernand Braudel called the longue durée. Understanding each is essential to craft an effective strategy in the region.

The first timeline certainly receives the most attention. The media report relentlessly on the latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas; recent negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program; ongoing opposition activity and political repression in Egypt and Bahrain; and the slaughter and humanitarian tragedies unfolding in Syria and Iraq.

But political thinking in the Middle East is often linked to the second timeline. Indeed, it is impossible to grasp the region’s contemporary history and politics without understanding the emergence of the regional state system after World War I and the demise of the Ottoman Empire.

For example, there are the constant reminders that external powers – most notably, the United Kingdom and France – established the existing borders. Resistance against the so-called Sykes-Picot order nurtured the founding myths of many states and political movements in the region.

That order has remained largely intact for almost a century, enabling the emergence of separate, though not necessarily exclusive, political identities in Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and, to varying degrees, in Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries. It has dictated the political parameters for 4-5 generations in the Arab world, including today’s main protagonists, who have battled over it, adapted to it, and attempted to manipulate it.

But the system may finally be unraveling. The border between Iraq and Syria is evaporating, as the Sunni militants of the Islamic State capture a widening swath of territory. And the rise of Kurdish military forces against them raises the possibility that a full-fledged Kurdish state will eventually emerge.

Meanwhile, the tenuous status quo in Israel and Palestine is crumbling. With a two-state solution less likely than ever, the area is likely to experience the creeping consolidation of a one-state reality.

In the Persian Gulf, ongoing international negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program are but the latest chapter in a struggle over strategic hegemony, security, and economic interests. And, though the world’s appetite for energy resources from the Gulf will not diminish anytime soon, the structure of influence may be set to change again.

When it comes to external power brokers, the United States plays the largest role, having replaced Great Britain by the 1970s. It now must learn to cope with the growing influence of India and China, as well.

But it is the leading regional powers – Iran and Saudi Arabia – that have the greatest potential to transform the Middle East. The question is whether they will continue their competition for regional dominance, regardless of its destabilizing impact, or become pillars of a new regional security structure.

Such a structure has become all the more important as the major external powers’ appetite for sustained involvement in Middle Eastern conflicts wanes. Having learned the hard way that they cannot dictate regional political outcomes, Western powers – as well as Russia, China, and India – will likely limit their involvement to protecting their direct interests and, if necessary, containing regional threats.

Wherever the political and socioeconomic conditions of the short- and medium-term timelines fail to provide order and stability, the confessional, ethnic, or tribal identities that emerged over the longue durée gain prominence. The extent to which identities are invented matters little, as long as their invocation helps to appropriate elements of history and harness them to current political goals.

Episodes from this timeline thus become as relevant as recent events. The conflict over the succession of religious leadership following the death of the Prophet Muhammad nearly 1,400 years ago is the origin of the split between Sunni and Shia Islam. The battles between the Fatimids and the Abbasids, the Crusades, the Mongol invasion, the Ottoman conquest, and, of course, Western imperialism all serve as points of reference for today’s struggles.

But these events provide more than explanation; they often provoke powerful responses. Consider the Islamic State’s recent declaration of a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria. Most Sunnis are outraged by the brutal behavior of the Islamic State’s self-appointed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and consider his claim that he will eventually “conquer Rome” ridiculous.

Nonetheless, the symbols and “memories” from the longue durée that Baghdadi uses – such as the black flag of the Abbasids and the glorious stories of a time when the caliphate constituted a great power and a lodestar for all Sunnis – have an enduring impact. Of course, these ideas would amount to little were they not backed by modern weaponry, and had the countries whose territory the Islamic State is seizing not failed to create inclusive social contracts. But they imbue the Islamic State’s project with a powerful historical narrative that cannot be dismissed.

Navigating this narrative can be tricky for external actors. They must neither ignore the longue durée nor believe misleading claims that the struggle is really over the legitimacy of opposing interpretations of the faith.

More generally, these actors’ actions in the region must never be shaped by the delusion that the Sunnis, Shia, or any other ethnic or religious minority is on their side. One lesson common to all of the Middle Eastern timelines is that all local actors are on their own side – and more than willing to draw foreigners into their wars if doing so fortifies them against their enemies.

DO21. August 2014

Enough Hate for Everyone

Muslims and Jews Are Targets of Bigotry in Europe

Love hateLONDON — A few years ago, I was a guest on “Start the Week,” a BBC radio discussion show. Among the other guests was the novelist Eva Figes, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany and a fierce critic of Israel. Israel, she suggested, would have built gas chambers to exterminate the Palestinians but for the fear it would “be found out.”

What astonished me was not simply Ms. Figes’s comment itself, but the fact that I was the only one who challenged her on it. The other guests may well have felt that a Holocaust survivor had some special license to speak harshly about Israel; I certainly don’t see them as anti-Semitic. But in suggesting without a speck of evidence that Israelis had a desire to build gas chambers, Ms. Figes had, for me, given the history of the Holocaust, crossed a line.

What the incident revealed was that many anti-Semitic ideas have become such an acceptable part of the liberal view on Israel that they are barely seen as such anymore. They have become almost invisible.

I was reminded of that discussion as the question of anti-Semitism has returned to Europe — often disguised as anger against Israel’s assault on Gaza. Synagogues have been attacked, Jewish-owned shops smashed, Jews beaten up. At pro-Palestinian demonstrations in London, placards comparing Israelis to Nazis have become common. There have even, reportedly, been chants of “gas the Jews” at demonstrations in Germany.

Today’s anti-Semitism in Europe is more than a replay of old themes; it is also the product of new developments. One is the growth of Muslim communities, or rather, their transformation.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Muslim communities in Europe were broadly secular. Since the late ’80s, though, secular movements have been marginalized, while religious fervor has grown. Support for the Palestinian cause has always been strong, but only recently has a fervent anti-Semitism become entrenched.

It might be convenient for some to simply blame the growth of reactionary tendencies within Muslim communities for the new anti-Semitism, but the truth is more complicated. A 2008 survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project showed that hostility to Jews had increased in most European nations.

In Britain, Muslims make up 4.6 percent of the population; in France, 7.5 percent. The proportion of people who possessed unfavorable views of Jews in those countries was, respectively, 9 percent and 20 percent. But in Spain, where just 2.3 percent of the population is Muslim, almost half the population was ill disposed toward Jews, a figure that had more than doubled in three years. In Poland, there are just 20,000 Muslims, or about 0.1 percent of the population; more than a third of Poles held anti-Semitic views.

In other words, there is no clear correlation in Europe between the level of popular anti-Semitism and the size of the Muslim population. In fact, it is in those countries with fewer Muslims that anti-Semitism seems most prevalent.

One explanation for this is that many of the drivers of change within Muslim communities that have paved the way for greater hostility toward Jews have had an equally corrosive effect on public opinion at large. The rise of identity politics has helped create a more fragmented, tribal society, and made sectarian hatred more acceptable generally.

At the same time, the emergence of “anti-politics,” the growing contempt for mainstream politics and politicians noticeable throughout Europe, has laid the groundwork for a melding of radicalism and bigotry. Many perceive a world out of control and driven by malign forces; conspiracy theories, once confined to the fringes of politics, have become mainstream.

Anti-Semitism has become a catchall sentiment for many different groups of angry people. The distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism has eroded, as many see Israeli action in terms of grand conspiracies. Thus someone can imagine that Israel would build gas chambers on the West Bank if it could get away with it.

Perhaps in no country are the corrosive effects more visible than in France. And perhaps no figure better represents the character of the new anti-Semitism than the stand-up comic Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala, notorious for popularizing the “quenelle,” a hand gesture that, for some, is an expression of hatred for the system, and for others, an anti-Semitic taunt. In reality, it is both: Dieudonné’s popularity shows how inchoate anger against “the system” and anti-Semitic sentiment can all too easily become fused, and his success rests on his ability to blur the two.

But Jews are not the only object of this free-floating rage. The Pew survey showed not just that anti-Semitism had increased throughout Europe, but also that the “publics that view Jews unfavorably also tend to see Muslims in a negative light.” The fusion of xenophobia, conspiracy theory, identity politics and anti-politics that has nurtured the new anti-Semitism has also cultivated hostility to Muslims. The Pew report found that in every country surveyed, “Opinions about Muslims in almost all of these countries are considerably more negative than are views of Jews.”

Against this background, what is troubling is that many who rightly challenge anti-Semitism do so in a way that fuels anti-Muslim prejudice. Many commentators talk of anti-Semitism as an almost wholly Muslim problem, and have used the growth of anti-Semitism to question the wisdom of allowing Muslim immigration to Europe. Others suggest that Muslim support for Palestine shows that Muslims cannot be truly integrated into Western societies.

Such arguments only entrench further hostility toward “the other,” and so inflame not just anti-Muslim but anti-Jewish sentiment, too. Israel’s action in Gaza should not be a moral shield for complaisance with anti-Semitism in Europe. But neither should anti-Semitism be a moral shield for the justification of anti-Muslim prejudices. Bigots on both sides need to be held to account.

Kenan Malik, a writer, lecturer and broadcaster, is the author, most recently, of “The Quest for a Moral Compass: A Global History of Ethic

MO06. Juni 2011

Why the Jewish state now?

RAEF ZREIK

Israel’s raison d’être was as a Jewish state, yet for almost four decades
after the 1948 declaration of its establishment its Jewishness was not inscribed in any law. This essay, a structural-historical discourse analysis, seeks to explore what led up to today’s insistent assertion of the state’s Jewish identity. To this end, the author traces Israel’s gradual evolution from its purely ethnic roots (the Zionist revolution) to a more civic concept of statehood involving greater inclusiveness (accompanied in recent decades by a rise in Jewish religious discourse). The author finds that while the state’s Jewishness was for decades an assumption so basic as to be self-evident to the Jewish majority, the need to declare it became more urgent as the possibility of becoming “normalized” (i.e., a state for all its citizens) became an option, however distant. The essay ends with an analysis of Israel’s demand for recognition as a Jewish state, arguing why the Palestinian negotiators would benefit from deconstructing it rather than simply disregarding it.


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