AS the 75th anniversary of the start of World War II approaches, this week the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Italy felt the need to issue a joint statement condemning anti-Semitic protests.
This followed some violent pro-Palestinian demonstrations in cities across western Europe, including Paris and Berlin.
The ministers — France’s Laurent Fabius, Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Italy’s Federica Mogherini — said that “anti-Semitic rhetoric and hostility against Jews, attacks on people of Jewish belief and synagogues have no place in our society”.
Both France and Germany have experienced long periods of anti-Semitism in their not too recent past.
Historically, anti-Semitism in Europe has been a product of the extreme Right. Now it has been taken up by the extreme Left. Not all opponents of Israel are anti-Semites but some are.
Of particular concern are the demonstrations in the primarily Jewish Paris suburb of Sarcelles. Footage shows that demonstrators, protesting against Israel’s military actions in Gaza, burned shops and cars and attempted to torch a synagogue. Protesters were heard chanting slogans such as “Death to the Jews”.
There have been demonstrations against Israel in some Australian cities, so far without bouts of violence. Here the elected politicians lending their support have come overwhelmingly from the Greens, including senator Lee Rhiannon, who studied at the International Lenin School in Moscow in the mid-1970s during the brutal Soviet Union dictatorship headed by Leonid Brezhnev. Anti-Semitism was rife in the Soviet Union during Brezhnev’s leadership.
It is understandable that Israel’s military action in Gaza will lead to protests in Western democracies and elsewhere, especially by persons of Arab background.
Reports indicate that about 650 Palestinians have died along with 30 Israelis in the current conflict. This is a serious death toll. Yet it is only a fraction of the dead in the civil war in Syria, where Shia Muslims are engaged in deadly battle with Sunni Muslims. Al Jazeera America reported this week that more people had been killed in Syria in two days this week than in the two-week-old Israel-Gaza conflict.
Recently on the streets of Sydney there was considerable tension when Sunni Australians objected to Shia Australians joining a protest on the Middle East.
The likes of Rhiannon and her NSW colleague David Shoebridge have been active in condemning what the latter calls “the brutality of Israel’s war” but relatively quiet on the killing field that is Syria, which includes indiscriminate attacks by the Assad regime directly aimed at the Sunni civilian populations. Rhiannon’s reluctance to condemn regime-initiated violence in Syria was evident as long ago as June 17, 2011, when she appeared on the ABC’s Q&A program. Asked by comedian Alex Gutman why she didn’t support all Arabs in Syria with the same intensity as she supported all Arabs in Gaza, Rhiannon avoided addressing the issue.
In a statement released on July 15, Rhiannon referred to Gaza as “the world’s largest open prison” and accused the Israel Defence Force of “war crimes”. The Greens senator added: “We don’t want rockets fired into Gaza or Israel but it has to be acknowledged that this is not a war between equals; Israel … is attempting to use military force to dominate the oppressed Palestinians.”
Any reasonable person who has spent time in Gaza and southern Israel will understand the superficiality of Rhiannon’s position. Gaza, previously part of Egypt, was occupied by Israel consequent upon the conclusion of the Six-Day War in 1967. In 2005 Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, dismantling Israeli settlements in the process. It was initially under the control of the Palestinian Authority, but under the terrorist entity Hamas in recent years terrorists have launched rocket attacks on southern Israel — including at towns such as Sderot, Be’er Sheva, Ashdod and Ashkelon.
In the present conflict Hamas has fired 2000 rockets at Israel, some of which landed near Ben Gurion Airport. All of this area is within the Green Line — that is, the state of Israel as established in 1948 with the support of the UN. None of it is in any sense “occupied territory”.
No democratic nation like Israel is likely to tolerate the indiscriminate firing of rockets that are aimed specifically at its citizens — Jewish and Arab alike. Hamas rockets do not, and cannot, target military or command and control sites. In addition, the IDF’s current Operation Protective Edge has unearthed sophisticated tunnels from Gaza into Israel. Hamas terrorists have used these tunnels to illegally enter Israel with intent to kill Israelis.
Until the IDF’s current military action in Gaza, Israeli authorities seemed unaware of the capacity and extent of Hamas tunnels. Just as the terrorist group’s rockets are located in schools and homes, Hamas tunnels and command and control centres appear to be situated beneath houses and the occasional hospital.
There is wide support within and outside Israel for a two-state solution to the conflict in the region; namely, a state of Israel and a state of Palestine.
The Palestinian Authority, based in Ramallah on the West Bank, appears to support this approach. But there is no sign that Hamas, which has recently rejoined the Palestinian Authority’s administration, accepts the right of Israel to exist within secure borders. Hence its attacks on Israel within the 1948 border.
There is an unpleasant double standard about the Left’s opposition to Israel, including its boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign.
The overwhelming majority of Muslims who die in the Middle East conflicts are being killed by other Muslims. Yet the focus of the demonstrators is on Arabs who are being killed by Israel acting to ensure that its citizens live without fear of rockets or terrorist attacks.
Meanwhile Jews in western Europe are facing anti-Semitic attacks unparalleled in the past seven decades. It is to be hoped that such violence does not spread to Australian cities.