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July 3, 2015 6:52 am

Europe’s Crisis Proves Israel is No ‘Anachronism’

avatar by Ben Cohen /

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European Union (EU) flags in front of the European Commission building. Photo: Amio Cajander via Wikimedia Commons.

European Union (EU) flags in front of the European Commission building. Photo: Amio Cajander via Wikimedia Commons. – Back in 2003, as some readers will recall all too clearly, the noted historian Tony Judt penned a searing critique of Israel in the New York Review of Books. Titled “Israel: The Alternative,” Judt, whose impressive scholarship was largely focused on Europe, depicted the Jewish state as a reactionary outpost of 19th century nationalism that bucked the trend elsewhere—exemplified most of all by the European Union (EU)—toward “individual rights, open frontiers, and international law.”

Judt’s argument struck a wide-ranging, resonant chord. Insofar as an article can be said to have gone viral during a year when most people were still accessing the Internet through dial-up, and “Twitter” and “Facebook” sounded like nonsense words, this one did. Its most memorable and damning line read as follows: “Israel, in short, is an anachronism.”

That line sounds ridiculous in 2015, but it was equally flawed in 2003. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein’s Nazi-like Ba’ath regime was battling for survival, the Taliban was wreaking havoc and terror in Afghanistan, and North Korea dumped the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In those countries, and in many others, “individual rights, open frontiers, and international law” might as well have been concepts from another planet.

Yet there was one important difference: Judt was writing at a time when the EU as an institution, along with its underlying post-nationalist political vision, was very much in the ascendant. One year after his article was published, the EU expanded its membership with 10 new states, from Central and Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. Then, in 2007, Romania and Bulgaria joined the roster. In 2013, Croatia entered in the EU, just 20 years after the devastating war in the Balkans which followed the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Most of all, the deepening and strengthening of the Union was exemplified by the adoption, and subsequent expansion, of the Euro single currency in 2002, which resulted in established currencies like the German Mark and the French Franc being consigned to the history books.

By 2009 and 2010, though, as profound economic crises hit Ireland and Greece, doubts about the Euro’s efficacy in a region composed of economies that were at dramatically different stages of development started to multiply. And now Greece, an EU veteran that first entered the Union in 1981, is experiencing the worst economic crisis on the continent during the post-war period. Whether the Greeks leave the Euro (“Grexit”) or find a way to stay inside the currency, they face years of mass unemployment and crippling debt.

So intense is the Greek crisis that Gideon Rachman, one of the leading columnists at the Financial Times, wrote this week about “the failure of a European dream of unity, peace and prosperity”—all those goals that Tony Judt said that Israel could never achieve, because of its obsessive clinging to Jewish nationalism.

As the BBC’s Katya Adler pointed out, the Greek crisis works on two levels: one, a complex dispute about debt rescheduling and the degree to which austerity measures should be imposed, and two, a far simpler contest that is rooted in politics. Competition between nation-states, and therefore nationalism itself, has returned to Europe with a vengeance. One has to wonder whether Tony Judt, who sadly passed away in 2010 following a devastating illness, would be describing the European idea as an “anachronism” were he still with us.

Of course, partisans of Europe’s grand unifying ambitions always had a tendency, for ideological reasons, to exaggerate the influence of this project upon European national politics. (In the early 1970s, the terrorist Irish Republican Army used a Judt-like argument when it sneered that Britain, in contrast to its European neighbors, was a “recidivist nation, psychologically vulnerable, unstable, and mentally immature.”) Even so, the case for Europe as the locus for what the Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant termed the “perpetual peace” now seems decidedly shaky.

We are seeing the disintegration everyday on the streets of Athens, Thessaloniki, and other Greek cities. The sight of pensioners jostling outside banks to withdraw their meager savings is one of the more distressing aspects of this entire episode. The Greek government, locked in a bitter fight with Germany over the 68 billion Euro it owes to Berlin, invokes not the European idea, but the heavily nationalist, anti-austerity political platform which its far left Syriza government was elected on.

That’s why Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called on his fellow citizens to vote “no” in the referendum over whether to accept the EU’s punishing conditions for a fiscal rescue operation. It’s also why the violently anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party, which finished third in the last Greek election, backed Tsipras. For too many Greeks, the EU is no longer a symbol of wealth secured through regional integration, but—in the words of Tsipras himself—the originator of “absurd” and “unrealistic” proposals that will leave his country at the mercy of Europe’s Central Bank.

It is far too early to say whether Greece will reverse the course of European history by reviving the ugly political traditions that the EU thought had been vanquished after World War II. But with the collapse of the European idea there, along with the severe disillusionment in other EU states (the U.K. will soon hold its own referendum on whether to leave the Union), there is every reason to worry that both the far left and the far right will reap the rewards that will flow from Europe’s shattered consensus.

In such conditions, anti-Semitism flourishes. In his recent book, “The War of a Million Cuts,” the Israeli political analyst Manfred Gerstenfeld quotes a rabbi in Greece as telling him, “Greece is a very traditional society, and they blame the Jews for killing Jesus. There are still people who believe that Jews drink the blood of Christians on Passover.” A just-released poll from the Anti-Defamation League reveals that a whopping 67 percent of Greeks “harbor anti-Semitic attitudes.”

Greece is not alone. Similar discontent, expressed through communal chauvinism and exclusivist nationalism, is visible in the east and west of the continent, from France to Poland. Rachman, theFinancial Times columnist, candidly expresses the stakes involved. If Greece departs the Euro, he argues, that would “undermine the fundamental EU proposition: that joining the European club is the best guarantee of future prosperity and stability.”

Again, I don’t want to sound apocalyptic. This isn’t 1933, when Hitler came to power, nor (in a date that will be more familiar to U.S. readers) is it 1861, when the slave states seceded from America’s Union, ushering in four years of civil war. Nor is Europe’s crisis a Jewish crisis, though you can be sure that the “blame the Jews” chorus that invariably accompanies financial meltdown will grow louder. Hence, if Europe has proved anything, it’s not that Israel is an anachronism. It is, rather, a necessity.

Ben Cohen, senior editor of & The Tower Magazine, writes a weekly column for on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. He is the author of “Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism” (Edition Critic, 2014).

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  • Yoel Nitzarim

    I find the basic premise upon which this essay has been conceived somewhat misguided. The true focus, drawing point, wellspring, source, and élan vital of the modern State of Israel as the Jewish homeland is and should be world Jewry. Having lived in Israel for some six years of my almost sixty-six, I have learned that Israel is not a European conception, not a European haven, not a European phenomenon, but rather a worldwide magnet for the Jewish people. Interestingly, I have had my DNA tested for my roots as a kohen. My particular strand originated not in Europe, but in the Middle East, not some 2000 years ago, but probably closer to three-four thousand years ago. This finding startled me at first because it appeared according to the simplest indicators shared with fellow kohens on 12 strands of the Y-chrmosome that I would have probably had my beginnings with those Jews somewhere in Israel who migrated to Russia. My paternal great-grandfather, my namesake was named Yoel, meaning “G-d wills.” Logically then I derived that my birth must have been willed–as is every human being’s–accordingly. It turns out that the latter point is the crux of the issue. My Ashkenazic ancestry is but the most recent attribution to a most ancient Asian ancestor or prototype, therefore my family name, “Nitzarim,” which means descendants. Notably, it has recently been discovered that possibly humankind began in the land of Israel, not thousands of years ago, but about 400,000 years ago! So is Europe the epicentre of existence for the modern State of Israel and the essence of its culture? I think not.

  • The Europeans ,will always “Blame the Jews,”for their financial difficulty’s . Read my book
    “The 4th of May” By Paul Galy OAM.

  • Isaac Brajtman

    Lets organise an international competition, giving the winner a free trip to Israel.
    Pretend Israel no longer exists and there are no Jews in the world.
    Who will they blame for virtually everything that goes wrong in the world and what will the UNO do all day with no Jews or Israel to blame.
    The winner will have to explain who and why they have chosen whoever they do choose

  • Tony Judt’s ridiculous take on Israel as a “colonial power” was yet another neo-Marxist trope that is stupid, fallacious and totally devoid of factual or historical foundation. As for Greek antisemitism, it is fostered by the backward Greek Orthodox church that has not reformed itself in the way that Roman Catholicism has and still has a large following in the Arab countries and Russia, all of them deeply antisemitic.

  • Algemeiner is an excellent publication. The Editor (or Webmaster) should attend to these two nagging issues:

    1. “2 Comments” are listed on top of this article. Yet, clicking on the link leads nowhere.
    2. Several other referenced articles (“Morocco Director in Israel”, “Jay Leno in Jerusalem”, etc.) have also links that nevr lead anywhere.

    Please give some thought to the above.

  • anon

    The EU was formed in response to US hegemony. It was formed to be “against” the US.

    This is just another ridiculous argument vilifying Israel for doing what every other country in the world does. Japan is for the Japanese, France is for the French (EU aside). About as stupid as pinkwashing.

    Who said there are 3 standards. Impossibly low for 3rd world countries including Arabs. Average for the US, Europe, etc. And incredibly high for Israel.

  • brenrod

    in any case the Jews should get out of europe as it will doubless be involved in decades of civil strife with the muslims. I cant see why any jews stayed there after the shoah. Of course jews will be blamed but they have places to where they should now be going.

  • Tony Judt accused Israel for being an “anachronism.”

    Yet amazingly, nobody (including Tony Judt) ever criticizes Arab nationalism as an “anachronism,” even though Arabs and Muslims are primitive compared to Israel.

    So Jews who live in the 21st century are anachronisms, but not Arab Muslims who live in the 7th century.

    This is just another anti-Jewish double-standard that condemns Jews, while not aiming the smallest drop of criticism at those who seek to destroy Israel and Jews.

    PS: Check our these pro-Israel articles from Aish HaTorah: