Nineteen years ago today, America came under attack from an enemy most of its citizens had never heard of. To Israelis, and to Americans who followed events in Israel closely, it seemed that the United States had joined a reality that the Jewish state knew all too well—especially since the second intifada was then at its bloody height. Two years later, Yossi Klein Halevi observed that the jihadist war on the two countries had, paradoxically, brought out much hostility toward both Israel and the U.S. among Europeans. He reflected in this essay, first published in 2004, on the common roots of anti-Americanism and anti-Israelism—and the latter’s corollary, anti-Semitism:
A recurring motif of European anti-Americanism, already evident in the 19th century, is the notion of a uniquely American hypocrisy. Once America spoke in the name of freedom yet permitted slavery; now America speaks in the name of democracy yet ignores human rights. . . . According to this view, hypocritical America pretends to be a victim, yet is in fact a victimizer. Similar notions of Israel as a victimizer masquerading as a victim are routine in European discourse on the Middle East. In the demonizers’ political passion play, America and Israel assume the role of Pharisees, hypocrites who promise freedom and democracy but deliver the golden calf.
Last winter, I was in Rome just after the massive demonstration against American intervention in Iraq, which drew upwards of three million people. The atmosphere in the city was frightening in its political uniformity. Peace flags hung from seemingly every balcony. Nowhere did I see a sign, a sticker, expressing an alternative position. Instead, there was this graffiti: “Sharon-Bush-Blair: the real axis of evil.”
In citing Ariel Sharon and George Bush, rather than Yasir Arafat and Saddam Hussein, as symbols of evil—and note that Sharon appears first in this anti-trinity—Europeans are not merely opposing the foreign policies of America and Israel but demonizing them. The lack of relationship to objective reality in this political critique can be seen in the demonizers’ timing. Demonization of America intensified after it was attacked on its mainland for the first time since the War of 1812. Demonization of Israel intensified after it became the first country in history voluntarily to offer shared sovereignty over its capital.
More about: 9/11, anti-Americanism, Anti-Semitism