Europe and Israel – an insider’s view

In a discussion with Fiamma Nirenstein, the former senior Italian parliamentarian refuses to be discouraged about the chances for Israeli advocacy among Europeans.

Fiamma Nirenstein, author, journalist, senior columnist, former member of Italian parliament and deputy head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Italian parliament, made aliyah to Israel during the past year and today, resides in Jerusalem. In the course of a conversation with Nadia Matar, who heads the Women in Green movement together with Yehudit Katsover, she analyzed the complex European reality and Europe’s relationship with the Jewish People in general and with the State of Israel in particular.

Nirenstein, who, in 2011, chaired the International Council of Jewish Parliamentarians and was named by the Jerusalem Post as one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world, characterizes Europe’s relationship with the Jewish People as “a combination of love and darkness.” She points to Europe as the cradle of Zionism.

“Zionism itself was born in Europe. It is one of many nationalist movements that were born in Europe, like that of the Italians and the Germans. Zionism was not born with the Holocaust, as many claim. The Jews had a nationalist movement just like every other nation. For me, this fact is very important. From 1922 until receiving recognition in the UN, we also had strong support in Europe.”


There is truth and there is falsehood

These days, Nirenstein has been drafting a paper by the title “Against the Narrative – The True History of Israel” in which she bemoans the reality where the Arabs’ false narrative is gaining momentum while fewer and fewer people in the world are aware that the Land belongs to the Jewish People. “There is no narrative. There is truth and there is falsehood. The truth is written in the Tanach (the Jewish Bible), in Tacitus, in Joseph Flavius’ book, in so many Christian and Muslim texts – they all testify to the Jews’ existence in Israel. This is irrefutable.”
On the other hand, there is “anti-Semitism, which was always there, even before the terrifying experience of the Holocaust. Nowadays,” she explains, “European anti-Semitism is very much built as Israelophobia, which came to be the most important element of all the anti-Semite movement. Europe is unable to fight this new anti-Semitism, or unwilling to do it, because Israel is difficult for the old continent to understand; the EU has been built on the fear of nationalism and wars as a psychological outcome of its history.”

“Nationalism brought about the First and Second World Wars; German nationalism gave birth to the monster that attempted to conquer all of Europe. Nationalism changed from a component of identity into a brutal and aggressive movement. So what happened as a result? Europe constructed itself as a place that is multi-national, anti-identity, anti-religious, anti-nationalist and most important, anti-war. When Europe sees a rifle or a bomb, it is alarmed. It cannot tolerate this. On the other hand, Israel is the total opposite. Israel is a country that is always searching for elements of identity, culture and religion. In Israel there is a sense of community, of internal solidarity. Also, whether it wants it or not, Israel is a country at war. Its sons must serve in the army for three years. Sometimes they are killed. Sometimes they must kill. Europe does not understand that, in Israel, there is the same cultural aversion to killing and murder. Not only this; Israel sanctifies life more than any other country. When Israelis must rescue one child they will do anything for him. We saw – in the case of Gilad Shalit – that Israel released more than one thousand murderers and terrorists for one (Israeli) hostage. Sometimes this is even reasonable. This testifies to the love of life. Europe does not understand this. Europe sees only that there are exchanges of gunfire.”

Another historical fact connected with Israeli-European relations is the fact that “Israel was on the other side during the Cold War. In the Cold War the world was considered to be divided into two parts – on one side was the oppressor, the capitalist, the imperialist, while on the other side was the underdog, the poor, the conquered. Israel was seen as a good friend of the most imperialist state – the United States. People do not remember the other side – that the Soviet Union was good friends with the totalitarian, fascist states that oppressed their citizens and silenced anyone who did not agree with them. People do not think about this. The world was divided in two from their point of view, and Israel was on the wrong side of the equation. This is one side. When I say ‘a story of love and darkness’ – this is the darkness.”


There are also islands of sympathy. They are there. Search for them and expand them.

When Fiamma Nirenstein goes on to the second phase, the love phase, she says something surprising that most Israelis are not aware of. “The other side is love. As part of my position in the Italian parliament, I put forth many initiatives – parliamentary initiatives and individuals’ initiatives. It was wonderful to see how it is possible to find millions of people who have a lot of love and admiration for Israel.”

Fiamma takes out a flyer in which there is a photograph of the Italian parliament building with many Israeli flags. “This photograph,” she says, “was taken during the Cast Lead Operation. There were so many events then, the Durban Conference, the Goldstein report, turning Israel into a criminal and more. We held a huge demonstration and thousands of people from throughout Europe came, including France and Spain, and among them were many from the Left. It seems that the Left also loves Israel. You just have to know where to look.”

“I call these ‘islands of sympathy’ – for example, scientists, military and security personnel, hi-tech people, artists from the world of theater and music and many business people. You can find a lot of admiration. Europe longs for a sense of unity and identity that Israel’s young people have. Europe no longer has this.”

Europe is also aware of the persecution faced by various minorities in the Muslim world and sees Israel as a haven for them. “In every place around Israel, in the entire Muslim world, jihad is the true flag after the era of Arab nationalism. Arab nationalism is dead. Now, jihad is the new ideology. And within jihad there is much persecution. Persecution of Christians, of women, of children and other minorities. I always thought that there must be a campaign to help girls between the ages of 10 to 12 who are forced to marry grown men. I have tried – I was an adviser to the European Council on Violence against Children. I tried to raise the issue, but this subject, it seems, is taboo; one can’t talk about it.”

Nirenstein even calls on the Pope, who is expected to visit Israel in the near future, for support. “I hope that he will say a few words about the fact that Israel is the only state that protects the Christians within her territory. I am glad that at least a few Christians have begun to understand this.”

With sober vision that does not ignore reality Nirenstein states that the islands of sympathy that she speaks about are becoming increasingly common within the European ocean. Nevertheless she clarifies that “it is not that if you tell those Israel-lovers that the Palestinians don’t really have a right to a sovereign state that they will recognize this or agree. They know the Israelis are connected to Jerusalem. And despite this, when the Palestinian question is discussed, things are not so clear to them and at this point I do not believe that it is possible to come to an agreement with them about anything other than the idea of two states for two peoples.”


The Europeans are convinced of the lie that a Palestinian state existed in the past

Nirenstein emphasizes that for the Europeans there is no European narrative other than the political plan that the Europeans are capable of considering. “It is, perhaps, crazy, but most of the Europeans are convinced that you conquered an existing Palestinian state. They simply don’t know that this territory was part of Jordan and not under any sovereignty. I know that from the legal-international point of view these territories are not illegally occupied.”

At this point, the conversation turns to the report issued by Judge Edmund Levy, O.B.M., in which it is established that this territory had never been under any sovereignty. Nirenstein comments. “Today these territories are disputed territories. Therefore I think that it is not right or ethical that Europeans define the Green Line as a final border. They should not define this as a guideline. By doing this, they distort the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians and give the Palestinians the sense that they can get whatever they want.”

Nirenstein has sharp criticism for the Palestinian rejection of Israel’s generous suggestions over the years. “I am aware of the claims that Israel has already offered everything and the Palestinians still refused. The fact that they refused is a scandal, a political and intellectual scandal. They refuse to recognize the Jewish State as the state of the Jewish People. This means that they do not recognize the right of the Jews to be here as a nation, perhaps just the reality that the Jews are here. They recognize that there is an entity here called Israel, but tomorrow another entity might be here. When they say ‘we have already recognized the State’ that is not correct. Even if they have recognized something, what have they recognized? They recognize their ‘Nakba’. That’s what they recognize. They refuse to recognize the State.”

According to Nirenstein, Europe is at the height of a deep economic and social crisis. “On this continent countries have fought each other constantly, and suddenly they are living together. It’s different from the United States – there too, there was a war, a war of principles. In Europe it was a war of conquest between nations. France, Spain, Germany – they hate each other. They had empires. Italy was divided into small parts among France, Austria and Spain. It’s a whole puzzle. Also, the euro has not proven itself and great gaps have been created between countries. Still, we must not forget that Europe is the place where all of philosophy, history, culture and art developed. I am from Florence and when I think about Europe I think about the Medici who were the patrons of Michelangelo, Donatello and others. History will need more than a few drunks to ruin it.”


There are many reasons for European anti-Semitism, but the main one is envy.

“And what about European Islamization?” asks Nadia Matar.

Nirenstein responds, “Europe has a serious problem. There are places in Europe where the most common name is Mohammad. There are places in Sweden where the Jews have had to flee because they could no longer live there. In France the anti-Semitism is terrible; Jews are attacked in the street. One can’t wear a kippa (yarmulke); you can’t wear a Star of David. Even in Italy, where I was head of the Committee to Investigate anti-Semitism, we found that approximately 46 percent of the population feels no affinity toward the Jews. This is a very serious problem. The worst thing is that in countries such as Hungary and Greece, openly anti-Semitic parties have become part of the government.”

The reasons for this anti-Semitism come, it seems, from almost all possible directions. “It comes from everywhere, from the Right and from the Left, from both sides,” says Nirenstein and expounds. “It comes from the idea that Jews are capitalists, from the idea that Jews are the underdog that ruins bourgeois society. It comes from those who believe that the Jews are too nationalistic and from those who believe that the Jews ruin nationalistic feeling. Principally, it comes from envy. I see it as envy for the only people that remains after 4,000 years, that outlived so many other peoples. Envy for the fact that we brought to the world its most important innovation – monotheism. We invented democracy, because when you believe in one god then you don’t believe in a king as a god. You believe that man is created in the image of G-d. This principle creates envy among them.”

To all of these, she adds the statement that the Jews have won the battle against traditional anti-Semitism. “You will not find any educated person who would say, ‘I am anti-Semitic.’ On the other hand, if you just mention Israel they will say terrible things, false things. They will say that there has been ethnic cleansing in Israel since 1948 and so forth.”

“So anti-Zionism is the new anti-Semitism?” asks Matar.

Nirenstein is doubtful regarding this harsh definition. “I don’t call it that. I call it ‘Israelophobia’.

Nevertheless, Nirenstein does not despair. She is convinced that proper investment in those islands of sympathy will yield fruit in the long term.


Come to Israel

She summarizes her main message to European Jews in three words, “Come to Israel!” And by way of illustration she adds a personal note. “I did not come here because of personal persecution. I was a very proud and happy Jew in Europe. I wrote 12 books, I was a member of parliament. I could have remained there. I am here and want to be here. There is nothing better than here.”

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About the Author
Fiamma Nirenstein is a journalist, author, former Deputy President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and member of the Italian delegation at the Council of Europe.