“New public opinion surveys conducted among ‘opinion elites’ in Europe show that support for the Palestinians has fallen precipitously,” according to a fascinating report in the Jerusalem Post. The surveys, conducted by Stanley Greenberg, an American Democrat who has also worked for Israel’s former prime minister Ehud Barak, found that attitudes had changed most dramatically in France:
Three years ago, 60 percent of French respondents said they took a side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and of that 60%, four out of five backed the Palestinians. Today, by contrast, 60% of French respondents did not take a side in the conflict, and support for the Palestinians had dropped by half among those who did express a preference.
If we read this correctly, French support for the Palestinians has declined to 16% from 48%, while support for Israel has increased to 24% from 12%. Here’s the pollster’s explanation:
At the root of the change, said Greenberg, was a fundamental remaking in Europe of the “framework” through which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is viewed.
Three years ago, he said, the conflict was perceived “in a post-colonial framework.”
There was a sense “that Europe could cancel out its own colonial history by taking the ‘right’ side”–the Palestinian side. Yasser Arafat was viewed as “an anti-colonial, liberation leader.” The US was seen as a global imperial power, added Greenberg, and the fact that it was backing Israel only added to the “instinctive” sense of the Palestinians as victims.
France, with the largest Muslim population–moreover an entirely Arab Muslim population–with the direct experience of Algeria and the most anti-US positions, was most prey to this mindset.
Today, by contrast, the Europeans “are focused on fundamentalist Islam and its impact on them,” he said. The Europeans were now asking themselves “who is the moderate in this conflict, and who is the extremist? And suddenly it is the Palestinians who may be the extremists, or who are allied with extremists who threaten Europe’s own society.”
An increasing proportion of Europeans are concluding that “maybe the Palestinians are not the colonialist victims” after all.
If Greenberg’s analysis is right, it underscores a crucial contrast between America and Europe. Americans overwhelmingly support Israel, in substantial part because it reminds us of ourselves: Like America, Israel is a nation of immigrants, many of whom fled persecution or discrimination in their native lands, and who beat the odds to build a thriving, dynamic, democratic country. Americans also wish the Palestinian Arabs well, and we believe that if they behave like civilized human beings–granted, a big “if” based on evidence to this point–they can also build a thriving, dynamic, democratic country.
Europeans, by contrast, have long scorned Israel because it reminds them of themselves: of their own guilt over colonialism, as Greenberg says (and, one might add, over their abhorrent treatment of European Jews). But increasingly they are scorning the Palestinians because guilt is giving way to fear: Israel’s adversaries remind Europeans of their own unassimilated Muslim populations.
To put this more pithily, America’s approach to the Middle East is based on self-confidence, while Europe’s is based on self-loathing. America not only is a true friend of Israel but a truer friend of the Palestinians than are the Europeans.