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Our New European Friends
Last uploaded : Sunday 23rd Feb 2003 at 20:16
Contributed by : The Jerusalem Post



The emergence of a "new Europe" resolute against terrorism and opposed to the appeasement instincts of the "old Europe" was reinforced by what didn't happen last weekend in the former Soviet bloc. While millions of Western Europeans demonstrated against uprooting the genocidal regime of Saddam Hussein, the streets of Eastern Europe's capitals were resoundingly silent. The message of that silence was that Eastern Europe, unlike much of Western Europe, understands the difference between those who would destroy civilization and those who would defend it.

The new continental divide has reversed the Cold War-era notions of "good" Europe and "bad" Europe. In the post-Soviet era, when the threat of messianic totalitarianism emanates not from communism but from Islamist fascism, the former Soviet satellites have emerged as the counterweight to that part of Europe caught by fear and delusion. The split within Europe is largely a question of historical perception. While countries like France and Germany view the American attack on Saddam through the prism of the war in Vietnam, the frame of reference for countries like Poland and the Czech Republic is the Munich betrayal of 1938.

The emergence of a pro-American European bloc calls for new thinking among Israelis and Diaspora Jews, who still largely relate to Eastern and Central Europe with suspicion and resentment, resulting from centuries of anti-Jewish persecution culminating in the Holocaust. The Israeli and world Jewish agenda in dealing with the former Soviet bloc has focused almost exclusively on Holocaust-related issues, like restoring Jewish-owned property plundered during the war. So too, the reemergence of classical right-wing anti-Semitism, such as sporadic attacks on Jewish cemeteries, have reminded us that old prejudices linger, even in the graveyard of European Jewry.

Still, while vigilance against the resurgence of right-wing anti-Semitism must be maintained, the real threat to Jewish existence today comes from the systematic demonization of the Jewish state. Allowing the Holocaust to dominate our agenda with Eastern and Central Europe means fighting the last war, ignoring potential allies in our current struggle against the anti-Zionist attempt to delegitimize Jewish sovereignty and collective existence.

Increasingly, as last week's decision by Belgium to pursue Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for "war crimes" reveals, that assault is emanating from Western, not Eastern Europe. Indeed, Eastern Europeans tend to empathize with Israel as a small country suffering from a difficult geography, and to admire its achievements in creating a modern society. In Western Europe, Sharon is widely demonized as the Middle Eastern version of Slobodan Milosevic. In Eastern Europe, the Middle East's real villain is more likely to be perceived as that old Soviet ally, Yasser Arafat.

In recent years, Eastern European leaders have traveled to Israel and expressed remorse for the past. It is time for a reciprocal outreach. Israel needs to take the initiative and encourage rapprochement between Eastern Europe and the Jewish people.

One good way to begin is by creating a dialogue between Israeli and Eastern European youth, and one good place to start is Poland. The itineraries of Israeli student groups that go on pilgrimage to the Polish death camps should include meetings with young Poles. In the 1960s, barely two decades after the end of the Holocaust, youth exchanges were begun between Israel and West Germany.

Israel's readiness to come to terms with what was then called the "new Germany" may well be unprecedented in the annals of relations between victims and their former persecutors. If Israelis could normalize their relations with Germans, surely the time has come for us to reach out to the peoples of the former Soviet bloc.

Rather than divide us, World War II now offers Jews and Eastern Europeans a common language. Together, we have learned a key lesson of the 20th century, largely forgotten in Western Europe: Appeasement doesn't work. As international alignments shift and a new pro-American and anti-terrorism coalition emerges, Israel needs to strengthen its ties with all the members of that coalition. However difficult, it is time to start relating to countries like Poland and Hungary, whose histories contain our most bitter memories, as allies and friends.
Permission to reprint has been granted by The Jerusalem Post.
This article can also be read at http://www.jpost.com

Copyright 1995-2003 The Jerusalem Post


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