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Israel and Europe's yesterday men

Like a drowning man, Israel is grasping for a helpline. Condemned by the UN and Amnesty International for war crimes in Gaza, time has finally caught up with Israel's elusive generals and political elite. Across Europe international lawyers are poring over evidence to prosecute several senior officials in national courts utilizing the principle of universal jurisdiction. Against this background, a media and public relations blitz on Israel's behalf has been launched by the Dutch right-wing politician Geert Wilders, Spain's ex-Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and Northern Ireland's Lord David Trimble; despite varied political backgrounds, all are singing from the same song sheet: Israel, they claim, is fighting for its survival.

Apart from their love for Israel and desire to defend its policies, Aznar and Wilders have something else in common; their contempt for Islam and Muslims, 20 million of whom are citizens of countries across the Europe. The two men are basically two sides of the same coin. While Wilders professes, "I have a problem with Islamic tradition, culture and ideology. Not with Muslim people", Aznar claims, "The west is what it is thanks to its Judeo-Christian roots". This blatant denial of history and the contribution of Muslims to European civilization – in, ironically, Aznar's own country, Spain ‑ may best be described as infantile or, at worst, racist.

Neither Aznar nor Wilders would find much support for their theses in European academia. Tim Wallace-Murphy, for example, says in his book What Islam Did For Us (2006), "When enlightened Christians were sitting at the feet of Muslims scholars in Spain, others delighted in butchering 'infidels' after the capture of Jerusalem." He adds, "It was the well-known and respected colleges in al-Andalus that became the models on which Oxford and Cambridge were based. These independent centres of learning in Christian countries, now studying the ever-increasing flow of scholarly works emerging from the world of Islam, gave European culture an impetus whose rapid development would, a few centuries later, equal and then outstrip its Islamic benefactor."

With equal honesty Christopher Walker writes in Islam and the West (2005), "Islamic learning was held in honour by the Castillian kings, who avoided rhetoric."

It is true that a friend in need is a friend indeed, but few sensible people would turn to the likes of Aznar, Wilders, Trimble or even US neo-Con John Bolton in an hour of need. In 2003 Aznar took his country into an illegal war against Iraq, siding with the fanatical neo-Cons in the US, despite polls showing there was 90% opposition to the war amongst the Spanish public. In the end he was voted out of office somewhat unceremoniously amid allegations of "manipulation and lies".

Aznar and company launched Israel's latest media-led charm offensive sooner rather than later because of the dramatic change of circumstances facing the Jewish state. To the ill-informed onlooker his "Friends of Israel" would seem on paper to be a formidable group. However, it doesn't take much to strip away the layers of rhetoric to reach the reality; this is a group of has-been, never really were and wannabe politicians with a diminishing presence and relevance in European political circles. Their sound-bites straight from the Israeli hasbara propaganda machine have no place in or relevance to modern Europe, where the sham of Israeli democracy is exposed daily.

Britain's largest trade union, UNITE, voted unanimously last month "to promote vigorously a policy of divestment from Israeli companies" and promote a boycott of Israeli goods and services "similar to the boycott of South African goods during the era of apartheid". In Scotland, the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), in April reaffirmed and deepened its commitment to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. This confirmed STUC's cooperation with the South African and Irish Trades Union Congresses, and other trades unions around the world, in building support for the Palestinian people.

Julia Irwin, an Australian federal parliamentarian, as if in direct response to the launch of the Friends of Israel initiative, told a House debate on Wednesday, 16 June, "…like the Stalinists of old, some world leaders continue to deny the reality or, worse, defend it in the name of Israel's right of self-defence". She paid tribute to the international boycott campaign saying, "But while nations' leaders fail to act, responsible citizens throughout the world are beginning to take action. The worldwide campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against products and services originating in whole or in part in the occupied territories is gaining momentum."

The public relations attempt by Aznar and Co will not go far because Europeans can see it for what it is, another crude attempt at emotional blackmail that has neither a basis in fact nor roots in reason; in other words, "Friends of Israel" is an insult to their intelligence. A crescendo is building across the broad spectrum of civil society against support for an illegal occupation that is hell-bent on ethnic cleansing.

It matters not, therefore, how much Aznar, Wilders, Trimble and Bolton try to window dress Israel's past and present policies. In the end, illegal occupation will always be illegal occupation and war crimes will always be war crimes. This is the view of Judge Richard Goldstone and Professor Richard Falk, officials mandated by the UN to investigate Israel's actions in the occupied Palestinian territories and both, by the way, Jews themselves. As sure as night follows day, those who support the violation of international law against the Palestinian people will, like the apartheid Afrikaners before them, relent and bow to the changing realities.

The future of Israel may well be at stake if that future is a continuation of the past and present apartheid policies and contempt for international laws and conventions. If Israel really does want to be treated as a mature state by the international community, it has a lot of growing up to do, crimes to confess and repentance to request. Its apologists like Messrs Aznar, Wilders, Trimble and Bolton should take note.

Commentary & AnalysisEurope & RussiaIsraelMiddle EastSpain
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