The insane bombardment of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet with the obvious intent of ethnically cleansing middle eastern territory from its indigenous people is as genocidal as it gets—and Europe seems to be completely fine with that.
The mask is down, the "values" have all but collapsed, only the rhetoric is left. How did Europe go from a "universal declaration of human rights" straight into the outright condoning of a crime against humanity?
How can we explain this much blindness to the reality of genocide in Palestine?
Professor Michael Brenner's essay follows.
Europe has an obsession about Jews. For nearly 2 millennia, it hated them and persecuted them. Now, after a respite of a few decades, it condemns and abuses Muslims in a similar way – all in the name of supporting Jews. Israel’s inhuman treatment of the Palestinians – culminating in their massacre and mass eviction from Gaza – leaves Europeans unmoved.
Instead, they cheer on the Israelis, outdo themselves in effusive displays of solidarity, in the quick dispatch of weapons so that the IDF can better carry out their odious campaign, in providing instant validation for the most outrageous lies in the wake of the most outrageous atrocities. Propinquity has accentuated their moral support. Leaders scurry to Tel Aviv to get as close to the action as possible and to steal a photo of themselves embracing the homicidal Bibi Netanyahu – a copy for the next campaign brochure, a copy for the eventual memoir.
The West clearly has a big problem with matters of religion, race and ethnicity. It is multiform, it mutates, it waxes and wanes, it shifts focus and fixation – but it remains lodged in the collective psyche. While this obviously is not universal among a population of 400 million, it is manifestly prevalent and deep-seated. When the stimulus is strong and acute, it flares like a gas field when the drill hits paydirt. The entire panoply of institutions – public and private – rise up as if choreographed to vent the same emotions, make the same harsh, unqualified judgments, use the same crude slogans, drape themselves in the same banners of self-righteousness and self-proclaimed moralism. Government leaders, politicos, media, pundits, make the same cacophonous noises, aggressively impose the same uniformity of opinion, and punish the few dissenters.
Thus, the exaltation of the Jews of Israel – honored and cosseted – is matched by the dehumanization of Palestine’s Muslims. Of course, it is not just the long-suffering Palestinians who are at once denied – in principle – the right to the privileged status of victimhood and collectively are condemned as guilty of the most heinous crimes committed by al-Qaeda, the Islamic State or Hamas. Men, women, children – without exception. It is all Muslim communities.
What are the sources of this psychopathology? Some are immediately identifiable. 1) The residual, latent desire to absolve Europe of the sins committed against the Jews ever since they were stigmatized as the killers of the Christians’ Lord & Saviour. It took roughly 1,900 years for the Jew-haters to take the final, macabre act of revenge. Volunteers from 16 European countries formed SS divisions that participated – directly or indirectly (the largest contingents made up of Ukrainians).
That holocaust had a powerful sobering effect on the contemporary soul of European Christians whether believers, practicing or nominal. The fears, wounds and pangs of conscience associated with it gradually have faded into the background and discrimination of Jews largely has gone away (despite the attempts in recent years to inflate every minor incident as part of an effort to conflate criticism of Israel with old-fashioned anti-Semitism) However, that maelstrom of tangled feelings evidently didn’t dissipate entirely.
The very words ‘Jewish’ and ‘Israel’ have the power to paralyze European minds and consciences. Hence, Britain’s most erudite commentator renowned for his frankness and rare skill at cutting through official cant and mendacity, declares himself unable to pronounce on who destroyed the hospital in Gaza – hiding behind the weasel words ‘we should await the outcome of an impartial United Nations investigation.’ Who did the evil deed? The people who already had dropped 1,500 bombs on Gaza city or Ali Baba & the 40 Thieves? Make your choice – personal preference.
Hence, the Prime MInister designate of the U.K., Keir Starmer, conducts Stalinist-style purges from the Labour ranks of anyone who utters a word critical of Israel – that includes Corbyn now obliterated from party annals. No surprise that he now demands explicitly, and in a public interview, that the party’s official position is to give license to the Israelis to continue their bombing; to cut off all food, water, electricity; to expel the Gazans into the Sinai desert where Qatar is pressed to finance a tent city for a million or two.
Second, relations between Europeans and Muslim communities have become increasingly fraught. Above all, the growth of large immigrant communities, settled mainly in Western Europe, has generated a host of social problems arising from the complications of imperfect cultural assimilation and the intrusions of influences from the external Muslim world. They are all too familiar: the rapid spread of intolerant, fundamentalist Islam; the threats posed by violent jihadist groups whose tentacles have reached into European cities; the turbulent state of politics across the Middle East; the periodic oil crises that made the region a tense arena for great power politics; and – by no means least – the lingering effects of Western colonialism that never have been expunged.
The two most striking features of that 450-year experience are: 1) the profound dominant-subordinate relationship on which it was grounded and which it entrenched in European minds; and 2) it was the ‘whites’ who were dominant and the ‘colored’ peoples who were subordinate. That too readily devolved into the racist belief that the latter were inherently inferior – somehow not quite fully human. Tho enduring psychic scars never have entirely faded – on both sides.
Let’s recall that it is within our lifetime that the imperial dependents liberated themselves from thralldom – with much blood-shedding – in North Africa, Indo-China, Kenya, Angola, Indonesia, Iraq and Syria. More recently, wars between the West and Muslim societies have been fought in several places: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Libya. the Sahel. All on Muslim soil. Domestic terrorists across Western Europe all cite as their immediate motivation those attacks on Muslims – rather than their devotion to a Quranic jihadist creed per se.
That brings our attention to the biggest external factor: the United States. More specifically, their enduring dominant/subordinate relationship. European countries have been denatured by America, in the sense that they are shed of sovereign status and its attendant political will. That perverse trans-Atlantic bond has been cultivated by both sides.
It’s significance for understanding the European attitude towards Israel/Palestine is two-fold. One, there is an eerie inversion of roles for European polities who participate in dominant-subordinate relations with both America and Arab Muslims. It matches the classic profile of the “Authoritarian Personality.” Toward the superior one is docile, obedient, obsequious; toward the inferior one is arrogant, demanding and patronizing. The latter compensates for the former in terms of maintaining a positive sense of self.
In more concrete ways, Europe’s vassalage to the United States obliges it to follow Washington down whatever policy road the seigneur takes – however reckless, dangerous, unethical, and counter-productive. In predictable fashion, they have walked (or run) like lemmings over whatever cliff the United States chooses next under its own suicidal impulses. So it’s been in Iraq, in Syria, in regard to Iran, in Ukraine, on Taiwan and on all matters involving Israel.
The string of painful failures and heavy costs produces no change in loyalty or mindset. It cannot – for the Europeans have absorbed totally the habit of deference, the Americans’ worldview, their skewed interpretation of outcomes, and their shamefully fictious narratives. The Europeans no more can throw this addiction than a life-long alcoholic can go cold-Turkey.
That condition impels them to downplay the ominous trends in American politics and foreign policy. The choice of mentally unstable and/or incompetent leaders, erratic actions by unhinged political forces, high risk ventures abroad, the baiting of designated rivals – none of it moves Europeans to throw off the yoke placed on their minds, their emotions, and their morals.
Moreover, we should bear in mind that contemporary American has become hysteria prone. First was the Global War On Terror that for twenty-odd years has had it rampaging around the globe on the hunt for jihadis from the Hindu Kush to the Sahara desert while shredding its Constitutional guarantees of individual rights and due process. Then, the manic Russo-phobic, with the China ‘menace’ stoking their fevered imaginings.
Congruent with this psychopathological syndrome, America today is a culture where draconian measures are taken, by all manner of institutions under pressure from braying militants, to rid themselves of persons who as much as suggest that gender identity is not just a matter of personal preference.
The Europeans, for their part, are only slightly less hysteria prone. Imagine a convent circa 1623. The most emotionally flammable young woman loses it in declaiming that she is possessed by a lecherous demonic agent. Soon, the other nuns are infected and mass hysteria breaks out. Today, when a whole society is dissociated from reality, there are no Mother Superiors or exorcists around to contain the ensuing bedlam.
In the Middle East, the net effects are 1) that Europe is burdened with the heavy baggage of interventions that inflame Muslim hostility toward the West, and 2) to create the psychological imperative to find some way to assuage their own sense of guilt by finding, and magnifying, the sins of their victims. That dubious enterprise acquires a thick veneer of virtue by making a tight embrace of Jewish Israel the ultimate symbol of their good intentions and by blinding themselves to the transference of their accumulated guilt for historical abuse of the Jews into empathy for their former victims’ abuse of Arab Muslims.
P.S. The internal dynamics of the United States are very similar to those of Europe – with three exceptions. One, guilt regarding historical mistreatment of Jews is largely absent. Yes, individuals may feel something about the Christian scapegoating of ‘Christ-killers,’ but it is far more abstract.
The empathy for Israel has arisen, and intensified, mainly from an instinctive sympathy for the underdog threatened by people you view negatively – a heart-wrenching narrative that has been vastly strengthened by vivid accounts, cinematic and written, of the 20th Century Jewish saga. Moreover, there is the exceptional influence exerted by the powerful pro-Israel lobby.
Two, the dramatic growth in the influence of a politicized Evangelical movement has added a significant factor to the equation. The Book of Revelations is their guide and inspiration. Therein, they are told that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and Armageddon will be signaled by the restoration of the Jews in their Hebrew homeland. What happens next, of course, is blurred by both Israelis and the Evangelicals.
Three, the United States’ rededicated project to entrench its global dominance has spurred American assertiveness around the world. Its long-time focus on the Middle East for multiple reasons inclines Washington to secure what it sees as prized assets. That strong impulse is accentuated by its declining influence elsewhere in the region – especially the Gulf. With creeping doubts as to its prowess, and of its presumed calling to be the prophet of progress for all the world’s peoples, America compulsively grasps every occasion in order to confirm that it is Destiny’s child and to be reassured that its national mythology is inscribed in the heavens.
Dr. Michael Brenner is Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh; a Senior Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations, SAIS-Johns Hopkins (Washington, D.C.), contributor to research and consulting projects on Euro-American security and economic issues ( Full Bio ).
Video recorded on October 31, 2023.