The conflict between Hamas and Israel reveals deep divisions within and among EU member states. These tensions are fueling both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
STRATEGIC ADVISOR AND FORMER NATO DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY GENERAL
If one of the goals of the Iranian regime and its terrorist proxies is to create an explosive rift in the EU member states, then Hamas’s brutal attack on Israel served the purpose. Despite the defeat of Daesh in Syria and Iraq, radical Islamist and Salafist groups are still active in many European countries.
Israel’s military campaign against Hamas is a welcome opportunity for them to destabilize Western societies and attack their most hated foe, Israel. Mobilizing the large communities of Arab immigrants who arrived in recent in years on Europe’s shores shouldn’t be too difficult. Radical Islamists will particularly use dedicated social media campaigns to spread their anti-Israel and anti-Western propaganda as widely as possible.
Making things even worse, many of the established right-wing, populist parties that otherwise pursue a radical anti-immigration course are now openly siding with Arab groups, thereby further fueling anti-Semitic sentiments. Israel’s war against Hamas is destined to deepen societal, religious, and political polarization in many European countries for some time to come.
In Germany, the government’s postulate—undefined and unexplained—that Israel’s security is a “raison d’être for the German state” risks alienating millions of Muslim migrants.
It’s gonna be nasty.
CARME COLOMINASENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW AT THE BARCELONA CENTRE FOR INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS (CIDOB)
One of the first causes of the EU’s geopolitical vulnerability lies in its own contradictions, internal and external. Actions that the EU condemned as illegal in one neighboring country are understood as necessary in another scenario. Freedom of expression is damaged for fear of internal weaknesses and of further fueling the polarization that this conflict generates, and the right to protest has been unlawfully restricted in some member states.
If the Russian invasion of Ukraine cemented a unity in European foreign policy that has taken more than a year to show cracks, the escalation of violence between Hamas and Israel needed only a few days to expose the geopolitical fragility of the union. Struggling to have a common position, the hard-to-get consensus for a “humanitarian pause” proves how deep divisions are among member states.
This crisis has aggravated the lines of fracture between the West and the Global South, and between the EU and its southern neighborhood. The EU today is a secondary player in a diplomatic framework that has failed in the region.
PETER KELLNERNONRESIDENT SCHOLAR AT CARNEGIE EUROPE
Of course Europe is vulnerable to what happens in the Middle East. And Ukraine. And China. And to our planet’s climate. And NATO, if Donald Trump returns to the White House. However, our vulnerability comes from within, not just from afar. Putting this right requires profound action inside Europe, not just better reactions to crises that erupt beyond our borders.
For long-term security we need a continent that works together, plans for decades and not just years, spends more on military security, maximises the impact of smart diplomacy, fights global warming, helps the victims of war and poverty around the world—and secures the support of Europe’s electorates for all these things.
Listing these tasks is the easy bit. The prospects of tackling any, let alone all, of them look grim. The necessary starting point is to recognize how urgent they have become. Then we can start to solve them—and have the best chance of keeping Europe safe.
The revival of postwar Europe owes much to the big dreams of big beasts such as George Marshall and Jean Monnet. Where are their equivalents today?
JOHN KORNBLUMFORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO GERMANY
My answer will be limited to quotes from three experts I highly respect.
Walter Laqueur (2013): “Europe will not be buried by ashes, like Pompeii or Herculaneum, but Europe is in decline. It’s certainly horrifying to consider its helplessness in the face of the approaching storms. After being the center of world politics for so long, the old continent now runs the risk of becoming a pawn.”
The late, eminent German sociologist Ulrich Beck (2015): “The birth of the non-belligerent Europe after World War II [was] made possible [by] the organizing power and the continental presence of America. [The] historic amalgamation of the Atlantic community, EU and NATO . . . becomes especially apparent at the historical moment in which it is threatening to fall apart. The extent to which a merely European Europe . . . is possible is highly questionable.”
At worst, the intervening years since 1990 have validated the contention of Carnegie Europe’s former director Jan Techau that Europe has become “strategically hapless.”
STEFAN LEHNESENIOR FELLOW AT CARNEGIE EUROPE
Sadly, EU unity appears to be part of the collateral damage of the terrorist attack of Hamas. The cacophony of European messages following October 7 showed not only a deplorable failure of coordination among EU officials. It also brought to the surface the long-standing divisions between the member states that support Israel unconditionally and others that feel equal sympathy for the suffering of the Palestinians.
However, this reminder of the EU’s limitations as a geopolitical actor is probably one of these tragic events’ less harmful consequences for Europe. Far more serious are the potential repercussions at the societal level.
If the turmoil in the Middle East continues and spreads, it will turbo-charge the polarization already affecting many parts of Europe. Both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia will surge. The threat of terrorism and other forms of violence will increase. Attitudes toward migration will harden further and create new obstacles to the integration of ethnic and religious minorities. Radical right parties will exploit the situation and their nationalist agenda will impede the finding of European solutions.
Realistically, the EU’s ability to make a major contribution to managing this crisis is modest. Still, it needs to do whatever it can, because the stakes for European societies and politics couldn’t be higher.
NORA MÜLLEREXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS AT THE KÖRBER-STIFTUNG
The war between Israel and Hamas challenges Europe on many different levels.
Firstly, if the war spills over into a regional conflict, Europe will have to deal with a further destabilization of its southeastern neighborhood.
Secondly, in its response, Europe has been once again united in disunity. Instead of presenting itself as an actor capable of geopolitical action, the EU has taken foreign policy differences between institutions and member states to task.
Thirdly, the rift between the West—including Europe—and the Global South, which had already opened up in the face of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, has deepened. It will strain relations between the West and the Global South, and make attempts by European governments to expand cooperation much more difficult.
Fourthly, in Western European states the war between Israel and Hamas has exposed profound intra-societal tensions that have the potential to further divide societies, making them more receptive to right-wing populist messages.
Because Europe is affected in many ways by the repercussions of the war between Israel and Hamas, it should already be developing ideas for the aftermath of the military confrontation. That day may still be a long way off. But Europe should be prepared.
MARY C. MURPHYSENIOR LECTURER IN POLITICS AT UNIVERSITY COLLEGE CORK
The current Hamas-Israeli war is unlike any other conflict. It represents the extreme escalation of a long, bitter, and violent contestation that has engaged different countries in different ways over many decades.
Individual EU member states relate to both Israel and Palestine in politically complicated ways. Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar referred to “differences of opinion and differences of emphasis” at last week’s extraordinary European Council. The Irish political establishment has been notably critical of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s response to the conflict, which was judged to be unbalanced and biased toward Israel. It is a criticism which is widely shared and supported across Irish society.
Ireland may be a small—and neutral—EU member state, but it is also strongly pro-European with no serious anti-EU movement or political party. The EU’s messy and uncoordinated response to the Hamas-Israeli war, however, has unsettled those positive sentiments. It fuels fears about the EU’s foreign policy agenda, which, to many Irish observers, appears out of sync with strongly held but—in the case of the Hamas-Israeli war—disregarded national preferences.
When it comes to a small state like Ireland, the EU’s vulnerability with regard to the conflict in the Middle East is less about freedom of speech, refugees, and terrorism, and more about the EU’s (tarnished) legitimacy and authority.
JOEL PETERSPROFESSOR OF GOVERNMENT AND INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS AT VIRGINIA TECH, UNITED STATES
The fear that the Israel-Palestinian conflict might spill over and lead to domestic turmoil—especially instability in its inner cities, home to large immigrant communities from the Middle East—has long weighed on the minds of European leaders. Less concern was given to the potential impact on the lives of its Jewish communities.
The shocking images of the massacre and the kidnapping of Israeli civilians have been numbing. Yet Jewish communities in Europe are now encountering a double shock and trauma. Many in Europe have failed to express any degree of empathy and solidarity, or to outright condemn Hamas. Instead, they have placed the responsibility on Israel for its policies toward the Palestinians.
Will Europe become more vulnerable due to the Hamas-Israel war? For Jewish communities in Europe, it already has. For many Jews around the world, it is now a very different world to what they thought it was. It is a world in which the brutal slaughter of Jewish life has been met by some with silence, even condoned or explained away. But that failure and silence has made everyone in Europe, not just Jewish communities, become more vulnerable—by taking away a little part of our humanity.
CARSTEN SØNDERGAARDFORMER DANISH AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA, IRELAND, NATO, GERMANY, AND TURKEY
The war has presented Europe with serious challenges.
The turmoil has not only shown how marginalized Europe is. Actually, Europe is more divided than many expected. The roots of these divisions run deep in some societies. History—or poor understanding thereof— and demographic changes play a role. Large groups of immigrants simply do not accept the traditional Middle East policy that has been pursued throughout the years. Even Israel’s right to exist is questioned by many. That is a major challenge for some governments.
The debate in some countries has been surprisingly influenced by “both-sidedness.” Important political statements have been made on that basis. Many news platforms have equaled Israeli sources and Hamas sources. The key question is to what extent this both-sidedness reflects a deeper current in our societies.
The most depressing aspect is how quickly anti-Semitism has resurfaced. European governments will have to reflect more on what to do. Basic values are on the line. Action is needed. Clear messaging about goals and values is not the only way ahead. The increasing risk of terrorism may necessitate some new legal instruments.
PAUL TAYLORSENIOR FELLOW AT FRIENDS OF EUROPE
The Hamas-Israel war has exposed internal fragilities within European societies with large Muslim minorities, as well as continuing dependence on imported oil and gas, the price of which gyrates with Middle East tensions.
Hamas’s horrendous massacre and hostage-taking of Israeli civilians prompted European governments to rally behind Israel, but Israeli retaliation, bombing the densely populated Gaza Strip and cutting off power, electricity, and food supplies, has triggered pro-Palestinian protests in cities like Berlin, Paris, and London. France and Germany initially tried to ban them, raising difficult issues of freedom of speech.
Anti-Semitic acts have hit record levels in France, Germany, and the UK. The issue has become a domestic political marker. For example, far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon’s refusal to condemn Hamas as a terrorist organization threatens to break up France’s left-wing opposition alliance.
The Hamas onslaught also appears to have brought terror back to Europe’s streets. Killings by suspected Islamist militants in France and Brussels have raised security alerts across northern Europe and fueled right-wing demands for a crackdown on asylum seekers. A prolonged Israeli offensive or a widening of the conflict to Lebanon could compound the cost-of-living crisis and would likely further polarize European societies, causing misery for Jews, Muslims, and migrants.
Source : Carnegie