With friends like these

The amount of support being shown for Israel these days is almost embarrassing. The parade of highly-placed foreign guests and the warm reception received by Israeli statesmen abroad have not been seen for quite some time. Who hasn’t come to visit lately? From the German chancellor to the leading frontrunner for the American presidency. And the secretary-general of the United Nations is on his way. A visit to Israel has become de rigueur for foreign pols. If you haven’t been here, you’re nowhere.

The visitors are taken, of course, to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, the Western Wall and now to Sderot as well – the new national pilgrimage site. A few also pay a perfunctory visit to Ramallah; no one goes to the Gaza Strip, and they all have nothing but praise for Israel. Not a word of criticism on the occupation, on Israel’s violent operations in the territories, on the siege and the starving – with the exception of a few vague remarks on the need for a solution. Israel squeezes the Sderot ”informational” lemon for all it’s worth.

The mix of Sderot and the Holocaust, international Islamophobia and Hamas rule in Gaza do the trick. Israel hasn’t scored this kind of foreign-policy success since the days of the Oslo Accords. To judge by the declarations of our foreign guests and our hosts abroad, no other state in the world is more loved than we. A state that imposes a siege that is almost unprecedented in the world today in terms of its cruelty, that adopts an official policy of assassination, is embraced by the family of nations, if we are to judge by the words of the many statesmen who cross our doorstep.

It is, of course, pleasant to revel in this wave of support, but it is an illusion. Public opinion in most of the countries whose leaders are heaping all that praise upon us is not joining in. Israel remains a state without approval, sometimes even outcast and despised. The world sees images from Gaza on television – in comparison, Sderot looks like a resort – and it draws its own conclusions. The natural sense of justice that dictates support for the freedom struggles of oppressed people such as the Tibetan dictates natural support for the Palestinian struggle for liberation. The fact that it is a struggle between a Palestinian David and an Israeli Goliath only adds to the story. With the exception of the U.S., the world is indeed against us, apart from its statesmen. Therefore, we must not give in to the illusion: The current bout of official support for us is not genuine.

Also not genuine is the idea that blind, unconditional friendship is friendship. The support for Israel as a just enterprise that is extended by most of the West does not mean accepting all of its caprices. A true friend of Israel, one that is sincerely concerned for its fate, is only that friend who dares to express sharp criticism of its policy of occupation, which poses the most serious risk to its future, and who also takes practical steps to end it. Most of the ”friendly” statesmen do not understand this.

The stance of the European leaders is particularly perplexing. We’re not speaking about the U.S., with its Jewish and Christian lobbies, but rather opinionated Europe; it, too, has lost its ability to act as an honest broker, the type that wields its influence to bring an end to the conflict that endangers it, too. We need Europe, the peace needs Europe, but official Europe covers its eyes and automatically falls in line with the U.S. and its blind support for Israel and its boycott of Gaza. Angela Merkel, who received such a royal reception here last week, did not bring up any controversial issue in her speech at the Knesset. And so, her ”historic” speech turned into a hollow one.

The same behavior was displayed by her colleague in the European leadership, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, during the visit to his country of President Shimon Peres. The Israeli flags waving along the Champs-Elysees and the much-talked-about Israeli booth at the Paris Book Fair could not hide the fact that many French citizens are pained by the occupation. By not speaking about the siege on Gaza, the starvation imposed on it and the killing of hundreds of its people, Europe’s leaders are not meeting their political and moral obligations. Those who believe that only honest international intervention can bring an end to the occupation find themselves desperate and disappointed. Yes, Europe, precisely that continent that carries justifiable feelings of guilt about the Jewish Holocaust, should have found another way to come to Israel’s aid. Saccharine visits and sweet speeches in fact express a deep disrespect for Israel – and for European public opinion.

This blind friendship enables Israel to do whatever it wants. The days have passed in which every mobile home erected in the territories and every targeted assassination were carefully considered out of fear of international criticism. That time no longer exists. Israel has a carte blanche to kill, destroy and settle. The U.S. long ago gave up the role of honest broker, and Europe is now following in its footsteps. How depressing: With friends like these, Israel almost doesn’t need enemies.

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