The International Society for Military Ethics in Europe
Leadership. Ethics. Service.

By Mathieu Calame

Unlike the Ukrainian conflict, the Israeli-Palestinian war is causing Western Europe enormous difficulties in positioning itself, and is even threatening to split apart society. Why is this? Rather than trying to find a hypothetical synthesis that answers all the charges, if we want to understand, we need to look into the depths of our recent history.

Fundamentally, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is our conflict. It takes us back to the two demons of our recent past: anti-Semitism, the product of volkism, and colonialism. This is particularly obvious for Germany, whose position is determined by the particular role it played in the genocide of Jewish Europeans. So, if we take a non-European viewpoint for a moment, it is obscenely ironic that the country that initiated the extermination of Europe's Jews - 5 to 6 million human beings - should present itself as an unconditional supporter of Israel. Even for Israel, on reflection, the German motivation is ambiguous. Its support appears to be linked not to the present situation but to the Shoah.

ricardo gomez angel k9RVjzZaWEA unsplash

The argument is historically valid, but legally fragile, particularly with regard to non-European countries that were not involved in the massacre of Jewish Europeans. This German impasse is also our impasse, because the extermination of Jewish Europeans was a European crime involving the collaboration of many state entities and, just as frighteningly, whole sections of society. This crime seems all the more monstrous in that it did not even obey any raison d’Etat. The Jewish threat was pure fantasy. European society wiped out or forced to migrate some of its intellectual, artistic and economic elites, and was thus irreparably weakened. It was a crime without motive, gratuitous, an expression of the banality of evil.

How can such a crime be atoned for? In 1989, the capricious Libyan leader Colonel Muhammar Gaddafi, on a visit to Belgrade, suggested that "in view of Nazi Germany's responsibility for the persecution of the Jews, the Franco-German territorial dispute and the Jewish colonisation of Palestine, the Jews should be transferred to Alsace-Lorraine. The new entity thus created would, according to the colonel, have the advantage of serving as a buffer zone, preventing France and Germany from tearing each other apart and facilitating the emigration of Jews from the USSR to places other than the Arab world”.1

A provocation? Let’s see. Why, in purely logical terms, would this solution be more provocative than Palestine? Why not rural France, Silesia or Baden-Württemberg? To invoke the promise made to Abraham in Genesis would be tantamount to claiming that one intended to base international law on the Bible, which no sane person would dare to do, and all the more so as the biological descendants of the Judean peasants of the first century are undoubtedly today’s Palestinians, given the phenomenon of conversions, and conversely the Jews of Europe are massively the product of proselytism. The brutal reality is that no Western European state wanted the Jewish inhabitants of Central and Eastern Europe, either before or after the war, and felt threatened by the rise and unleashing of anti-Semitism closely linked to the rise of Volkism, a mixture of nationalism and racism. Western Europe atoned for the "Jewish question" it had created by allowing the "Palestinian question" to be created, even if it is fair to say that in the case of the British, who had been administering Palestine since 1919, the Irgun terrorist attacks helped to force their hand. To atone for the European genocide by evicting the Palestinians was to believe that an immense crime could be atoned for by an immense injustice. We have added iniquity to ignominy.
So what can we say? Nothing. Nothing, because unless you want to say that blood dries quickly when you go back into history, which amounts to ratifying future genocides, history has caught up with we Western Europeans.

However, if there is one thing, that we can and must do, it is to reaffirm what remains of the Enlightenment that we have so often betrayed: freedom of conscience in religious matters, which absolutely excludes any expression of anti-Semitism or rejection of any religion or spirituality that itself recognises the principle of freedom of conscience. This is our common law. There are no Jews, Christians, atheists or apostates (because you are not born into a religion, you enter it and can leave it), Muslims or Buddhists, but there are European Jews, Christians, atheists, apostates, Muslims, Buddhists and, what is even better, Europeans who can live without ever having to claim a religious affiliation.

If, in the long term, Jewish Europeans felt so threatened that they saw no other solution than to emigrate to Israel, as was already the case for their co-religionists living in the Muslim world, if every Jew, regardless of origin, was assigned to be Israeli and if the State of Israel saw no solution to its security other than ethnic cleansing in Gaza and the West Bank, then it would be the posthumous triumph of Volkism. It would be a day of mourning for universalism and, we can bet on it, the prelude to even more merciless struggles. Blood does not dry quickly.


About the author: Matthieu Calame is Director of the Charles Léopold Mayer Foundation for the Progress of Humankind



1 Le Monde, September 1989

Picture Credit: Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

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