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European officials and European civil society often like to think of themselves as the pinnacle of human rights and morality. In reality, Europe has become a moral vacuum and, once again, a breeding ground for casual hate, racism, and anti-Semitism. This has become clear not only through the example of sophisticated elites like former Irish President Mary Robinson, British Labor politician Jeremy Corbyn, or Daniel Bernard, the late French ambassador to the United Kingdom, but also in the increasing European obsession with stable, democratic Israel, while countries surrounding Israel degenerate into anarchy, generate millions of refugees, promote genocide, and incite and sponsor terrorism.
A lot can be written about why so many in Europe — or, for that matter, within the Obama administration and increasingly among other Democratic stalwarts — have become so hostile to Israel and its ability to defend itself against threats ranging from Hamas, to Hezbollah, to Islamic State and Al Qaeda affiliates in Syria and the Sinai. Perhaps it was the end of conscription in many countries which widened the divide between those with military service and understanding, and those without. Perhaps it was the insulation that developed from having outside powers guarantee security so that individual states seldom had to. Perhaps it’s the legacy of European anti-Semitism, the most virulent kind, which can no longer be masked by European smug self-righteousness. And perhaps it’s the “old Europe, new Europe” divide once described by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Poles, Czechs, and Romanians remember what it is like to live under tyranny while time has diluted “Old Europe’s” understanding of reality.
Israel has long considered itself almost a European country; the European immigration that marked early Zionism shaped that character, even if geography and immigration from Turkey, Iran, India, and the Arab world also bestowed Israel with a Middle Eastern character. Indeed, Tel Aviv is much like Alexandria and Beirut once were, and like Istanbul still is, at least for the time being: a veritable mixing grounds of east and west.
For too long, however, Israel has if not ignored Asia than put it on the backburner. Sure, there was been sporadic outreach to China, but this was both half-hearted and misguided: When it comes to the Middle East, Beijing is the ultimate realist. Immediate commercial concerns means everything, broader principle mean little if anything.
India—the world’s largest democracy—was largely hostile to the Jewish state for the same reason it was hostile to the United States. Indian nationalist diplomat Vengalil Krishnan Krishna Menon coined the term ‘non-alignment’ in a 1953 United Nations speech, and the following year Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, co-founded the Non-Aligned Movement. In theory, it sought a third path separate from the Cold War rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States but in practice it was marked by disproportionate hostility to the West.
Non-alignment, a fondness for socialism, and a suffocating bureaucracy hostile both to direct foreign investment and free market enterprises long restrained India’s economic potential. While India still has a way to go, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to bring India’s economy, political culture, and foreign into the 21st century. He recognizes how much India and Israel have in common. They are both democracies in a region where democracies otherwise have not thrived. And Islamist radicals target them both. In the case of both, land disputes — be they have Jerusalem and its environs in Israel’s case, or the Kashmir in India’s — are only an excuse for a far more murderous agenda.
Earlier this year, Modi announced that he would become the first Indian leader to visit Israel. Among tech-savvy Indians, the twitter hashtag #IndiaWithIsrael is trending. Nor does it seem that Modi’s looming visit will be the end-all and be-all of warming ties. As COMMENTARY readers know, the UN Human Rights Council has long been a cesspool of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic bias. Consider these statistics of cumulative Council condemnations from its founding in 2006 to the present: Israel has been condemned more than 60 times, yet slave-holding Mauritania, blogger-whipping Saudi Arabia, journalist-repressing Turkey, freedom-extinguishing China, migrant worker-killing Qatar, and expansionist Russia have faced no condemnation. Condemning Israel has become a knee-jerk reaction around the world and, for decades, it has been India’s position as well. But on Friday, July 3, India shocked the Council by abstaining on its condemnation of Israeli actions in last year’s Gaza War. Now an abstention isn’t the same as a vote against, but clearly India-Israel relations are on the upswing, or could be if Israeli leaders are willing to work hard to cultivate them.
But India is not alone. The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) has long sought to cultivate ties between Israel and other Southeast Asian countries—Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, and even Malaysia. The momentum is promising, as have been the results considering the relatively small scale. If Israel made a concerted effort to cultivate these ties, they might find a much more receptive audience than in past years. Not only would this create a strategic buffer, but it might also correct the narrative that all Muslims embrace the radical, anti-peace positions put forward by more rejectionist Arab states and European and American proponents of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. After all, Indonesia is the largest Muslim country on earth by population, and India the second largest, even though it is not even majority Muslim.
Such diplomacy need not be an either-or scenario, but just as Washington navel-gazes and forgets that the United States and the targets of our interest are not alone in the sandbox, so, too, do Europeans forget that they are not the world’s moral barometer or the doyens of the elite club with which everyone wants favor. Not only is Southeast Asia booming as many of its countries largely abandon ruinous socialist practices and authoritarianism, but many now also face the same Islamist terror threat which Israel has been confronting for decades. There is a convergence of interests; let us hope that Israeli officials stop wasting undue energy on the Sisyphean task of pleasing European officials inclined to dislike them and recognize that such efforts might lead to greater results with a new eastern push.