By Josef Joffe, October 2002
Josef Joffe is editor of Die Zeit in Hamburg and associate of the Olin Institute for
Strategic Studies at Harvard University.
Anti-Israelism and anti-Americanism travel together. In the Arab Middle East, the link is standard
fare, but a more interesting case in point is Europe.
Take Jose Bove, who first gained notoriety around the world in 1999 by leading the
charge of a “deconstructivist” mob against a McDonald’s restaurant in France. In March 2002,
he showed up in Ramallah, denouncing Israel and pledging enthusiastic support to Yasir Arafat
while the latter’s headquarters was being surrounded by Israeli tanks. Arafat’s cause was
Bove’s cause, this mise-en-scene suggested-never mind that the Israeli army had not simply
dropped in for a little oppression but in defense against mounting terrorist attacks.
Pick a peace-minded demonstration in Europe these days or a publication of the extreme left or
right, and you’ll find anti-Israeli and anti-American resentments side by side-in the tradition first
invented by the Khomeinists of Iran, whose demonology abounds with references to the “small”
and “great Satan.”
What explains this linkage?
First, Israel and the United States are the most successful states in their respective
neighborhoods: Israel in the regional arena, the United States on the global beat. They boast the
most fearsome armies, they command impressive technological infrastructures, and the Israeli
economy vastly outperforms those of each of its neighbors while the United States has the
world’s number one economy.
Moreover, both are stable, vibrant democracies. One need not invoke Dr. Sigmund Freud to infer
that success breeds envy and resentment. The resentment is compounded by the rampant
modernity both countries epitomize.
Relentless change, as inflicted from outside, does not sit well with European societies,
which obey a very different social contract-one that favors social and economic protection
against the effects of the market and rapid technological transformation. The unconscious
syllogism goes like this: Globalization is Americanization, and both have found their most faithful
disciple in Israel.
Second, there is an element of bad old anti-Semitism. A hallowed place in its mythos is the
Jewish quest for world domination. Now “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” come with a new
twist. The Jews, so the lore goes, finally achieved global domination by having conquered the
United States: Jews control the media, the U.S. Congress, and the economy.
Assisted by American Jewry, Israel has built up the most powerful lobby in
Washington-one that delivers almost $3 billion worth of aid per year. And thus, with the help of
the “hyperpower,” a term coined by the former French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, Jews
actually do rule the world.
Third, the United States and Israel may not be unique, but they stand out because of their
strong senses of national identity. For all their multiculturalism-indeed, both the United States
and Israel are microcosms of the world-these two countries share a keen sense of self. They
know who they are and what they want to be. They define themselves not through ethnicity but
through ideologies that transcend class and tribe.
Or to use a less charged term, they define themselves in terms of documents, be it the
Torah or the U.S. Constitution. Their senses of nationality are rooted in the law, as received at
Sinai or promulgated in Philadelphia.
Compare this mind-set to that of the mature states of Europe. It might well be said that the
countries extending from Italy via Germany and the Low Countries into Scandinavia are already
in a post-national stage. The European Union is fitfully undoing national sovereignty while failing
to provide its citizens with a common European identity. Europe is a matter of practicality, not of
pride – at least, not yet.
As a work in progress, it lacks the underpinning of emotion and “irrational” attachment.
Europeans might become all wound up when their national soccer teams win or lose, but the
classical nationalism that drove millions into the trenches in the 20th century has vanished.
Finally, because Israel and the United States are still national societies, they do not hesitate to
back up their interests with force. Indeed, no Western nation has ever used force as frequently
as have those two in the last 50 years.
Conversely, post-national Europe cherishes its “civilian power,” its attachment to
international regimes and institutions. European armies are no longer repositories of nationhood
(and career advancement) but organizations that have as much social status as the post office or
the labor exchange. Europeans, in fact, pride themselves in having overcome the atavism of war
in favor of compromise, cooperation, and international institutions. This view imbues them with
a sense of moral superiority vis-a-vis those retrogrades that are the United States and Israel.
Perhaps many Europeans resent unconsciously what they no longer have-the exact qualities that
once made them fierce and fearsome players in the international arena. They resent those two
nations in the Western family for doing what they no longer can-or dare-do. Considering that
Europe was the fountainhead of the two greatest evils of the 20th century (fascism and
communism) that is not the worst of outcomes.
But this divergence won’t increase harmony and understanding between Europe and its
two outriggers, the United States and Israel. Anti-Israelism and anti-Americanism will continue
to march together until that day when Israel and the United States turn post-national, too.
Those chances, though, are slim. Strong traces of post-nationalism are evident in Tel Aviv’s
Sheinkin Street, as well as among the denizens of California’s Silicon Valley. But Israel will
remain a threatened polity, and the United States the world’s number one, for the rest of this
So regardless of what insight comes from examining national psyches, in the end, there
are the stark and incontrovertible facts of power and position in the international arena. The
anatomy of the international system, to borrow once more from Freud, is destiny. Tout court,
where you sit is where you stand – post-nationalism, postmodernism, and all.