Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis Bat Ye’or Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2005 384 pp., pb. $23.95/£17.50, ISBN 083864077X; hb. $49.50/£36.50, ISBN 0838640761
The Israel–Palestine conflict is an obstacle placed in the path of Jewish-Muslim dialogue in Europe. But in this book there is no indication that there are two narratives to this tortuous conflict as Bat Ye’or only documents outbreaks of violence against Jews. Both Israeli and Palestinian history is reduced to a series of often repeated comments. European Jews are threatened, she argues, by the rise of Eurabia, ‘a new geographical entity’ which purports to symbolize the domination of the European agenda on the Middle East by the Arab world and radicalized Islamism. At the epicentre of this is a delegitimization of Israel, a defamation of Zionism and a slide into judeophobia.
Despite a plethora of facts and references, the overall effect is one-dimensional rather than an original analysis of the complexity of the issues raised. The reflection that greets the reader is a polarized one—a mirror image of those who believe that Israel is the source of all evil in the world and the Palestinians are shining examples of sweetness and light.
The book’s strength is its documentation of the European-Arab dialogue, but the author’s zeal to reveal Europe’s greater vested interest in the Arab world tends to detract from this. Such blanket comments as ‘the European Union’s covert war against Israel’ (p. 23) or ‘European anti-Jewish demonstrations’ (p. 28) do not enhance the author’s thesis. While the provision of a blizzard of facts indicates the spread of derogatory language in the Arab world about nationally conscious Jews, often fuelled by historic European stereotypes, there are actually no primary Arabic or indeed Hebrew sources in this work. This allows for accusations that only a selected picture has been projected.
Bat Ye’or shows that radicalized Islamists do not approve of nationally assertive Jews in ‘the land of dhimmitude’, but while Jews do feel more and more uncomfortable in Europe, it is not clear to where this ‘land’ extends. While France is heavily featured, Britain, according to the author’s cover illustration, is curiously outside its borders. Yet well-publicized discriminatory practices in Britain such as the boycott of Israeli academic institutions are mentioned.
During the years of the recent Intifada, there has been a movement of European liberal and leftist opinion from a position of criticizing Israeli government policy towards one of criticism of Israel per se. Many on the left have worked with the Islamists in the hope of creating a shift from denouncing the then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to delegitimizing the state. Moreover, there is undoubtedly a growing fear within Jewish circles that this is a prelude to delegitimizing the people. Yet any in-depth analysis of the evolution of such attitudes on the European left is not to be found in the book. At best, this development is limited to factual statements.
The comment that ‘the dread of terrorism has prevented Muslim, Christian and Jewish groups from expressing solidarity with Jews, Israel and even America’ does not ring true. Moreover, in Europe, the recent emergence of an anti-totalitarian left, as personified by the Euston Manifesto, suggests the opposite. This represents a modern-day attempt to recapture the politics of rationality of Pierre Mende`s-France, Willy Brandt and Ernest Bevan, to reject the reactionary anti-imperialism of the present and to proclaim that the Jews—like the Palestinians—have a right to national self-determination.
If the European left has changed and is changing, so has Israel. There is no hint in this work of Israel’s ill-conceived settlement policies since 1967 on the West Bank— and the resentment generated both in the Jewish Diaspora and the wider world. Neither does the book give a sense that there are different political views in Israel on this question. Ironically, the European financing of the 2003 Geneva Initiative irritates the author. She does not see it as a process of developing the Oslo Accords, but merely as a means of sidetracking Israeli democracy and eroding the country’s internal cohesion. On the contrary, the avowedly Zionist peace camp was extremely grateful to the Europeans for their support. The initial public embrace of the Initiative in Israel probably forced Sharon to bring forward his Gaza disengagement plan for fear of displacement. It is significant to note that the Palestinian partner in the Geneva Initiative, Yasser Abed Rabbo, was demonized by the Islamists for his efforts.
There is undoubtedly a case to be made about the European practice of speaking with forked tongues when it comes to discussing Israel, but this work has not made it.
Islam and Christian–Muslim Relations vol. 17 no.4 2006