Sunday, June 04, 2006

Some Good News for Israel and Other Things

It turns out that the confluence of events in recent months - from Europe to Gaza - is beginning to impact public opinion about the Palestinian situation in Europe.

Palestinian support 'crashes' in Europe

New public opinion surveys conducted among "opinion elites" in Europe show that support for the Palestinians has fallen precipitously, according to a leading international pollster, Stan Greenberg, who has been briefing Israeli leaders on his findings in the past few days. There has not necessarily been "a rush to Israel" but there has been a "crash" in backing for the Palestinians, he noted.

Greenberg told The Jerusalem Post that the shifts in attitudes reflected in the surveys were so dramatic that he "redid" some of the polls to ensure there had been no error.

He singled out France as the country where attitudes had changed most dramatically. Three years ago, 60 percent of French respondents said they took a side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and of that 60%, four out of five backed the Palestinians. Today, by contrast, 60% of French respondents did not take a side in the conflict, and support for the Palestinians had dropped by half among those who did express a preference.

That's a remarkable change in direction. Likely the homegrown riots in Paris, that lasted days late last year, played the major part in the switch. But there is an impending sense of an explosion all throughout Europe as well.

Some of my French friends are in the process of resettling, to Britain and the US. These plans were already in place, but I think there is a heightened sense of relief about them now, in the current atmosphere.

Three years ago, he said, the conflict was perceived "in a post-colonial framework."

There was a sense "that Europe could cancel out its own colonial history by taking the 'right' side" - the Palestinian side. Yasser Arafat was viewed as "an anti-colonial, liberation leader." The US was seen as a global imperial power, added Greenberg, and the fact that it was backing Israel only added to the "instinctive" sense of the Palestinians as victims.

France, with the largest Muslim population - moreover an entirely Arab Muslim population - with the direct experience of Algeria and the most anti-US positions, was most prey to this mindset.

Today, by contrast, the Europeans "are focused on fundamentalist Islam and its impact on them," he said. The Europeans were now asking themselves "who is the moderate in this conflict, and who is the extremist? And suddenly it is the Palestinians who may be the extremists, or who are allied with extremists who threaten Europe's own society."

On a similar note of changing attitudes in Europe, I rewatched most of the English Patient the other day, a movie I very much enjoyed in the past, despite knowing that, Michael Ondaatje, its author, played fast and loose with his anti-hero, Laszlo Almasy, who had dealings with the Nazis on quite other grounds than the romantic one presented by Ondaatje, as a way to fulfill a solemn promise made to the love of his life. I chalk it up to a story enjoyed that was not real history, but alternate history.

In the movie at least - I only read the book once and didn't like it nearly as much as the movie - the world before World War II is presented as this elite near-paradise.

"We didn't care about borders and passports," one of the good guys says to Count Almasy before the reason for his betrayal is revealed.

In the post 9/11 world, all this seems so multi-cultural and elitist and naive. And most of all dated. And most likely anachronistic.

In fact, it is all rather John Lennonish:

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too ...

As Cliff May recently said at the Corner, "I'm afraid this sort of 'Lennonism' is what passes for idealism in much of Europe."

I didn't notice such a sharp delineation between my beliefs and those of the films on previous occasions when I saw the film - most of those occasions before 9/11. But this time, the differing philosophy really stuck out. Moreover, Almasy's turn to the Nazis is presented as a direct result of the way the British underclass soldiers treat him.

And therein lies the elitism and also the moral confusion.


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