Canada missing on world stage

There’s a weekly segment on CNN’s The Capital Gang, one of the sillier efforts among weekend pundit shows. At the end of each program, the regular panellists hold forth predictably, individually, on a self-chosen “Outrage of the Week,” something stupid and obnoxious almost always perpetrated by a political enemy.

I humbly submit the European Union for your consideration, which on Monday released a truly outrageous poll of member nations that claimed Europeans view Israel as the No. 1 threat to world peace, ahead of North Korea, Iran, Zimbabwe, Syria, you name it.

The vote wasn’t even close.

Across the board, the Eurobarometer survey of 7,500 EU residents conducted by the Gallup organization saw 59 per cent of respondents voting Israel as the world’s greatest threat to peace. In the Netherlands, that percentage rises to 74, in Austria 69, Germany 65, even Britain above the mean at 60. In Greece, it reached 88 per cent.

One does not have to be a rabid World Zionist, a supporter of the Iraq war or an admirer of the distinctive Sharon approach to foreign affairs and human rights to find those results troubling.

By mid-week, certain corners of the labyrinthine EU bureaucracy were distancing themselves from the poll.

Through a spokesperson, EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten declared that his staff had “nothing to do with it.” According to the Telegraph, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini apologized for the results on behalf of the EU, saying it sent a “false note” and that it wouldn’t shape Middle East policy.

Ben Van Der Velde, European editor of the Rotterdam-based newspaper Handelsblad observed that “this is the strangest poll I’ve ever seen. The Dutch have always been very pro-Israel so I ask myself, how can this possibly be?”

In fact, the poll results may well be skewed in spite of its solid pedigree. Although the results have been “weighted,” Gallup took the unusual step of questioning 500 people from each of the 15 EU members — the same number for France as in Luxembourg, Finland as in Germany.

However accurate or not, there doesn’t seem to be much doubt that Europeans harbour deep resentments toward the Israeli state that stretch far beyond the ambivalent attitudes of Canadians.

As a typically thoughtful editorial in the Israeli daily Haaretz put it, “two generations after WWII and the Jewish Holocaust … Europe is not sympathetic to Israel. The old image of a people’s state recovering from a terrible disaster and defending itself from greater forces has given way to the image of an oppressive occupying power that fights to hold on to land that doesn’t belong to it and suffers frequent, ruthless terror attacks in its civilian rear.”

While questioning that view as simplistic, it admits that hostile public opinion in Europe forces Israel into even closer ties with the Americans.

“Instead of complaining about ignorance or anti-Semitism, Israel should be improving both its policies and the way they are reflected in public opinion.”

Not that instances of European anti-Semitism are exactly evaporating like Dead Sea waters.

On Wednesday, Gen. Reinhard Gunzel, commander of an elite German army special forces unit, was relieved of his command after praising a speech made by Christian Democrat parliamentarian Martin Hohmann, who, comparing Jewish Bolsheviks to Nazis, called Jews “a race of perpetrators.”

In its coverage of the EU poll results, the Telegraph reminded readers of recent comments made by Gretta Duisenberg, the activist wife of the EU’s Central Bank president, who pronounced the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank worse than Nazi rule in her native Holland. Almost all of the 100,000 Dutch Jews were exterminated during the 1940s.

Writing in The Electronic Intifada, Arjan El Fassed crunched the EU poll numbers and discovered that “the more highly educated respondents (66 per cent) are more likely to perceive Israel as a threat to world peace than those who ceased their studies at an earlier age. The results appear to be a mark of the widespread disapproval in Europe of the widespread violations of human rights employed by the government of Ariel Sharon.”

In reporting on the EU poll, took up the case of an Oxford professor who was suspended without pay for two months for barring a former Israeli army veteran from classes.

There was a time when Canada could be counted on to speak clearly and decisively when confronted with the sort of nonsense revealed in the EU poll, as if the Israeli democracy, flawed though it may be, can be mentioned in the same breath as rogue authoritarian states.

Under the baton of Jean Chretien, a latecomer to international affairs, we continue to waffle, most recently in his unwillingness to lambaste outgoing Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad for the bilge he spewed at an international Islamic conference, claiming that “Jews rule the world by proxy, they get others to fight and die for them.”

Canadians, appalled by the madness manifested by extreme elements on all sides of the Middle East divide, expect straight talk from our leaders on obvious matters of conscience.

This applies to calling a spade a spade in the stubborn, ham-fisted American adventurism in postwar Iraq, as well as condemning anyone ignorant enough to compare Israel unfavourably with North Korea.

Paul Martin has a chance to rescue our pride, our place as an honest, reliable international broker. We shall see.