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Home / Spring 2006 / Spring 2006

Pipeline to Peril
How Europe’s surrender in the face of the 1973 oil embargo turned the continent against Israel and set off a wave of violence against Jews.

by Richard L. Rubenstein

On the European continent, Jews are under siege. The EU has turned aggressively against Israel, and the post-Holocaust taboo on anti-Semitic speech and incitement has been broken, opening the way for a plethora of anti-Jewish statements, cartoons, and caricatures.

What lies at the root of this shift? During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries unleashed the oil weapon, embargoing critical oil exports to the United States and Western Europe as a strategy for compelling Israel to withdraw unconditionally from all territories occupied in the 1967 war.

The US rejected Arab demands, but the European Community (EC, later EU), more dependent on Arab oil than America, decided on a policy of outright appeasement. This led to a series of quasi-official meetings between European and Arab officials and experts that culminated in a meeting at the ministerial level in Paris on July 31, 1974. There, an agreement was reached to initiate the Euro-Arab Dialogue (EAD), an ongoing series of closed, high-level meetings between senior officials of the two sides which would enable the EC and the Arab League to formulate a new understanding on economic, cultural, and diplomatic issues. An important EAD objective was the eventual replacement of the US by the French-led European Community as the dominant influence in the Middle East. Over time, the EAD would institute a number of long-term policy agreements that guaranteed the Europeans both an uninterrupted oil supply and lucrative export contracts with oil-rich Arab states. In return, the Europeans would facilitate international recognition of the PLO at a time when its charter called for Israel's destruction, and enable Arab religious, cultural, and intellectual institutions to achieve unprecedented influence in Europe.

The Arabs also pressured the EC to relax its immigration rules and permit a massive influx of Muslims into Europe. From its inception, every EAD meeting passed resolutions in support of Muslim immigration to Europe.

By 2003, according to the US Department of State's Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, excluding Turkey, 23.2 million Muslims resided in Europe. And as the Muslim population in Europe increased, so too did its political clout and anti-Semitism.

A New Phase of Jewish History

The stage had already been set for Europe's return to mainstream anti-Semitism by France's Charles De Gaulle when he asserted at a November 28, 1967 press conference that "Jews are still what they had always been--an elite people, sure of themselves and domineering" and responsible for "provoking ill-will in certain countries and at certain times." Breaking the post-Holocaust taboo, he deliberately stirred up anti-Semitic sentiments in an effort to curry favor with the Muslim world at a time when Arabs were still in a state of shock and rage over their humiliating defeat in the Six-Day War at the hands of the Israelis in June 1967. The celebrated French-Jewish social theorist Raymond Aron, who had previously been sympathetic to De Gaulle, immediately understood the import of De Gaulle's attack. Aron, a highly assimilated French Jew, rightly concluded that "General De Gaulle knowingly and deliberately initiated a new phase of Jewish history."

Deploying the Arab Oil Weapon

On Yom Kippur, October 6, 1973, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel. Ten days later, in the midst of the war, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, and Qatar announced a stunning 70 percent rise in oil prices, from $3.01 to $5.12 a barrel. On October 17, the Arab oil producers reduced production by 5 percent and threatened further cuts of 5 percent a month until Israel withdrew completely from the occupied territories. A day later, October 18, Saudi Arabia announced that it would cut production 10 percent until Arab terms were met. On October 19, Saudi Arabia, Libya, and other Arab oil producers imposed a total oil embargo on the United States and the Netherlands in retaliation for their support of Israel during the war. (The US had airlifted arms to Israel in response to the Soviet Union's attempt to supply Egypt with a sufficient number of weapons to defeat Israel and become the Middle East's dominant superpower.) France and Great Britain were effectively exempt from the embargo--a reward for having denied US access to their airfields to resupply Israel.

The European response to the Arab oil weapon was both swift and craven. Meeting in Brussels on November 6, 1973, two weeks after the war's end, the nine foreign ministers of the European Economic Community (EEC) issued an unambiguously pro-Arab statement listing what they regarded as essential requirements for Middle East peace. These included the termination of Israel's 1967 occupation of Arab territory and recognition of the "legitimate rights of the Palestinians," a condition mild by today's standards but not so in 1973 when the PLO was engaged in international terror. The European foreign ministers also asserted the "inadmissibility of acquiring territory by force," a doctrine they applied exclusively to Israel. And, employing an old trick in diplomacy--mistranslation--they distorted the intent of UN Resolution 242. Originally formulated in English, the resolution referred only to an unspecified Israeli "withdrawal from territories" in exchange for an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The French translation improperly altered the original meaning to "from the territories" (des territories), creating the false impression that under the UN resolution Israel had no legitimate claim to any part of the occupied West Bank. In spite of American opposition, the EEC had signaled to the Arabs that it would meet their demands.

The Europeans also attempted to convince the United States to join them in pressuring Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories. According to then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, European leaders complained that the United States was to blame for the Yom Kippur War because of its failure to force Israel into a settlement. In their view, America had put vital European interests at risk because of "domestic politics." In reality, this was a nasty bit of code language in which the Europeans blamed the United States for allegedly pandering to the Jewish lobby at Europe's expense.

The Nixon Administration rejected the European position. Capitulating to the Arabs under pressure, the US insisted, would signal weakness and lead to demands for further concessions. Instead, Washington sought a unified response by the oil-consuming nations to counter the Arab oil weapon. Speaking in London on December 12, 1973, Kissinger called for the establishment of "an Energy Action group of senior and prestigious individuals with a mandate to develop within three months an initial action program for collaboration in all areas of the energy problem." Kissinger reasoned that the embargo had been the result of unified action by the producing nations and that only the unified response of the consumers offered any hope of coming to a mutually satisfactory agreement.

Led by the French, the Europeans would have none of it. French President Georges Pompidou told Kissinger that France would not run the slightest risk of an oil cutoff; nor would it participate in any action or policy that might provoke a confrontation with the Arab states.

On December 4, 1973, the Dutch bowed to Arab pressure, denouncing Israel's occupation of Arab territories as "illegal" and demanding a total withdrawal. What had prompted this change of policy? Three days earlier, the Saudi and Algerian oil ministers had met with the Dutch Minister of Commerce in The Hague and requested a special anti-Israeli "gesture" as the price of lifting the embargo.

In mid-September, 1974, emboldened by their diplomatic successes, Arab delegates attending a conference of European and Arab parliamentarians in Damascus demanded that the Europeans agree to four points as a pre-condition for economic cooperation: 1) unconditional Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines; 2) Arab sovereignty over the old city of Jerusalem; 3) the participation of the PLO and Arafat in any negotiations; and 4) EEC pressure to detach the US from Israel "and bring its policies closer to those of the Arab states."

Over time, the Europeans consented to these demands. A common pro-Arab Middle Eastern policy was agreed upon that sought to create "a global alternative to American power." The EAD was assigned the task of creating institutional structures to facilitate the integration and harmonization of European and Arab policies in international affairs, culture, education, and the media.

However, the architects of this policy faced a major obstacle--European public sentiment remained pro-Israel.

The Immigration Factor

Georges Montaron, the influential director of Témoignage Chrétien, a left-wing Catholic group with a strong pro-Arab bias, had anticipated this problem. In a 1970 lecture in Cairo, he advised his Arab audience: "If you succeed in making from authentic Oriental Arabs authentic Frenchmen and Englishmen, what an influence you would yield in Europe." A wave of Arab immigration to Europe, Montaron realized, could turn the tide of public opinion against Israel.

Montaron was well aware that, beginning with Germany's Gastarbeiter (temporary "guest" worker) program in the 1950s, Western Europe was already recruiting Arabs, Turks, Kurds, and other Muslims to solve the labor shortage that had developed during the postwar reconstruction period. However, these temporary workers were expected to return home when no longer needed. Permanent residence would be assured only when either the workers or their children became eligible for citizenship. Citizenship in France and Great Britain was automatically granted to anyone born in the country. In Germany, citizenship was based on blood kinship rather than place of birth--but this changed on January 1, 2000, when new citizenship laws were enacted making it possible to acquire citizenship by being born in Germany, and in some cases through naturalization.

With EAD encouragement, Muslim immigration to Europe soared, and with the advent of a new generation, so did the number of Muslim citizens. In 2003, for example, only 15-20 percent of Germany's Muslims were citizens, but a recent study by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation found that the majority of Muslims are planning to apply or in the process of applying for citizenship. Writing in the Washington Quarterly (Summer 2004), Timothy M. Savage, division chief of the US Department of State's Office of European Analysis, concluded that "these figures indicate that Germany could soon have up to 2.4 million new [Muslim] citizens and, significantly, potential voters." A similar surge in Muslim voting power is expected in Spain; in Italy, where 10 percent of its approximately one million Muslims currently hold Italian citizenship; and in the countries of Scandinavia, where the percentage of Muslims who are citizens are expected to increase significantly from the current 15-30 percent levels.

Just as Montaron had foreseen, massive Muslim immigration has had a profound impact on European sentiment toward Israel and Jews, ranging from the widespread pro-Arab slant in the news media to efforts to eliminate Holocaust commemorative events and Holocaust education in public schools. In January 2005, for example, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, O.B.E., Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, wrote to Charles Clarke, the British Home Secretary, saying that the Muslim Council would not attend Holocaust Memorial Day, a national observance under the patronage of the Queen, unless it included the "holocaust" of the Palestinian Intifada (Sunday Times, London, January 23, 2005). In July 2005, some members of the Prime Minister's all-Muslim advisory committee on Islamic affairs called for the abolition of Holocaust Memorial Day altogether "because it is offensive to Muslims." Continued observance, they warned, would encourage extremism among young Muslims, a not very veiled threat coming shortly after the London subway bombings. In its place, they advocated creation of a day commemorating all genocide victims, including the Palestinians (The Sunday Times, London, September 11, 2005).

Given their numbers, Muslims have already achieved significant clout in local elections, especially in France and England. To curry favor, some British politicians, such as Ken Livingstone, London's mayor, have publicly expressed hostility toward Israel. In July 2004, Livingstone officially received as an honored guest Sheikh Yusef al-Qaradawi, a celebrity satellite TV preacher who makes his home in Qatar. In honoring Qaradawi, Livingstone ignored his guest's public approval of suicide bombings targeting civilians in Israel and the indiscriminate killing of Americans in Iraq.

In Germany, the addition of 2.4 million Muslim citizens could have a major impact on future national elections. With the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats equally divided, Muslim voters, who are overwhelmingly anti-American as well as anti-Israel, could tip the scales with serious strategic consequences.

The German government retains something of a special relationship with Israel, although most Germans are more sympathetic to the Palestinians than to the Israelis. According to a 2004 University of Bielefeld opinion poll, 68 percent of "non-immigrant" Germans believe that Israel is waging a war of extermination against the Palestinians, while 51 percent believe there is not much difference between what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians and what the Nazis did to the Jews. In her first address to the German Parliament as Chancellor, Angela Merkel declared that Germany will stand by Israel and sell the Jewish state two advanced long-range submarines at a cost of $1.17 billion, with Germany sharing one-third the cost. Still, on December 1, 2005, when the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of six one-sided resolutions critical of Israel, Germany, along with every EU member, voted with the majority. Only the United States and Australia were among the major nations to vote against the resolutions.

Anti-Semitic Attacks Accelerate

Today, France has the largest Muslim population in Europe, numbering between 4.5 and 6 million, of which more than three-fifths are citizens. Mahmoud M. Ayoub of Temple University has projected that "by the early decades of the twenty-first century, Muslims will constitute half the population of France" (World Religions: Western Traditions, Oxford University Press). The much smaller Jewish community of approximately 650,000 has increasingly been the target of Muslim extremists. According to a report by the anti-Semitism watchdog organization S.O.S. Vérité-Sécurité, 147 Jewish institutions--schools, synagogues, community centers, businesses--were attacked in 2004 alone. According to the Ministry of the Interior, the number of reported attacks rose from 833 in 2003 to 1,565 in 2004. The slogan "Mort aux juifs" (Death to the Jews) has been scribbled on school blackboards and uttered at mass rallies. Rabbis have been assaulted. Sebastien Salem, an Algerian Jew and one of the country's most popular DJs, was the victim of a ritualistic near-decapitation in Paris. The killer, a neighbor of Salem's, told his mother: "I have killed my Jew. I can go to paradise." Not surprisingly, there has been a significant increase in French-Jewish immigration to Israel. According to Jewish Agency statistics, Jewish immigration from France rose 30 percent in the first half of 2005. By the end of the year, Agency officials expect 3,300 new French arrivals--the highest number in thirty-five years and one of the highest from any single country.

European leaders have sought to play down the rising rate of attacks by some Muslims against Jews and Jewish institutions. However, a series of anti-Semitic incidents in early 2002 prompted the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, an EU-sponsored institution, to commission the Center for Research on Anti-Semitism (CRA) of the Technical University of Berlin to conduct a study on the prevalence of physical and verbal violence against Jews and Jewish institutions. The CRA submitted its 112-page report in October 2002. Despite the CRA's impeccable reputation for scientific research, the EU withheld publication of the report, deeming "inflammatory" one of its key conclusions--namely that Muslim and pro-Palestinian groups were largely responsible for the new and violent wave of hatred in Europe. According to the study, of the "191 violent attacks on synagogues, Jewish schools, kosher shops, cemeteries, and rabbis in 2002," most had been perpetrated by "youth from neighborhoods sensitive to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

The EU's attempt to suppress the report backfired when it was leaked to the press by an unknown source. In July 2003, US Congressman Robert Wexler (D, Florida) wrote to Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, demanding its release. Forced to respond, the EU issued a revised report, claiming that the original was of "poor quality and lacking in empirical evidence." Refuting this claim, the CRA published a detailed account both of its dealings with the EU commission and its research methods, noting: "There is some evidence that it was...political pressure from various EU countries on the management board that had led to its [the original report's] non-publication...."

The new version of the EU report blatantly contradicted one of the key conclusions of the original. Acknowledging that some of the perpetrators were young Muslims and "people of North African origin," the revised report stated that the largest group of perpetrators of anti-Semitic activities appeared to be young, disaffected white Europeans influenced by extreme right ideas on Jews. This statement contradicted the original study's findings that in 2002 "the percentage [of anti-Semitic activities] attributable to the extreme right was only nine per cent." The findings of the original EU report have since been corroborated by the US State Department Report on Global Anti-Semitism, issued on January 5, 2005, as well as by the ADL's survey of "Attitudes Toward Jews in Twelve European Countries," independently prepared by First International Resources, LLC and issued on May 5, 2005.

The Future of Europe

As its Muslim population increases, Europe faces a growing threat from Islamic radicals. According to Bassam Tibi, professor of Political Science at Germany's Göttingen University, himself a Muslim and an internationally recognized authority on Islamic extremism, "The goal of the Islamic fundamentalists is to abolish the Western, secular order and replace it with a new Islamic divine order....The goal of the Islamists is a new imperial, absolutist Islamic power." Professor Tibi explains that while about half of the world's Muslim population may hope for the future supremacy of Islam, only between 3 and 5 percent are willing to resort to violence and, if necessary, suicide. His estimates are hardly reassuring: 3 to 5 percent of the world's Muslim population ranges from 39 to 65 million people.

Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, an extremist Muslim leader formerly domiciled in London, confirms Tibi's assessment of Islamic fundamentalist goals. In an interview in Le Monde (September 9, 1998), the sheikh declared that the Islamist movement intends "to make the flag of Islam fly high at No. 10 Downing Street and at the Élysée Palace." Similar positions have been expressed by other highly influential Muslim leaders, including Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, Mayor Ken Livingstone's honored guest in London; and Saudi Sheikh Muhammad bin Abd Al-Rahman Al-'Arifi, imam of the mosque of the King Fahd Defense Academy. Qaradhawi, who broadcasts a weekly program on Al Jazeera with a worldwide audience, has often stated in his TV sermons that "Islam will return to Europe as a conqueror," although he is careful to add that "the conquest this time will not be by the sword but by preaching and ideology."

All authorities are agreed that European Islam is by no means a monolith. Nevertheless, younger European-born Muslims tend to be more alienated from the dominant culture than are their parents and grandparents. According to a 2003 Le Figaro survey, three-fourths of French Muslim respondents regarded the values of Islam as compatible with those of the French Republic, but only one-fourth of those under 25 concurred. These alienated European-born Muslims constitute a fertile recruiting group for extremists who openly call for the Muslim conquest of Europe.

Harvard historian Niall Ferguson has observed that "the whole of Western Europe is entering a new era of demographic transformation without parallel in modern times." Princeton Professor Bernard Lewis has predicted (in a July 28, 2004 interview in Die Welt) that "Europe will be Muslim by the end of the century." No one can be sure whether such projections will actually come to pass, but regardless of whether Muslims achieve a numerical majority, there can be no doubt that their power and influence in Europe is in the ascendancy. And if present trends continue, we can expect to see an intensification of anti-Israel sentiments and policies as well as a proliferation of attacks against European Jews.

In the final analysis, Europe's new anti-Semitism is the result of a foreign policy rooted in European dependence on Arab oil. Some thirty years ago, in response to a temporary crisis, Europe's leaders made the fateful decision to appease the Arab League and open their gates to a population that includes elements which pose a serious threat not only to Jews but, as the Madrid and London bombings and last November's riots in France demonstrate, to all Europeans.

Richard L. Rubenstein is president emeritus and distinguished professor of Religion at the University of Bridgeport. His latest book, La Perfidie de l'Histoire, jointly published in Paris in 2005 by Éditions Provinciales and Les Éditions du Cerf, addresses the problems arising from mass Muslim immigration to Europe.

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