The EU, the Peace Prize and Israel's Marginalization

The decision to award this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union—announced as the EU edges ever closer to disintegration—is a clear attempt to breathe new life into a deeply challenged alliance. In Israel, as in much of the West, the decision has been portrayed as virtually comical, the latest in a series of Peace Prizes to recipients who simply did not merit the honor.

But the Nobel Committee’s decision is no mere foolishness—it reflects a worldview that is largely responsible for Israel’s marginalization in the international community. And as long as Israeli leaders fail to understand that what divides Israel and the EU is much deeper than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel will continue failing to make its case in the international community.

The Nobel Committee noted that “the dreadful suffering in World War II demonstrated the need for a new Europe.”  Who understood that better than the Jews, millions of whom had been exterminated in Germany and Poland with little response from the rest of the world?  But as they staggered out of what remained of postwar Europe, the Jews drew conclusions about their future that immediately put them at odds with Europe’s forward-thinkers.  European intellectuals decided that the nation-state was a model that needed to be relegated to the ash-heap of history; the Jews, in contrast, decided that the only thing that would avert their continual victimization was creating a nation-state of their own.

Thus, the Jewish state, without question the world’s highest-profile example of the ethnic nation-state, emerged onto the international stage just as Europe had decided that the model had run its course.  That is why historian Tony Judt called Israel “an anachronism,” urging that it be dismantled.  Widespread European disdain for Israel, while certainly fueled by both the enduring Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Muslim immigration to Europe, was thus all but inevitable.  Yes, Israel affords civil rights and freedom of worship to its many minorities; but it makes no attempt to deny that there is one specific people, one particular narrative, one religion to which is it most centrally committed.  The State of Israel is, to paraphrase Lincoln, “by the Jews, of the Jews and for the Jews.”  How could those who labored to create the European Union not consider the very idea of a Jewish state anathema?

The Jewish state is much more than a Jewish refuge created in response to the horrors of 20th-century Europe.  It is a country built on a conception of human flourishing utterly at odds with that at the heart of the EU.  Perhaps no one has put it better than George Eliot, who wrote in Daniel Deronda, “A human life, I think, should be well rooted in some spot of a native land, where it may get the love of tender kinship for the face of earth, for the labours men go forth to, for the sounds and accents that haunt it, for whatever will give that early home a familiar unmistakable difference amidst the future widening of knowledge . . . a spot where the definiteness of early memories may be inwrought with affection.”

The sounds and accents that haunt each of us, the narratives that shape our dreams and our fears, are not universal.  They are the ultimate particular allegiances and the most deeply held convictions that make us human.  A family that has lived in Bavaria for centuries has different traditions, memories, and very different conceptions of loyalty, honor and love, from a family that has deep roots in Tuscany.  They will raise their children differently, and urge them to read different books.  They will worship in different ways, and they will be willing to die for different causes.

When John Stuart Mill wrote that “the boundaries of government should coincide in the main with those of nationalities,” he was essentially making the same claim that George Eliot did. And both were expressing the fundamental insight that is at the heart of Zionism.

Yes, a new Europe was needed after World War II.  But was the transcendence of human difference really the solution?  Was the problem the nation-state, or the absence of democracy?  Thirty years ago, in two articles still considered classics, Michael Doyle noted that with almost no exceptions, liberal democracies do not go to war with each other.

The European Union represents a vision of the future in which peace is achieved by diminishing the importance we attach to our uniqueness and our differences.  The Jewish State is predicated on the belief that it is human difference that makes humanity majestic, and that it is our specificity which gives us reason to live, to defend ourselves and to educate future generations.

The recent Nobel Prize decision ought to be a reminder to Israeli leaders of the huge chasm that separates the Jewish State from the EU.  Zionism, Israel’s leaders must begin to insist, should not be seen as the last gasp of a discredited worldview, but rather, as a millennia-old claim that human difference is noble and that the preservation of ethnic distinctiveness is a deep-seated and natural human aspiration.

Israel is unlikely to change many European minds, but such a claim would at least free Israel from its current hopelessly defensive posture, and would engage the Western world in a principled conversation that would enrich Europe no less than it would serve the Jewish State.

About Daniel Gordis

Dr. Daniel Gordis is Senior Vice President and the Koret Distinguished Fellow at Shalem College in Jerusalem. The author of numerous books on Jewish thought and currents in Israel, and a recent winner of the National Jewish Book Award, Dr. Gordis was the founding dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism.

17 Comments on "The EU, the Peace Prize and Israel's Marginalization"

  • Esther Edell says

    Dr. Gordon is eloquent, as usual. His essay makes perfect sense and the ideas therein ring true. I only hope that the essay is also read by non-Zionists (be they Jewish or not). But then, those who hate us would read Dr. Gordon’s words with a jaundiced eye – not wanting to understand and succeeding.

    Shabbat shalom from Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal capital

  • Robin Weisel-Capsouto says

    An admirable article; I like the contrast between the EU and Israel; you express it well. As for the George Elliot quote, the real problem is that several generations of Native Palestinians are rooted to this land and possess a tender kinship for this piece of earth. Perhaps more than you or I whose memories are in the USA.

  • It’s hard to believe that Dr. Gordis is running out of threats to the Jewish People and our nation state … taking the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU as a rejection of The State of Israel is a “reach”. His identification of “universalism” as the antithesis of Judaism follows the same line of thought as Ze’ev Maghen’s philosophical rampage in his book: John Lennon and the Jews. We particularistic Jews do believe in universalism as an ideal and we celebrate it one day a week (Me’eyn olam habah – a taste of a perfect world)… and if the EU and European Liberals are so against a nation state… why are they supporting one for the Palestinians?
    So yes… we do have our enemies, and yes… anti-Semitism is growing daily and so is the movement to delegitimize Israel.. but our problem is not universalism, idealism or this year’s Nobel Peace Prize… we’ve got enough problems as it is!


    Bravo. As usual right on target. Hopefully this column with its thoughtful analysis will be widely disseminated (am I dreaming?) to open the eyes of those who make decisions to reality.
    Once again the Peace Prize has been diminished.

  • Laurie Sapir says

    Jewish collective memory, remembering and longing for Zion go back more than a few generations (the Palestinian claim). The “real problem” is that our claim, the ancient Jewish claim, is more and more questioned and delegitimized. Witness the ongoing attempts to sever any Jewish connection to Jerusalem being made now on the part of the Arab world,including the PA !

    How can the EU igonre the fact that since the end of the Cold War, nationhood has become more and more important, not less ? Witness the former Yugoslavia, the former Czechoslovakia – now carved into separate nations. Catalonia in Spain, the ancient Kurdish homeland which covers parts of Iran, Iraq and Turkey, the former USSR – all examples of populations within countries wishing to form their own ‘nations’ now.

  • David Waghalter says

    1. Many Asian countries could be considered – or at least consider themselves – ethnic nation states. Does that color their view of Israel at all, one way or another?
    2. America certainly isn’t an ethnic nation-state. How do you explain its affinity to Israel? (I mean other than being controlled by Zionist Elders.)

  • Jack Klein says

    It is dumb to think that Jew come from no where, and just hang out in countries that accepted them.
    The Catholic Church has called Jews the killers of Christ, and evicted them from Spain, and forced them to convert under penalties of DEATH.
    Why is the world so bloody influenced by such Church doctrines,that have penalized Jews for centuries, because they did not conform. Ask yourselves why???
    My answer to this, is and was, that their doctrines were challenged, and they wanted none of this.
    That brings me to the subject and essense of the “Marginalization of Israel.
    Israel,was created on a whim, after WWII.
    Six million Jews were slautered so as to errase, their kind, because the doctrine, was challenged, and deciples used it to fulfill and errase that challenge.
    Hitler used it to acquire “Legally” their wealth, as he convince his FOLK that Jews were Rats, and needed to be errased, and succeeded in it quite successfully.
    The history of the Jewish People is full of horrible adventures against them over thousand of years.
    Now the Palestinians picked up on the same human venture, and like to want “it all”.
    When the world will understand, that the people of the “BOOK”, the people that received the 10 commandment on Mount Sinai, are the same people, that live on the land, for thousand of years, and also were evicted from this land, and came back to it, multiple times; have the authority to build on it and live there, peacefully, and should be able to defend it, without interferences.
    Under, it’s rule, it has given shelter, and respect, to others that were allienated and persued like wise, which others did not respect doing.
    This brings me to the “Marginalization” that the EU and the international community
    seems to feel about Israel; which I concider to be a continuation, of denying Jews the same Rights and Prevaledges, that other have, and their victamization continues!
    Therefore Nation, and State Building, in this case is stopping the victimization of the Jewish people, via means of turning the dessert into bloom, and discovering new medicines that assists mankind in getting, healthier,and resisting persons like, Ahmadinejad wanting to destroy the Jewish State.
    Just as long as there are powers tobe, in this world that are relentless in continuing to harass Jews, Israel has to continue to be strong and relenless to fight off these powers, for their own sakes. This is NOT happening to other States, and therefore this difference has to be reckonded with.
    This means that the State of Israel, under the circumstates, has to be and act differently, as no other State wants to do.

    In conclusion, there really is no great chasm between Israel & the EU, concept of Statehood. However Israel’s Zionism was created in the 19th Century, with an early hope to stimulate the creation a hope for a country of the Jews

  • Jack Klein says

    I was not able to review my statement, above, as I did not have the time, to finish my statements, and was interupted.

    However,again the Palestenians are vying on the same inhuman ventures, for disenfranchising the State of Israel to destroy it.

    That is where Israel cannot be like other countries, because her challenges are enormous! Also Israel’s nobilness rests on it’s distinguished, preservations of ethnic distinctiveness in human asperations.

    As a relatively small country, it has excelled beyond believe in doing good to the world, and being a shinning lite, to nations. It takes a sincere and gratefull world to recogize this and act accordingly!

    Once again the Noble Peace Price has been deminished.

  • Herb says

    There is something else going on in Europe. Yes, there are many transnationalists among the EU elite, and they want to create a United States of Europe by decreasing the sovereignty of each individual nation. But they only condemn one nation, Israel. If it were a matter of considering the nation to be an anachronism, then they would be condemning all the nations throughout the earth, especially the most nationalistic ones, and there are plenty of those who are far worse than Israel. So the problem you write of does not get to the heart of the problem, and that problem is the Europe has not jettisoned its anti-Semitism. It merely disguises it under the name of anti-Zionism or anti-nationalism. To put it simply, they lie.

  • Maurice Miler says

    Congratulation on EU, peace prize and Israel marginalization.

    Clear well written, a must for each Israely, and foreign ministry staff (our daily sense of local security dull us as part of Western
    family falls stability & civilization,)

    This is a first, reading a coherent article describing EU gov anti-semitisme & anti Israel activism. EU gov is antisemitic driven using Palestinian problem to reach its goal: Israel destruction, same EU forces 1932-1945 at work.

    Very actual see page 10 of same J.POST UN & Richard Falk criminal liability action against Companies doing business with Israel settlement.

    Multi national companies operating in Israel, have individuals in sister companies
    in EU, in USA boycotting Israel made-product for pure political reasons.

    We take Israel as an established existence. In the current EU-gov mind state , If today Jews did not have a state, Jews would be again travelling in cattle wagon to EU extermination camps.

  • bobby says

    I certainly agree that Israel has the right to its uniquely Jewish character, but it has to behave Jewishly to justify its claim. When Israel builds a detention camp in the Negev for 15000 refugees escaping war starvation and death, and won’t give them permission to work or process their applications for asylum. When the Torah clearly commands us as Jews not to oppress the stranger, to give the stranger food and clothing, because we were strangers in Egypt,and in Europe, we are NOT being Jewish, and there by losing our unique place among the nations of the world. All the more tragic is the fact that the head of Shas, a supposedly Torah guided party, is leading the charge against the refugees further undermines our claim to a place in the world. Am Yisrael needs to act like Am Yisrael.

  • Harley Braidman says

    In my view, Israel’s main problem is a problem of identity. Zionism came about as a result of the Dreyfus Affair, which convinced Theodore Herzl that Jews had to return to their ancient homeland in order to survive. However, many religious Jews opposed it because they believed redemption and return to Zion had to be fulfilled through the Messiah. Personally, I believe in Rashi’s interpretation of Bereishit – In
    the Beginning: “If you do not believe the Holy One Blessed Be He gave the Land of Israel to the Jewish People, then you are nothing better than robbers (listim) or bandits, or as we call it in our modern terminology over 900 years later “imperialists and colonialists.” Secular Zionists have a problem: they want to be nice, liberal enlightened people, but they can’t be because Palestine or Eretz Yisrael is only 32,000 sq.kms and divided by Jews and Arabs, who do not want to see Israel in any borders. Sinai alone is more than twice the size of Israel. 22 Arab nations have over 2 million sq.kms of territory and the real issue is recognition of our right to an independent, Jewish state in secure and recognised orders, not armistice lines, which is intolerable 64 years after the state was founded. It takes two to tango and if the other side does not want to recognise us, we can wait another 4,000 years until Islam recognises Judaism and Christianity as equal partners, but fundamentalism, terrorism and extremism are rampant and it is time Europeans woke up to this fact. Iran should be thrown out of the UN for threatening to liquidate the Jewish state, but that is hardly likely. In the 1930s, liberals never saw Nazism nor Stalinism and the Mufti of Jerusalem sat at Hitler’s table.

  • Harley Braidman says

    PS. In line 16, there is a typo: it should read ‘recognised borders’, not ‘recognised orders’.

  • Wonderful article. Thank you Dr. Gordon.
    Yes, the peace prize is a joke, unworthy of our consideration – and so is the EU. They have their own problems,and while we may wish them well with them, we should give them no quarter in ours. As you say, Dr. Gordon, we have our history, our memories, and a responsibility to build a nation state of our own where we can welcome all who come in peace and defend ourselves against those who don’t.
    The Palestinian Israel conflict has never been more than a tool of the broader Israel Arab conflict. Israel is anathema to the Arab world, and its target.If the EU chooses to condone the threat of the Middle East, so be it. Let us look ignore their vanities, their condemnations and their now meaningless prizes, and look to our own.

  • Ben Dor says

    Studying the history of Europe would clarify to readers of this article that it was Europe who massacred, enslaved, robbed and embezzled many ancient nations throughout history to reach their present affluent stage.
    Most present EU nations (the former empires) are responsible for terrible atrocities against humanity including the Indians in North and South America, Africans, Asians and Aborigines in Australia not to mention the Holocaust.

    Just in the past 20 years so many new nations have emerged out of the former USSR and new borders drawn and accepted by the EU. Who are they to pass judgement on Israel? Who are they to lecture us about human rights?

    As for the comments left here by a person named bobby blaming Israel for detention of refugees from Africa. Let me fill you in with some facts.

    Most of these so called “refugees” are nothing more than people looking for better living conditions and work existing in their countries. Should they wish to work or immigrate to Israel they should do it through legal means by applying in their country for this status and not smuggling the border via Egypt and paying lavishly to Bedouin smugglers to help them smuggle the border.
    Over 10,000 of these African were interviewed by the authorities out of which only 9 were actually refugees. So please do not spread libels against the State of Israel.

  • TomSolomon says

    Insightful article, as usual. The only clarification is that this European dream is held, for the most part, by the elites. The French or Flemish man on the street, doesn’t hold such lofty notions. Their identification is French or Flemish, not European.

  • Sheila Novitz says

    Brilliant and beautiful. Thank you, Daniel Gordis.

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