The European Union’s Mark of Shame

By Rav Doron Perez

The nature of anti-Semitism is that it is discriminatory, irrational and ultimately self-defeating.

The new European Union’s regulation requiring separate labeling of settlement goods to be sold in all of the 28 member states of the EU is a prime example of this. It is irrationally discriminatory in that it singles out one only disputed territory of the hundreds of the land disputes that exist around the world.

Erik Hagen, a Norwegian activist and former Chair of the Western Sahara Resource Watch, was enraged and outspoken about this development. “When it comes to products from Palestine and Western Sahara, there is a clear double standard in the European Union’s behavior.” He further states that the trade agreements between Morocco and the EU, do not include any mention of the fact that Western Sahara is considered by the EU as an ‘occupied territory’ by Morocco, and all produce made in Western Sahara are marked “Made in Morocco”. Incredibly, the UN General Assembly declared in 1979 that Morocco is an occupying force in this former Spanish colony and noted the “inalienable right of the people of Western Sahara” to their own independence. Western Sahara, of course, is not alone and is in the company of Kashmir, Tibet and many others.

What is most startling is that there is a current member of the European Union, the Republic of Cyprus which has a major land dispute with Turkey over the northern part of the island. Turkey invaded the island of Cyprus in 1974 and facilitated the establishment of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and embarked on a policy of forced population swaps between the North and the South. Remarkably, this country is recognized only by Turkey while the European Union regards this land as “occupied territory” by the Turks from the rightful owners – the Republic of Cyprus. It is irrational how blind this discrimination can be – the very same European Union is able to overlook the plight of so many others around the world, and even one of its own member states.

The timing of the decision of the EU is most significant – it happened one day after the anniversary of Kristallnacht, which took place this week, commemorating the events of that horrific night in Germany and Austria 77 years ago in 1938, which included the damaging or destruction of around 7000 Jewish businesses and shops not to mention the 1000 Synagogues and many private homes affected by the carnage. This of course came at the height of a labeling campaign discriminating against Jews that we are all too familiar with. The ugly head of European anti-Semitism has been reared once again using their veneer of laws and regulations. The yellow star of Europe in the 1930’s has now changed its color to the blue star of Israel in 2015. The EU had the opportunity to rekindle its soul that was lost in the first half of the 20th century, but unfortunately it is slipping away once again in the first part of the 21st century.

Anti-Semitism is also self-defeating. Erik Hagen further pointed out that the main international achievement of this regulation is the erosion of the EU’s moral credibility through this flagrant and blatant discrimination.

How can the EU be trusted as a moral arbiter when it doesn’t defend the “occupation” of one of its own member states, singles out only one from another part of the world while ignoring so many others? By losing its credibility internationally to many fair-minded people, and certainly to the leadership across the political spectrum of the State of Israel, the EU is losing any potential standing as a trusted arbitrator going forward. The prospect of peace has been compromised in the process. This regulation is also potentially damaging for many Palestinian Arabs. Israel’s economy is strong, and it will survive this, however, many of the 15,000 Palestinian Arabs who work in factories and businesses in these areas could lose their jobs if sales to the EU decrease.

What I find to be most outrageous is how the EU has included not only Judea and Samaria, but also East Jerusalem and even the Golan Heights in this regulation. The Palestinians have no claim to the Golan Heights – Syria does. As we all know, over 300,000 people have died in this war-torn area while men, women and children continue to be killed every day. The Syria of yesteryear is no longer. Furthermore, Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1981 and since then, all citizens of this region have full and equal political rights and yet, Israel is being penalised for annexing the Golan. Would our ‘friends’ at the EU seriously have preferred the Golan to be under Syrian rule and be afforded the ‘privilege’ of Assad’s civilian massacres? There seems to be no end to this moral and spiritual blindness!

How can one understand such discriminatory and irrational behaviour? We need not look further than this week’s Parsha as to a spiritual context to the world’s oldest hatred and particularly to its European incarnation.

In this week’s Parsha Toldot, we encounter the birth of the twins Eisav and Yaakov who literally contended with each other while in their mother’s womb, even before they were born (Bereshit 25:22).

This continued during their lifetime, in the battle over the blessing and beyond and brought one of the great Sages of the Mishna, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai to the following sharp observation:

אמר רשב”י: הלכה היא, בידוע שעשו שונא ליעקב, אלא שנמכרו רחמיו באותה שעה ונשקו בכל ליבו… (ספרי בהעלותך פיסקא י”א, תנחומא שמות פרק כ”ז)

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said: It is a law, and is well known that Eisav hates Yaakov, however at that moment he was overcome with mercy and hugged him with all his heart… (Sifrei Behaalotcha sec. 11, Tanchuma Shemot ch. 27)

The context of this comment is the seeming reconciliation between Eisav and Yaakov, on Yaakov’s return to Canaan in the beginning of Parshat Vayishlach. Even though Eisav gives Yaakov a big hug, there is an unusual annotation that we seldom find – a dot above each of the six letters, which make up the word “and he kissed him” / “וישקהו” (Bereshit 33:4). Noticing this irregularity, Rav Shimon Bar Yochai, always with an eye towards the true motives of man, senses a contradiction between Eisav’s internal feelings as opposed to his external behaviour. On the outside there is a loving embrance, but on the inside there is a duplicitous feeling of hate and enmity.

The Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Rav Shlomo Amar, makes a sharp observation regarding the unusual wording of Rav bar Yochai’s statement. Why is the fact of Eisav’s hatred towards Yaakov introduced with the seemingly out of place phrase referring to Jewish law – Halacha? And why, having already said that, is it emphasised that this is known to all (בידוע)?

Rav Amar answers that Eisav’s hatred is so deep that it indeed has become an intrinsic part of his interaction with Yaakov, almost with the status of a religious law. It is built-in to the fabric of Eisav’s attitude to Yaakov. So much so, that to the discerning eye, even when Eisav attempts to hug Yaakov, he cannot hide his obvious and blatant resentment.

In a plethora of Rabbinic sources, Eisav is identified with the Kingdom of Rome and thereafter also with early Christian Europe.

While so many millions of people who live in the countries of the European Union are fair-minded people, there are somehow many others who continue to be affected by the perennial prejudice of Eisav’s lingering hatred – anti-Semitism. This unfortunate decision of the EU is a modern-day incarnation of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s teaching.

At the same time, we as Jews are perennial optimists. The belief in a better future is part of our national DNA. No people has more reason to be pessimistic of the future based on our past, yet no nation has believed as much as we have in the ultimate redemption of all, and the prevailing of good over the misguided.

Despite the moral myopia of many, it is the Hand of G-d which guides history, enlightens the intellectually honest and fair-minded amongst us, and perpetually propels the world to unexpected horizons of hope and opportunity.

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