“We, the free and liberal people… ”
By Shoshana Bryen
WASHINGTON, D.C.– Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi spoke before the Knesset Monday, a rare honor for a visitor. He used the platform not only to praise Israel and talk about the warm Italian-Israeli ties that have grown and deepened during his tenure, but also to raise an increasingly difficult subject-Western civilization and the need to defend it.
News reports are concentrated on two themes-Berlusconi’s comments about Iran and the possibility of Israel joining the European Union (EU).
The Iran part is important, both because of the threats it poses and because Italian companies have been doing civilian business freely in Iran, including energy business. Berlusconi noted in his speech that Italian-Iranian trade has been reduced by about 30 percent during his tenure and that ENI, the Italian energy giant, has declined to renew a contract to stay in Iran. He pledged to respect new sanctions.
But why the EU? Israel has never asked to join, although it has close trade and political relations with it. An effort to upgrade Israel’s diplomatic status was dampened by European reaction to Operation Cast Lead.
The importance for Berlusconi may be in Article 49 of the EU Treaty, which includes the sentence, “The term ‘European’ combines geographical, historical and cultural elements which all contribute to European identity… [which] is subject to review by each succeeding generation.”
Who and what constitutes “European” is subject to review.
Israel is unquestionably the home of educated, inquisitive minds; representative government; capitalist economics and entrepreneurialism; tolerance, liberalism and religious freedom; and rule of law. All of which Europe is supposed to be; which Europe has been; and which Europe is increasingly hard-pressed to remain. In living memory-in Israel’s national memory-Europe abandoned its liberal tolerance and the Holocaust was the result. Abandoning the defense of European liberalism now would be a tragedy.
Adversaries of the West, be they Taliban, al Qaeda, Hamas or Iran, are motivated in some measure by confidence in the belief that what they do is good, important, moral and righteous. They are not only reacting to what they believe is wrong with us, but what is right for them. The West appears far less confident in “Western civilization” and has been known to apologize for it.
The Israel Test by George Gilder posits that one’s attitude toward Israel-positive or negative-is in fact a test of one’s self. Whether you see Israel as a positive, liberal force in the world or the nasty giant that “stole Palestine” is not so much about what Israel actually does as it is about your own worldview hence European “punishment” of Israel for defending itself against Hamas.
Prime Minister Berlusconi has no such problem. His worldview was expressed as “pride of the Judeo-Christian culture that formed the base of Western civilization.” He told the Knesset, “We, the free and liberal people across the world, thank you for your very existence.”
Bryen is senior director of security policy of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member