Newsmaker: View from the Left
By MELISSA RADLER
"It is an open secret within the European Parliament and the European Commission that EU aid to the Palestinian Authority has not been spent correctly," Ilka Schroeder said during a recent address in New York.
The parliament, in which she has served in since 1999, "does not intend to verify whether European taxpayers' money could have been used to finance anti-Semitic murderous attacks. Unfortunately, this fits well with European policy in this area."
Nearly a year ago, Schroeder, 25, a German Green who began her political career protesting the war in Kosovo and denouncing globalization, set her sights on an issue long shunned by radical Left: the diverting of some of the 250 million in annual aid for the Palestinian people to corrupt officials and terrorist groups bent on Israel's destruction.
Faced with strident opposition from her fellow anti-racism activists, whom she derides as "simple-minded anti-Semites," and EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten, whom she has accused of "winking approval of terrorist attacks funded by the EU," Schroeder, along with French parliamentarian Francois Zimeray, nonetheless managed to initiate an inquiry by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) into the issue.
OLAF's most current public statement on the matter was a mid-November denial that European funds have financed Yasser Arafat's Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades.
For Schroeder, the funding issue points to a larger problem: Europe's misuse of the Middle East conflict to challenge US hegemony.
"The primary goal of the EU is the internationalization of the conflict in order to underline the need for its own mediating role," she argues, warning that renewed European calls for a multinational force in the region - heard most recently by the head of the largest political bloc in the parliament - combined with heightened levels of anti-Semitism in Europe and the Arab world, could spell disaster for Jews everywhere.
"The Palestinians are playing the ugly role of being the cannon fodder for Europe's hidden war against the US," she adds.
While Schroeder's call for accountability in EU funding was supported by nearly one quarter of the 626-member parliament, she appears grimly convinced that her efforts to expose anti-Zionism, which she sees as Europe's polite version of anti-Semitism, have come to naught. Embraced by Jewish groups in Europe and the US, Schroeder is now visiting Israel for the first time for further inquiry into her continent's role in the region.
"There is no difference in the consciousness of an average member of the European Parliament and an average German peace demonstrator, and I consider this to be a mixture of naivete, moralism, anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Zionism and an altogether serious danger," she said during her US speaking tour. "It is against these trends that my efforts are directed."
Why is Palestine such a popular cause in Europe?
The Palestinian cause is popular because Palestinians are seen by most of the left-wing as the classical victims of imperial world interests. Also, it fits in well with anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist ideology, whereby you can easily criticize Israel for everything it does militarily. Especially for Germans, it's important to see that Germany is not trying to get rid of its history but to instrumentalize the Shoah. That Israel exists is still kind of an outcome of the Shoah; it's still something that reminds the world of what Germany did. In picturing Israelis and Jews as the perpetrators - it's very popular to hear in Europe, the Israelis have learned nothing, they behave like the Nazis - it's an export of history. It's the old anti-Semitism expressed in different ways.
How was your role in initiating the OLAF inquiry greeted by the Left?
They thought I was absolutely crazy and they couldn't understand why anybody would stand up for Israel. It has been hardest to make my point among the Left because they are the most into anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. For me it's disappointing, because I believe the more left-wing people are, the more they should be interested in some kind of liberation and emancipation. For me, the vast majority in Palestine is very much against those aims and is very much regressive. I can't understand why [the Left] is blind to this, and why they are so blind to the history of Israel and the Jews and anti-Semitism.
Since the Holocaust, Germany has been a friend to Israel in the international arena. Do you see support for Israel starting to erode?
The conservatives have been friendlier, but they had a different calculation. They wanted to gain a more powerful Germany, but they wanted to do it through good relations with the US. Their friendship with Israel is more strategic, and this relative support is gone.
In Germany, people have had to hide it [anti-Israel sentiment] a bit. Now people are coming out and saying, I'm the taboo breaker, but there was never any taboo. Germans just say this to make themselves feel like they're the victims of some kind of Jewish censorship.
It seems that some things never change.
No, and they're getting worse. This is what I see happening in the long term in Germany. Of course in Europe, France and Belgium are much worse when it comes to Israel, but Germany is not a real friend of Israel.
What do you think of the post-Oslo peace initiatives: the road map, Geneva Accord, etc.?
In the road map and the Quartet, you can see the rising influence of Europe, and also of Germany, and the push to establish itself as the neutral mediator in the conflict. The road map was a real success for the Europeans and the Palestinians, and having analyzed the role of Europe, I can say this is a real danger for Israel.
The parties are not lacking a plan [for peace]; I think there is just no plan for people living in the Palestinian territories being incited by anti-Semitism, then wanting to found their own state. As long as so many countries support the Palestinian cause being so anti-Semitic and so directed against Israel, and the international scene is shifting against Israel more and more, we have a problem. Of course, I should tell you this should all change, anti-Semitism should stop, Israel should have its security, but I just don't see that happening. If anti-Semitism could exist after the Shoah, it's clear it's not going to go away tomorrow.
Why do Europeans seem unable to make the connection between terror in Israel and terror on their own soil?
Europe has much better relations with countries also with strong Islamist forces, so they don't see it as much as a threat as the US does. Of course, if you see the comparison between how they treated radical Kurdish organizations that were more worker orientated, when terrorism really hit them hard they sent people back to Turkey even though it was clear they'd be jailed, tortured, or worse.
The terror against Israel must also be seen in the context that Europeans don't want to see the Jews and Israelis as victims. After one of the suicide bombings in Israel, [EU Commissioner Chris] Patten once said, "I'm sorry for the families of the victims of the suicide bombings, as much as I'm sorry for the Palestinians who lost their members of families." He also says the bombings must be seen in the context of the Middle East, and then he points to Israeli actions...
On September 11, Europeans saw it as an attack against Western civilization, but very quickly, within a few weeks, it shifted into some kind of joy that the unchallenged world power was finally hit. Maybe in the Left there is a standard argument that of course it wasn't nice, but then there was this "but," and the "but" was that it was the US's fault. In other words, what should people do besides blow themselves up.
How did the United States come to be so reviled by Europe?
Anti-Americanism is nothing new; it's an old story, but now it's heated up. [US President George W.] Bush is a person who can be used more easily for proving anti-American stereotypes, but still I would say it doesn't depend on what the American government does. It's the same with anti-Semitism. It doesn't depend on the action of Jews; it's there and it won't disappear if you take another policy.