Commentary Magazine


Topic: Sweden

Just Say No

Anyone seeking to combat growing anti-Israel intimidation worldwide ought to pay attention to an obscure soccer match last week.

Such intimidation has become common at sporting events, just as it has at college campuses, public lectures and many other venues. In Malmo, Sweden, this past March, for instance, organizers barred spectators entirely from Israel’s Davis Cup tennis match against Sweden, owing to fear of pro-Palestinian protesters who, the town’s mayor said, had recently pelted a pro-Israel demonstration with bottles, eggs, and fireworks. Two months earlier, an Israeli basketball team fled the court in panic during a EuroCup match in Ankara, Turkey, after thousands of Turkish fans waving Palestinian flags shouted “death to the Jews,” threw shoes and water battles, and ultimately stormed the court. (Adding insult to injury, EuroCup’s governing body then slapped Israel with a technical loss because the frightened players refused to take the court again.)

So when Hapoel Tel Aviv played Celtic in Glasgow last week, the Scottish Trade Unions Congress — one of many European unions that have voted to boycott Israel — saw a golden opportunity: it urged Celtic fans to wave Palestinian flags during the match in “solidarity with suffering Palestinians.” But in the end, the protest fizzled: only “a handful” of pro-Palestinian protesters occupied the stands, Reuters reported.

This defeat required no major investment of time, money, or energy. All it took was one simple news statement by Celtic’s management — asserting that its stadium was “no place for a political demonstration” and urging fans to ignore STUC’s call.

This tactic worked not because Glasgow is a hotbed of pro-Israel sentiment; it’s anything but. Rather, it worked because Celtic fans, like the vast majority of the human race, don’t consider the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a high priority. And on issues people don’t care much about, they usually follow the path of least resistance.

If a prominent organization like STUC urges a pro-Palestinian protest, and nobody opposes it, the path of least resistance for anyone mildly pro-Palestinian — i.e., most Scots — would be to take a flag (assuming organizers are smart enough to hand them out) and even wave it: acquiescence is always easier than opposition. But the minute someone with any kind of standing, like Celtic’s management, opposes it, doing nothing becomes the preferred option — because then, taking a flag means actively taking sides. And taking sides is much harder than doing nothing.

Given how easy it turns out to be to thwart such anti-Israel intimidation, it is disturbing that so many people in authority — from mayors to college deans to heads of sporting organizations — nevertheless prefer to collaborate with the thugs by remaining silent. Yet at the same time, this demonstration ought to hearten pro-Israel activists. For if Celtic’s success once again proves that all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing, it also shows that sometimes, all it takes to defeat evil is for a few good men to just say no.

Anyone seeking to combat growing anti-Israel intimidation worldwide ought to pay attention to an obscure soccer match last week.

Such intimidation has become common at sporting events, just as it has at college campuses, public lectures and many other venues. In Malmo, Sweden, this past March, for instance, organizers barred spectators entirely from Israel’s Davis Cup tennis match against Sweden, owing to fear of pro-Palestinian protesters who, the town’s mayor said, had recently pelted a pro-Israel demonstration with bottles, eggs, and fireworks. Two months earlier, an Israeli basketball team fled the court in panic during a EuroCup match in Ankara, Turkey, after thousands of Turkish fans waving Palestinian flags shouted “death to the Jews,” threw shoes and water battles, and ultimately stormed the court. (Adding insult to injury, EuroCup’s governing body then slapped Israel with a technical loss because the frightened players refused to take the court again.)

So when Hapoel Tel Aviv played Celtic in Glasgow last week, the Scottish Trade Unions Congress — one of many European unions that have voted to boycott Israel — saw a golden opportunity: it urged Celtic fans to wave Palestinian flags during the match in “solidarity with suffering Palestinians.” But in the end, the protest fizzled: only “a handful” of pro-Palestinian protesters occupied the stands, Reuters reported.

This defeat required no major investment of time, money, or energy. All it took was one simple news statement by Celtic’s management — asserting that its stadium was “no place for a political demonstration” and urging fans to ignore STUC’s call.

This tactic worked not because Glasgow is a hotbed of pro-Israel sentiment; it’s anything but. Rather, it worked because Celtic fans, like the vast majority of the human race, don’t consider the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a high priority. And on issues people don’t care much about, they usually follow the path of least resistance.

If a prominent organization like STUC urges a pro-Palestinian protest, and nobody opposes it, the path of least resistance for anyone mildly pro-Palestinian — i.e., most Scots — would be to take a flag (assuming organizers are smart enough to hand them out) and even wave it: acquiescence is always easier than opposition. But the minute someone with any kind of standing, like Celtic’s management, opposes it, doing nothing becomes the preferred option — because then, taking a flag means actively taking sides. And taking sides is much harder than doing nothing.

Given how easy it turns out to be to thwart such anti-Israel intimidation, it is disturbing that so many people in authority — from mayors to college deans to heads of sporting organizations — nevertheless prefer to collaborate with the thugs by remaining silent. Yet at the same time, this demonstration ought to hearten pro-Israel activists. For if Celtic’s success once again proves that all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing, it also shows that sometimes, all it takes to defeat evil is for a few good men to just say no.

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The EU’s New Effort to Thwart Israeli-Palestinian Peace

For a body that prides itself on its “soft power,” the European Union has a remarkable capacity to stymie its own diplomatic goals through inept diplomacy.

A classic example was the UN-brokered agreement to reunify Cyprus in 2004, when the EU promised to admit Greek Cyprus regardless of whether it accepted the agreement, whereas Turkish Cyprus would be admitted only if both sides accepted the plan. The results were predictable: Greek Cypriots, their reward assured regardless of their behavior, had no reason to make even the minimal concessions the plan entailed, so they rejected it. But Turkish Cypriots, who approved it, were penalized: even the minor economic benefits the EU pledged after the vote never materialized, because Greek Cyprus used its shiny new EU veto to block them. Five years later, the negotiations drag on, and the island remains divided.

The EU is now poised to make the same mistake in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, via a draft document proposed by its rotating president, Sweden, that Israeli diplomats say EU foreign ministers look certain to adopt on December 7. The document reportedly details every concession the EU expects Israel to make to the Palestinians but specifies no reciprocal Palestinian concessions. And it thereby feeds Palestinian illusions that they need not make any concessions; the international community will simply force Israel to accept all their demands.

Specifically, the document says that East Jerusalem must be the capital of the Palestinian state and that the 1967 lines must be its borders, unless the Palestinians choose otherwise. It also implies that the EU would recognize a unilaterally declared Palestinian state in these borders “at the appropriate time.”

But it doesn’t demand that the Palestinians give up their dream of resettling millions of descendants of refugees in Israel — something everyone recognizes as a sine qua non of any agreement.

It doesn’t demand border adjustments to account for the hundreds of thousands of Jews who live over the Green Line, especially in Jerusalem, though everyone knows this is necessary: no agreement that entailed evicting hundreds of thousands of Israelis from their homes would ever pass the Knesset.

It doesn’t demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state or acknowledge Jewish rights on the Temple Mount. It doesn’t require any security arrangements. It doesn’t even call for recognizing West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Normally, these issues would be resolved during negotiations. But if the EU has already “given” the Palestinians East Jerusalem and the 1967 borders, the Palestinians have no need to make concessions on, say, the “right of return” in exchange. Nor need they make such concessions in exchange for anything else, because once borders and Jerusalem are off the table, Israel has nothing left to give. In short, Israel will have no means of extracting the concessions it needs for a viable deal. Therefore, there will be no deal.

Adopting this document would thus kill any chance of achieving one of the EU’s own stated top priorities: Israeli-Palestinian peace. Evidently, some diplomats never learn.

For a body that prides itself on its “soft power,” the European Union has a remarkable capacity to stymie its own diplomatic goals through inept diplomacy.

A classic example was the UN-brokered agreement to reunify Cyprus in 2004, when the EU promised to admit Greek Cyprus regardless of whether it accepted the agreement, whereas Turkish Cyprus would be admitted only if both sides accepted the plan. The results were predictable: Greek Cypriots, their reward assured regardless of their behavior, had no reason to make even the minimal concessions the plan entailed, so they rejected it. But Turkish Cypriots, who approved it, were penalized: even the minor economic benefits the EU pledged after the vote never materialized, because Greek Cyprus used its shiny new EU veto to block them. Five years later, the negotiations drag on, and the island remains divided.

The EU is now poised to make the same mistake in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, via a draft document proposed by its rotating president, Sweden, that Israeli diplomats say EU foreign ministers look certain to adopt on December 7. The document reportedly details every concession the EU expects Israel to make to the Palestinians but specifies no reciprocal Palestinian concessions. And it thereby feeds Palestinian illusions that they need not make any concessions; the international community will simply force Israel to accept all their demands.

Specifically, the document says that East Jerusalem must be the capital of the Palestinian state and that the 1967 lines must be its borders, unless the Palestinians choose otherwise. It also implies that the EU would recognize a unilaterally declared Palestinian state in these borders “at the appropriate time.”

But it doesn’t demand that the Palestinians give up their dream of resettling millions of descendants of refugees in Israel — something everyone recognizes as a sine qua non of any agreement.

It doesn’t demand border adjustments to account for the hundreds of thousands of Jews who live over the Green Line, especially in Jerusalem, though everyone knows this is necessary: no agreement that entailed evicting hundreds of thousands of Israelis from their homes would ever pass the Knesset.

It doesn’t demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state or acknowledge Jewish rights on the Temple Mount. It doesn’t require any security arrangements. It doesn’t even call for recognizing West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Normally, these issues would be resolved during negotiations. But if the EU has already “given” the Palestinians East Jerusalem and the 1967 borders, the Palestinians have no need to make concessions on, say, the “right of return” in exchange. Nor need they make such concessions in exchange for anything else, because once borders and Jerusalem are off the table, Israel has nothing left to give. In short, Israel will have no means of extracting the concessions it needs for a viable deal. Therefore, there will be no deal.

Adopting this document would thus kill any chance of achieving one of the EU’s own stated top priorities: Israeli-Palestinian peace. Evidently, some diplomats never learn.

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Was This A False Positive?

STOCKHOLM, Sweden – Two people were arrested Wednesday after a worker was stopped at the entrance of a Swedish nuclear plant with a bag containing traces of an explosive which has been used in terror attacks.

Police said a welder was stopped during a random security check at the facility. Plant spokesman Roger Bergman said a second suspect was arrested because “there is some uncertainty about who owns the bag.”

The full story is available here. This could be nothing, but if it’s not nothing, it would be a very big deal.

STOCKHOLM, Sweden – Two people were arrested Wednesday after a worker was stopped at the entrance of a Swedish nuclear plant with a bag containing traces of an explosive which has been used in terror attacks.

Police said a welder was stopped during a random security check at the facility. Plant spokesman Roger Bergman said a second suspect was arrested because “there is some uncertainty about who owns the bag.”

The full story is available here. This could be nothing, but if it’s not nothing, it would be a very big deal.

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Europe’s Choice

Despite European worries about an imminent U.S. attack on Iran—issuing largely from people who fear the U.S. more than nuclearized mullahs—a U.S. strike on Iranian nuclear facilities is, according to CentCom head William Fallon, not in the offing. (Max Boot’s criticism of Fallon can be found here). Nonetheless, the pressure is mounting from the U.S. on Europe to put its money where its mouth is: One cannot be against a military solution and also oppose more sanctions, as the EU generally does. That position, in practice, supports Iran’s nuclear ambitions. And Europe has held that position for some time, culminating in the decision, a month ago, by the EU-27 foreign ministers, not to endorse France’s proposal—pushed by its FM, Bernard Kouchner—to adopt broader EU sanctions against Iran. Opposition largely came from countries such as Austria, Germany, Italy, and Sweden, which all have thriving commercial relations with Iran.

Since then, there’s been a slight change for the better. Pressure from the U.S. (along with a change of mood in some European capitals) has been brought to bear on European companies. Thanks to Berlin’s recent decision to endorse a tougher approach, Deutsche Bank, the Dresdner and Kommerz banks, and Siemens have pulled out of any new business dealings in Iran. So far, so good, but it’s not enough. It would behoove those Europeans most worried about military strikes against Iran to show more courage and willingness to sacrifice a contract or two for the sake of peace. If, as Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi recently said, a military solution is to be opposed because it would further “destabilize the region,” then Prodi, as the prime minister of Iran’s first trading partner, might wish to instruct his foreign minister to endorse France’s view: support broader sanctions—the only alternative to war.

Despite European worries about an imminent U.S. attack on Iran—issuing largely from people who fear the U.S. more than nuclearized mullahs—a U.S. strike on Iranian nuclear facilities is, according to CentCom head William Fallon, not in the offing. (Max Boot’s criticism of Fallon can be found here). Nonetheless, the pressure is mounting from the U.S. on Europe to put its money where its mouth is: One cannot be against a military solution and also oppose more sanctions, as the EU generally does. That position, in practice, supports Iran’s nuclear ambitions. And Europe has held that position for some time, culminating in the decision, a month ago, by the EU-27 foreign ministers, not to endorse France’s proposal—pushed by its FM, Bernard Kouchner—to adopt broader EU sanctions against Iran. Opposition largely came from countries such as Austria, Germany, Italy, and Sweden, which all have thriving commercial relations with Iran.

Since then, there’s been a slight change for the better. Pressure from the U.S. (along with a change of mood in some European capitals) has been brought to bear on European companies. Thanks to Berlin’s recent decision to endorse a tougher approach, Deutsche Bank, the Dresdner and Kommerz banks, and Siemens have pulled out of any new business dealings in Iran. So far, so good, but it’s not enough. It would behoove those Europeans most worried about military strikes against Iran to show more courage and willingness to sacrifice a contract or two for the sake of peace. If, as Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi recently said, a military solution is to be opposed because it would further “destabilize the region,” then Prodi, as the prime minister of Iran’s first trading partner, might wish to instruct his foreign minister to endorse France’s view: support broader sanctions—the only alternative to war.

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Bin Laden’s All-Out War

Osama bin Laden released a message Tuesday, calling on jihadists to attack “the Crusader invaders,” not just in Iraq, but also in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Bin Laden must have a rather expansive understanding of who constitutes “Crusader Invaders.” After all, the only peacekeepers in Darfur right now belong to a 7,000-strong force from African Union member states. Come January, this force will be reconstituted as a 31,000-man United Nations peacekeeping deployment known as the United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), authorized by the Security Council in July. It will be headed by a Nigerian commander with a Rwandan Deputy Commander. Yesterday, Rwanda dispatched 800 soldiers to Darfur (with the help of U.S. transport planes; to bin Laden this must make them collaborators with the Great Satan). But there has been no serious proposal to send American troops to Darfur, nor is there likely to be. As it is currently constituted, UNAMID will comprise forces mainly from African countries, with 95 percent of the infantry African. The only Western countries to provide significant levels of support are Norway and Sweden, which have collectively offered 400 military engineers.

So it is not just the American military that bin Laden considers an infidel army that must be fought anywhere and everywhere, but also apparently the rag-tag African soldiers sent on humanitarian peacekeeping missions and the Norwegians and the Swedes. So much for the contention that it is only those countries in Iraq that elicit the jihadist anger.

Islamic militants like bin Laden pride themselves on their contention that Islam is universal, that it ignores racial, ethnic and national differences in its ability to unite all believers under a caliphate, the dar al-Islam (land of Islam). Yet with this latest pronouncement, bin Laden has revealed his Arab supremacist roots: shilling for an Arab Muslim regime killing black Muslims.

Osama bin Laden released a message Tuesday, calling on jihadists to attack “the Crusader invaders,” not just in Iraq, but also in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Bin Laden must have a rather expansive understanding of who constitutes “Crusader Invaders.” After all, the only peacekeepers in Darfur right now belong to a 7,000-strong force from African Union member states. Come January, this force will be reconstituted as a 31,000-man United Nations peacekeeping deployment known as the United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), authorized by the Security Council in July. It will be headed by a Nigerian commander with a Rwandan Deputy Commander. Yesterday, Rwanda dispatched 800 soldiers to Darfur (with the help of U.S. transport planes; to bin Laden this must make them collaborators with the Great Satan). But there has been no serious proposal to send American troops to Darfur, nor is there likely to be. As it is currently constituted, UNAMID will comprise forces mainly from African countries, with 95 percent of the infantry African. The only Western countries to provide significant levels of support are Norway and Sweden, which have collectively offered 400 military engineers.

So it is not just the American military that bin Laden considers an infidel army that must be fought anywhere and everywhere, but also apparently the rag-tag African soldiers sent on humanitarian peacekeeping missions and the Norwegians and the Swedes. So much for the contention that it is only those countries in Iraq that elicit the jihadist anger.

Islamic militants like bin Laden pride themselves on their contention that Islam is universal, that it ignores racial, ethnic and national differences in its ability to unite all believers under a caliphate, the dar al-Islam (land of Islam). Yet with this latest pronouncement, bin Laden has revealed his Arab supremacist roots: shilling for an Arab Muslim regime killing black Muslims.

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News from the Continent: A “Pro-Israel” EU?

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, has just accused the European Union of being too pro-Israel, despite the EU’s recent pledge of 264 million euros for Palestinian refugees. Abbas’s criticism is based on the fact that the EU, to its credit (and to the surprise of many observers), has stuck to its guns and refused to water down the three preconditions set by the Mideast Quartet for the resumption of direct aid to the Palestinians: renunciation of violence, recognition of Israel, and respect for previous accords. Despite Russia’s active undermining of the Quartet’s position, the original consensus on these issues, formed in response to the electoral victory of Hamas in January 2006, has lasted longer than even the most dedicated pro-Israel activist could have expected.

Indeed, since coming to power, Hamas has played a central role in maintaining the consensus. The Islamist party has wasted countless opportunities to break the aid embargo. All that Europe has needed in order to set aside the preconditions is a few magic words—cloaked in the usual mantle of ambiguity—and no real action. A literature about the supposed two “wings” of Hamas even began to flourish to prepare the way for such an accommodation. We were told about the tension between the “moderates” inside the PA and the ideologues abroad, the military faction and the political faction, the ones we can talk to and those who just won’t make nice. The point of it all: to encourage the West to engage and aid the PA.

Read More

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, has just accused the European Union of being too pro-Israel, despite the EU’s recent pledge of 264 million euros for Palestinian refugees. Abbas’s criticism is based on the fact that the EU, to its credit (and to the surprise of many observers), has stuck to its guns and refused to water down the three preconditions set by the Mideast Quartet for the resumption of direct aid to the Palestinians: renunciation of violence, recognition of Israel, and respect for previous accords. Despite Russia’s active undermining of the Quartet’s position, the original consensus on these issues, formed in response to the electoral victory of Hamas in January 2006, has lasted longer than even the most dedicated pro-Israel activist could have expected.

Indeed, since coming to power, Hamas has played a central role in maintaining the consensus. The Islamist party has wasted countless opportunities to break the aid embargo. All that Europe has needed in order to set aside the preconditions is a few magic words—cloaked in the usual mantle of ambiguity—and no real action. A literature about the supposed two “wings” of Hamas even began to flourish to prepare the way for such an accommodation. We were told about the tension between the “moderates” inside the PA and the ideologues abroad, the military faction and the political faction, the ones we can talk to and those who just won’t make nice. The point of it all: to encourage the West to engage and aid the PA.

But even the “reasonable” wing of Hamas has refused to play along. Every time Europe’s political class might have been tempted to think that Israel’s nemesis had changed course, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza would obligingly remind them what the organization is really about. Renounce violence? Never. Recognize Israel? Not implicitly, tacitly, or otherwise. And why shouldn’t Hamas refuse? With Fatah in disarray, the Islamists might soon be the only game in town.

And it seems more and more possible that the recent period of relative quiet with respect to Israel might in itself suffice for Hamas to win a hearing in Europe. If money were to begin flowing again into government coffers in Gaza, the “moderates” can argue, it would strengthen their hold on the PA and make it possible, at long last, for the government to meet the Quartet’s three demands. Hamas would not even have to say this much, only to make the EU believe that this might happen at some point in the future. The EU’s readiness for a diplomatic fire sale is already evident, with France and the UK leading the push to set aside the Quartet’s three burdensome preconditions.

Even if the EU holds firm, Abbas can still count on more than a few friends in Europe. With German bishops comparing Israel’s defense barrier to the walls of the Warsaw ghetto and with self-proclaimed dissidents in Sweden calling Israel an apartheid regime, political statements from Brussels amount to little more than a minority view, increasingly at odds with the European vox populi. Then there are those “moderate” commentators eager to punish Israel should it continue to defend itself. Anatole Kaletsky of the Times of London has concluded that Israel should be sanctioned if it attacks Iran, and that sanctions also should be threatened if Israel insists on maintaining “the post-1967 status quo.”

In the face of all this, it is difficult to maintain any pretence that the EU is pro-Israel, let alone too pro-Israel. But who knows? If Hamas keeps up its stream of shrill, bloodthirsty propaganda, even the willfully blind governments of Europe may no longer be able to pretend that the Islamists in charge of the Palestinian territories have turned over a new, moderate leaf.

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News from the Continent: Never Again?

In the midst of Europe’s week of official mourning for the Holocaust, the question of how the continent should preserve that terrible memory and transmit it to future generations was the focus of a great controversy. The boycotting of Holocaust Memorial Day by prominent Muslim organizations has by now become an annual ritual. With the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) first among them, these groups believe that a “more inclusive” event should replace the “selective” ceremonies devoted to remembering the Nazi war against the Jews.

What organizations like the MCB have in mind is plain: a “Genocide Memorial Day” focusing on allegedly “ongoing” genocides like that of Israel against the Palestinians. And the MCB’s argument to replace the day with a different sort of commemoration is making headway—so much so that, this year, the city council of Bolton decided not to mark Holocaust Memorial Day and to replace its usual event with an observance more to the MCB’s liking. According to the city council, the decision to move the commemoration to June and to call it Genocide Memorial Day was reached in consultation with an interfaith council, although several prominent Jewish leaders were not consulted. Bolton has a rapidly growing Muslim population. With Europe’s shifting demographics, one might wonder how long it will be before such changes sweep the continent, from Sweden’s Malmö—where one-quarter of the population is Muslim—to Sicily’s Mazara del Vallo.

Read More

In the midst of Europe’s week of official mourning for the Holocaust, the question of how the continent should preserve that terrible memory and transmit it to future generations was the focus of a great controversy. The boycotting of Holocaust Memorial Day by prominent Muslim organizations has by now become an annual ritual. With the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) first among them, these groups believe that a “more inclusive” event should replace the “selective” ceremonies devoted to remembering the Nazi war against the Jews.

What organizations like the MCB have in mind is plain: a “Genocide Memorial Day” focusing on allegedly “ongoing” genocides like that of Israel against the Palestinians. And the MCB’s argument to replace the day with a different sort of commemoration is making headway—so much so that, this year, the city council of Bolton decided not to mark Holocaust Memorial Day and to replace its usual event with an observance more to the MCB’s liking. According to the city council, the decision to move the commemoration to June and to call it Genocide Memorial Day was reached in consultation with an interfaith council, although several prominent Jewish leaders were not consulted. Bolton has a rapidly growing Muslim population. With Europe’s shifting demographics, one might wonder how long it will be before such changes sweep the continent, from Sweden’s Malmö—where one-quarter of the population is Muslim—to Sicily’s Mazara del Vallo.

When the MCB pressed for the abolition of Holocaust Memorial Day in 2005, “Home Office officials. . .told the [group], which represents more than 350 Muslim organisations, that they [were] considering the request. But officials have no plans to broaden the remit of the occasion because they fear it would infuriate the Jewish community.” Not principle, then, but sheer political expediency safeguards the day in Britain. And with only political arguments keeping Holocaust Memorial Day in place, how long can it be before voters convince the government that it is time for Britain to be more “inclusive”?

It is, therefore, doubly important to watch how Europe responds to the initiative, recently launched under the new German presidency of the EU, to introduce continent-wide legislation banning Holocaust denial. Strictly speaking, the MCB is not denying the Holocaust. But its comparison of the murder of Europe’s Jews to the plight of the Palestinians is a clear attempt to demonize Israel, with the not-so-unintended side-effect of trivializing the Holocaust. In Palestine, fewer than 4,000 people have been killed by the Israeli military in the last six years, all in an effort to disrupt the activities of terrorists and armed militants. In Auschwitz, 30,000 defenseless Jews were slaughtered every day. The analogy, in other words, is a patent untruth.

This kind of gross distortion has already gone a step further in Spain, where the city council of a small town near Madrid tried to mandate the commemoration of the “Palestinian Holocaust.” In the end, luckily, the council backed down. But making the case that history can defend itself rings hollow in the face of such episodes.

Even with such moral stupidity abounding, the subject of banning Holocaust denial remains a highly contested one across Europe. On January 24, Joan Bakewell commented in the Independent that “Freedom of speech commits us to hearing things with which we profoundly disagree. But unless we hear them, we have no chance to refute and correct them.” Timothy Garton Ash, writing in the Guardian a few days earlier, concurred, arguing, in essence, that free speech must be protected, memory must be defended through education, shutting them up would turn them into celebrities, etc.

This argument holds sway in much of the continent. Angelo D’Orsi wrote a similar column in Italy’s La Stampa, claiming that “history can defend itself” without being helped by legislation. In Italy, however, there are opposing voices. The justice minister Clemente Mastella has tried to beat the Germans to the punch, introducing his own legislation against Holocaust denial, which the Italian cabinet approved on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day.

Most Americans consider it both and silly and dangerous to punish people for their opinions. But Europe is not America. It is a continent where the dark shadow of the past requires striking a fine balance between freedom of speech and the protection of memory. Is Holocaust denial truly something that we should defend, à la Voltaire, despite its odiousness, its motives, and its sometimes seductive power? Is truth, in a world submerged in the cacophony of cultural relativism, so compelling that we can always confidently rely on evidence and education to rebuke the charlatans and their sinister denials?

Regulating such hate speech may well endow the David Irvings of the world with the halos of martyrs. But it could also deprive them of a platform, discourage others from providing them with one, silence thousands of hate-spewing websites, shut down publishing houses that still print the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and in general make it more difficult to spread the “opinion” that the Holocaust did not happen. For to say such a thing is not just an opinion: it is a libel against the six million Jews who died—as well as those who survived and their descendants.

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