This article by Bret Stephens was published September 14, 2010, in the Wall Street Journal
If a top European mandarin mouths off about Jews and the rest of Europe's political class acts like it's no big deal, does that make them cowards, accomplices—or just politically astute? Probably all three.
Earlier this month, Karel De Gucht, the European Union's trade commissioner and a former foreign minister of Belgium, gave an interview to a Flemish radio station in which he offered the view that the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations were sure to founder on two accounts: first, because Jews are excessively influential in the U.S; second, because they are not the sorts to be reasoned with.
"Do not underestimate the Jewish lobby on Capitol Hill," Mr. De Gucht said, dispensing with the usual fine-grained, face-saving distinction about the difference between a "Jewish" and an "Israel" lobby. "This is the best organized lobby, you shouldn't underestimate the grip it has on American politics—no matter whether it's Republicans or Democrats."
Nor was that all the commissioner had to say on the subject. "There is indeed a belief—it's difficult to describe it otherwise—among most Jews that they are right," he said. "And it's not so much whether these are religious Jews or not. Lay Jews also share the same belief that they are right. So it is not easy to have, even with moderate Jews, a rational discussion about what is actually happening in the Middle East."
Here, then, was a case not of "criticism of Israel" or "anti-Zionism," the usual sheets under which this sort of mentality hides. Mr. De Gucht's target was Jews, the objects of his opprobrium their malign political influence and crippled mental reflexes. If this isn't anti-Semitism, the term has no meaning.
But perhaps it no longer does, at least in Europe. "I regret that the comments that I made have been interpreted in a sense I did not intend," Mr. De Gucht said, by way of non-apology. "I did not mean in any possible way to cause offense or stigmatize the Jewish community. I want to make clear that anti-Semitism has no place in today's world."
The comment admits of two interpretations: (1) that it is insincere, and therefore an act of political expediency; (2) that it is sincere, and Mr. De Gucht thinks that casually bad-mouthing Jews doesn't quite reach the threshold of "anti-Semitism"—defined, as the saying has it, as hating Jews more than is strictly necessary.
I suspect the latter interpretation, which has an old European pedigree, is closer to the mark. But whatever Mr. De Gucht's motives, the more interesting phenomenon has been the European non-reaction. "No comment," says a spokesman for German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. "Our position on anti-Semitism is very clear but we have no comments on other people's statements," says a spokesman for Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini. "High Representative [Catherine] Ashton is confident [De Gucht] didn't mean any offense, and that he apologized," says a spokeswoman for the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. "He made personal comments for which he expressed his personal regret and there is no further comment to make," says a spokesman for the European Commission.
Now imagine that Mr. De Gucht had made analogous comments about Muslims: What would have been the reaction then? Actually, it's not hard to guess. For weeks, Germany has been in an uproar over a book by Bundesbank member Thilo Sarrazin that has unflattering things to say about Muslim immigrants and what they portend for Germany's future. I have no brief for Mr. Sarrazin (who also made a somewhat cryptic comment about Jews sharing "a particular gene"). But why has Mr. Sarrazin been forced to quit the Central Bank and is now being drummed out of his Social Democratic Party at the same time that Mr. De Gucht has been given a pass?
One answer is that there are about 1.5 million Jews in the EU today, as against some 16 million Muslims, and politicians are responsive to numbers. Fair enough. The other answer is that Europe—and not just Muslim Europe—is pervasively anti-Semitic.
If that sounds over-the-top, consider that last year the Anti-Defamation League conducted a survey of European attitudes toward Jews in seven different countries. Do Jews have "too much power in the business world"? In France, 33% said this was "probably true"; in Spain it was 56%. Were Jews to some degree responsible for the global economic crisis? In Germany, 30% thought so; in Austria, 43% did. A separate 2008 Pew Survey also found that 25% of Germans, 36% of Poles and 46% of Spaniards had a "very" or "somewhat" unfavorable opinion of Jews.
As part of his defense, Mr. De Gucht insisted he was only offering his "personal point of view," and not those of the European Commission as a whole. He shouldn't be so modest. He has his constituency. It's why he remains in office. It's why Europe's future is beginning to look increasingly like Europe's past.