Why, I asked her recently, is there so much anti-Semitism in Europe? Her answer was firm and comprehensive. “Because it [Europe] is afraid and opportunist, oil-oriented, confused about values, doesn’t believe in itself, doesn’t know anymore what is good and what is bad. Because anti-Semitism, very alive today, mixes in a lethal poison with a sense of guilt, because they are afraid of Iran…Look at the way the exchange of 1027 disgusting mass murderers and criminals with a young innocent soldier was treated as an equal trade by CNN and the BBC! Those prisoners with innocent blood on their hands were convicted legally, legally judged, had a very decent life in jail, were visited by the Red Cross, and by international organizations, while you know how Gilad was detained and who he is. Still the media kept calling the terrorists militants, criminals only in the judgment of Israel. In obliterating the differences between Israel and its enemies terrorism becomes a minor crime in our culture. The Palestinians that shoot at schools, streets, shops, homes, are the darling of the Europeans – what a perversion!”
As for Europe itself, she describes it as “an artificial creature. Each and every state in Europe is basically different – in languages, in history. The attempt to form an international power and identity like the United States clashes with different interests, awakens antagonistic memories, even hatreds. We are also riddled with guilt over the Second War World, a guilt that created a web of values that permits everything. Just look at the Council of Europe, whose main concern is how to allow the burka. Europe doesn’t know how to be selective in dealing with immigration; we don’t have a certain, clear identity to propose to [immigrants], but only a fake, politically correct ideology.” What would she change about Europe? “I would change the public discourse, the way we deal with fundamental problems, the bla-bla of the chattering class. I can’t stand it. Myself, having been living for many years as a correspondent in Israel, I’m used to realistic ways of relating to each other and of dealing with problems. No nonsense, please! Call evil evil, good good, murder murder, self-defense self-defense.”
If Nirenstein is so concerned about Israel, it is not only because she is Jewish but also because she recognizes that country as the front line in a struggle between Western liberty and Islamic tyranny – a struggle, she knows, in which many people on the Left have objectively taken the wrong side. As she put it to me the other day, “Israel matters because it is the little Hans with his finger in the hole in the dike against political Islam and terror….It matters because if we don’t understand how marvelous it is, we lose every sense of what is good and just, and we are lost.”
Yet to her, ultimately, this is deeply personal territory. “My story with Israel is a love story, and is a story of continuous rage and worry when I see how misunderstood it is. I have just finished my new book: it’s about Jerusalem, without any pretension to be the history of the capital town of Israel – it’s about myself getting to know it. It’s a very personal book. While writing it, I wondered more and more how it is that the world can compare the immense love of the Jews for Jerusalem, and therefore for Israel, to the desire for possession that characterizes the Arab pretense. The Jews have kept the town opened to all the religions; Jordan never allowed the Jews and the Christians to pray everywhere, and in the Arab world that is not permitted. Jerusalem in their hands would become a prisoner.”
What of Berlusconi? Nirenstein gives him a thumbs-up: “He is one of these men who, belonging to Christian-democratic culture, has been blessed by a feeling of deep sincere friendship with the Jews. It’s a matter of being clever, of being sensitive, it’s a matter of chance and of having a taste for going against the stream.” And she has no illusions about the “Arab Spring”: “I appreciate the courage of the people that defy death in the streets, I am with their fight against awful tyrants that dominated their life for decades, but I know that this doesn’t guarantee at all a democratic development. These people have been educated to hate the West and the Jews, and also not to take responsibility and blame imperialism, capitalism, and fantastic ghosts for all of their problems. We must give them conditional help, connected to women, sexual and human rights, and to peace with Israel, and to stopping the politics of hate in schools and media.”
Nirenstein is always busy, and seems never to tire. A committee she chaired has produced a comprehensive – and disturbing – report on anti-Semitism in Italy that has just been released by the Italian Parliament. (I will outline its findings in a later column.) Her book on Jerusalem will be published on November 23. And she will soon host yet another an international conference, taking place in Florence and focusing on violence against children.
There are not very many reasons to feel hopeful these days about the future of Europe. But Fiamma Nirenstein is most definitely one of them.
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