Friday, February 24, 2006

The trouble with Europe

There's a whiff of anti-Semitism circulating around the continent, as evidenced in this story about controversial London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who has been found guilty of "bringing his office into disrepute" after comparing a Jewish reporter to a Nazi concentration camp.

Livingstone was suspended from his duties for four weeks.

The three-man Adjudication Panel for England unanimously ruled that Mr Livingstone had been "unnecessarily insensitive and offensive" to Evening Standard reporter Oliver Finegold in February last year.

David Laverick, chairman of the disciplinary panel sitting in central London, said: "His treatment of the journalist was unnecessarily insensitive and offensive. He persisted with a line of comment likening the journalist's job to a concentration camp guard, despite being told that the journalist was Jewish and found it offensive to be asked if he was a German war criminal."

Such anti-Semetic attitudes have become more prevalent throughout Europe, particularly in France.

Most of the incidents have been perpetrated by French Arabs — by those, often from the deracinated underclass of the banlieues, who have chosen to act out their rage against Israel and the Jews on European soil.

Nonetheless, the A word obscures the real problem. Europe today suffers from a much larger ailment, as evidenced by the growth of right-wing populism in France, the Netherlands, Denmark or Austria. The common denominator is not Jews; it is angst and anger. The targets are foreigners who are darkskinned and non-Christian.

Furthermore, there's that old liberal tendency to reflexively favor the "underdog," even if that underdog utilizes violence to achieve its goals.

The trigger, but not the cause, is the war between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Or as the Süddeutsche Zeitung, a liberal German daily, has put it: "If Sharon did not exist, he would have to be invented." Europe, certainly its chattering and political classes, has chosen sides in an almost subconscious way. With the exception of Berlin, as represented by Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, the E.U. tends to interpret "evenhandedness" as "pro-Palestinian neutrality." A goodly part of the media has decided that the Israeli occupation is the greater evil, that Palestinian terrorism is somehow "understandable" and that Israeli counterthrusts are invariably "excessive" and "murderous."

In the Livingstone case, the U.K. has certainly gone to great lengths to establish their official distaste for bigotry. But political corrects always seems to go too far. Punishing hate speech is well-intentioned, but contradicts the great divide now playing out worldwide over free expression.

"This decision strikes at the heart of democracy," Livingstone responded. "Elected politicians should only be able to be removed by the voters or for breaking the law."

Or for reprehensible rhetoric. But Livingstone's correct in that it's the voters' choice whether he should lose his job. Making that choice for them often leads to unintended results. Livingstone may even emerge the victim out of all this, which would be a shame, but not surprising.

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