LONDON — Jews throughout the world have had to react and respond to a double whammy over the past few weeks. First, they learned that three teenage Israeli boys had been kidnapped and cruelly murdered, apparently by Palestinian terrorists. Then they learned that an Arab teen from east Jerusalem had been kidnapped and brutally murdered, allegedly by a group of Jewish terrorists in an apparent reprisal attack.
Both tragedies have caused enormous pain in Israel and among Jews in the Diaspora and led to difficult questions about moral equivalency. Jews were shocked and frightened by the disappearance of the yeshiva students and the discovery of their bodies, and were disgusted by Arab voices that either defended or refused to condemn their killers. Now, they are being asked to absorb and respond to the equally horrific act conducted apparently by Jews against Arabs.
For the British community — and throughout Europe for that matter — there are heightened concerns about possible repercussions internally, including attacks by Muslims against Jews, or violence carried out by Jews sympathetic to the Jewish terrorists. Not since the British mandatory period in Palestine have the press and public here spoken so heatedly about the connection between violence in the Holy Land and the potential for repercussions at home. (In the United States, on the other hand, while there is outrage at the events on both sides and general caution on the part of Jewish institutions, there is little fear of any indigenous threats or violence.)
Britain’s concern is generally focused on two factors. The number of Muslims who have left Great Britain, at least for a time, to study with their brothers and sisters in Syria and other volatile venues in the Middle East has increased. While there is anecdotal evidence that this has occurred in the United States as well, the number of those potentially radicalized by their experiences abroad is higher in England. What some now fear is that the events in Israel over the past few weeks might inspire some of these radicalized Muslims, who may well have been trained to conduct sophisticated terror acts.
Second, while Britain’s Jewish community has experienced anti-Israel feelings among the general public, such sentiment had begun to level off. Unlike the United States, where the BDS movement has gained traction in the past year or so, observers in England have suggested that such activity had begun to recede. (To offer an example, the story of the arrest of the Israelis for the murder of the Arab teenager appeared in Monday’s Guardian on page 13 — a dramatic change considering that newspaper’s hard pro-Arab, anti-Israel history.)
Now there is a concern that events in Israel might lead to a new escalation of public hostility toward Israel. Short of actual violence, many fear that Israel will be verbally attacked and stigmatized.
Israel’s image has suffered globally over the past several weeks as it has been largely blamed for the break-up of peace talks with the Palestinians, the expansion of settlements, and pressure on negotiators in Vienna to reject what some have suggested are significant moves by the Iranians on the nuclear issue.
Admittedly, many have suggested that much of this has been a function of the continuing personal hostility between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Their personal animus does not explain, however, the persistent and growing attacks against Israeli policies from other Western countries.
Anti-Israel feeling and anti-Semitic attitudes persist and are growing on the continent. Much will depend on how the world perceives Israeli prosecution of the alleged Jewish terrorists; whether Israel actually captures the murderers of the three yeshiva teenagers; and what conclusions the West draws from the way Israel treats and responds to the murder of an Arab teen, on one hand, and Jewish teens, on the other.
At the end of the day, increased tension in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip will help neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians. If a third Intifada develops and/or if Israel moves into Gaza on the ground, the spillover of hostile incidents in Britain and throughout Europe could be intense. Regardless of the provocations and threats that Israel will receive from its neighbors, the Netanyahu government will be challenged to demonstrate to the entire world how it indeed functions as a democratic state, even under stress and in times of domestic crises.