EUROPE, 20 Nov 2023

Michael Brenner – TRANSCEND Media Service

15 Nov 2023 – Europe has an obsession about Jews. For nearly 2 millennia, it shunned them, despised them and persecuted them. Now, after a respite of a few decades, it condemns and abuses Muslims in a similar way – all in the name of supporting Jews. 

Israel’s inhuman treatment of the Palestinians – culminating in their massacre and mass eviction from Gaza – leaves Europeans unmoved. European political elites above all.  Instead, they cheer on the Israelis, outdo themselves in effusive displays of solidarity, in the quick dispatch of weapons so that the IDF can better carry out their odious campaign, in providing instant validation for the most outrageous lies in the wake of the most outrageous atrocities.  Propinquity has accentuated their moral support. Leaders scurry to Tel Aviv to get as close to the action as possible and to steal a photo of themselves embracing Bibi Netanyahu – a copy for the evening news, a copy for the next campaign brochure, a copy for the eventual memoir.

The West generally clearly has a big problem with matters of religion, race and ethnicity. It is multiform, it mutates, it waxes and wanes, it shifts focus and fixation – but it remains lodged in the collective psyche. While this obviously is not universal among Europe’s population of 400 million, it is manifestly prevalent and deep-seated. When the stimulus is strong and acute, it flares like a gas field when the drill hits paydirt. The entire panoply of institutions – public and private – rise up as if choreographed to vent the same emotions, make the same harsh, unqualified judgments, use the same crude slogans, drape themselves in the same banners of self-righteousness and self-proclaimed moralism. Government leaders, politicos, media, pundits, make the same cacophonous noises, aggressively impose the same uniformity of opinion, and punish the few dissenters.

Thus, the exaltation of the Jews of Israel – honored and cosseted – is matched by the dehumanization of Palestine’s Muslims.

Of course, it is not just the long-suffering Palestinians who are at once denied – in principle – the right to the privileged status of victimhood and collectively are condemned as guilty of the most heinous crimes committed by al-Qaeda, the Islamic State or Hamas. Men, women, children – without exception. It is all Muslim communities – Islamophobia.

What are the sources of this psychopathology?

Some are immediately identifiable. 1) The residual, latent desire to absolve Europe of the sins committed against the Jews ever since they were stigmatized as the killers of the Christians’ Lord & Saviour. It took roughly 1,900 years for the truest Jew-haters to take the final, macabre act of revenge. Volunteers from 16 European countries formed SS divisions that participated – directly or indirectly (the largest contingents made up of Ukrainians). That holocaust had a powerful sobering effect on the contemporary soul of European Christians whether believers, practicing or nominal. The fears, wounds and pangs of conscience associated with it gradually have faded into the background and discrimination of Jews largely has gone away  – despite the attempts in recent years to inflate every minor incident as part of an campaign to conflate criticism of Israel with old-fashioned antisemitism. As a consequence of the campaign’s success, antipathy toward Israel aroused by its actions in Gaza, the number of those incidents has risen. The confected identity of Judaism with a rogue Israeli state is a boon for the die-hard anti-Semites.  However, that maelstrom of tangled feelings evidently didn’t dissipate entirely.

The very words ‘Jewish’ and ‘Israel’ have the power to paralyze European minds and consciences. Again, most strikingly among the political class.

Hence, Britain’s most erudite commentator renowned for his frankness and rare skill at cutting through official cant and mendacity, declares himself unable to pronounce on who destroyed the hospital in Gaza – hiding behind the weasel words ‘we should await the outcome of an impartial United Nations investigation.’ Who did the evil deed? The people who already had dropped 1,500 bombs on Gaza city or Ali Baba & the 40 Thieves? Make your choice – personal preference. Hence, French President Emmanuel Macron bans all protests that express sympathy for the Palestinians on the grounds that they cause Jews/Israel emotional distress. He then makes a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to urge the Israelis to pursue Hamas “without mercy” – adding, for the record, “within the law.” (His recent conversion ‘On The Road To Damascus/Berlaymont/Turtle Bay’ lifts the ban only on himself).  One is reminded of Peter O’Toole (aka T.E. Lawrence) shouting the command “no prisoners!” as he drives his Arab army to throw themselves on a retreating Turkish column. Without the hypocrisy of adding “within the law”.

Hence, German authorities ruthlessly enforce their own ban on Gaza-sympathy protests and threaten criminal prosecution of participants. Foreign Minister Braebock uses a Tel Aviv platform to inform the world that “Israel cares about the welfare of Gazans.”  Hence, the Prime Minister-designate of the U.K., Keir Starmer, conducts Stalinist-style purges from the Labour ranks of anyone who utters a word critical of Israel – that includes Corbyn now obliterated from party annals.   No surprise that he now demands explicitly, and in a public interview, that the party’s official position is to give license to the Israelis to continue their bombing; to cut off all food, water, electricity; to expel the Gazans into the Sinai desert where Qatar is pressed to finance a tent city for a million or two.

Hence, this Monday November 11, the EU Foreign Ministers’ issue an official statement that “[the] EU condemns the use of hospitals and civilians as human shields in Gaza” – in what amounts to an eerie resemblance to the holocaust deniers. Hence, Joe Biden strikes the same note in declaring that civilian casualties have been exaggerated by Hamas. This the starkest evidence to date that we have left the realm of reasoned and reasonable discourse for the nether world of psychopathology.

Second, relations between Europeans and Muslim communities have become increasingly fraught. Above all, the growth of large immigrant communities, settled mainly in Western Europe, has generated a host of social problems arising from the complications of imperfect cultural assimilation and the intrusions of influences from the external Muslim world. They are all too familiar: the rapid spread of intolerant, fundamentalist Islam; the threats posed by violent jihadist groups whose tentacles have reached into European cities; the turbulent state of politics across the Middle East; the periodic oil crises that made the region a tense arena for great power politics; and – by no means least – the lingering effects of Western colonialism that never have been expunged.

The two most striking features of that 450-year experience are:

  1. the profound superior-inferior relationship on which it was grounded and which it entrenched in European minds; and
  2. it was the ‘whites’ who were dominant and the ‘colored’ peoples who were subordinate. That too readily devolved into the racist belief that the latter were inherently inferior – somehow not quite fully human.

Tho enduring psychic scars never have entirely faded – on both sides. Let’s recall that it is within our lifetime that the imperial dependents liberated themselves from thralldom – with much blood-shedding – in North Africa, Indochina, Kenya, Angola, Indonesia, Mozambique, Iraq. More recently, wars between the West and Muslim societies have been fought in several places: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Libya. the Sahel. All on Muslim soil. Domestic terrorists across Western Europe cite as their immediate motivation those attacks on Muslims – rather than their devotion to a Quranic jihadist creed per se.

That brings our attention to the biggest external factor: the United States.

More specifically, Europeans’ enduring dominant/subordinate relationship. European countries have been denatured by America, in the sense that they are shed of sovereign status and its attendant political will. That perverse trans-Atlantic bond has been cultivated by both sides. It’s significance for understanding the European attitude towards Israel/Palestine is two-fold. One, there is an eerie inversion of roles for European polities who participate in dominant-subordinate relations with both America and Arab Muslims.  It matches the classic profile of the “Authoritarian Personality.” Toward the superior one is docile, obedient, obsequious; toward the inferior one is arrogant, demanding and patronizing. The latter compensates for the former in terms of maintaining a positive sense of self.

A variation of this psychological pattern is visible in the attitude of Western government leaders toward their own populace. In effect, they assume the dominant role in treating their citizens as subordinates from whom deference is expected on matters of state. Strikingly, today we see overwhelming and growing popular advocacy of a ceasefire in Gaza while the political elites – those holding official positions, the media and the punditry – vigorously suppress the dissent. Example: London has seen an unprecedented demonstration of half a million, a reflection of public opinion that favors the ceasefire by a 3:1 margin (roughly the same in the U.S.) That in the face of bitter, slanderous denunciation from both Prime Minister Sunak and Labour leader Keir Starmer who vies to surpass him in passionate embrace of Bibi Netanyahu and who ruthlessly purges anybody who is disobedient to his hard line. Hence, not a single Labour or Tory M.P. joined Saturday’s historic march at the risk of losing access to the Members’ Bar at Westminister.  [The dramatic event was all but ignored by the Establishment print media. By Sunday, all had airbrushed the story out of existence; no photo showing the massive crowd].

In more concrete ways, Europe’s vassalage to the United States obliges it to follow Washington down whatever policy road the seigneur takes – however reckless, dangerous, unethical, and counter-productive. In predictable fashion, they have walked (or run) like lemmings over whatever cliff the United States chooses next under its own suicidal impulses. So it’s been in Iraq, in Syria, in Afghanistan, in regard to Iran, in Ukraine, on Taiwan and on all matters involving Israel. The string of painful failures and heavy costs produces no change in loyalty or mindset. It cannot – for the Europeans have absorbed totally the habit of deference, the Americans’ worldview, their skewed interpretation of outcomes, and their shamefully fictious narratives. The Europeans no more can throw this addiction than a life-long alcoholic can go cold-Turkey.   

That condition impels them to downplay the ominous trends in American politics and foreign policy. The choice of mentally unstable and/or incompetent leaders, erratic actions by unhinged political forces, high risk ventures abroad, the baiting of designated rivals – none of it moves Europeans to throw off the yoke placed on their minds, their emotions, and their morals.

Moreover, we should bear in mind that contemporary America has become hysteria prone.

First was the Global War On Terror that for twenty-odd years had it rampaging around the globe on the hunt for jihadis from the Hindu Kush to the Sahara desert while shredding its Constitutional guarantees of individual rights and due process. Then, the manic Russo-phobia: Dostoevski removed from literature courses, Anna Netrebko summarily cancelled in all Western opera houses on the grounds that she once accompanied Putin to a fundraiser for refugees from Donetsk who fled Ukrainian artillery strikes that killed 14,000 of their fellows, boycotts of Russian goods including sewing needles, etc. etc. Simultaneously, the conjured China ‘menace’ has been stoking our fevered imaginings. That hysteria triggered the ‘spy’ balloon psychodrama. Congruent with this psychopathological syndrome, America today is a culture where draconian measures are taken, by all manner of institutions under pressure from braying militants, to rid themselves of persons who as much as suggest that gender identity is not just a matter of personal preference.

The Europeans, for their part, are no less hysteria prone. It spreads from the United States at epidemic speed. Imagine a convent circa 1623.

The most emotionally flammable young woman loses it in declaiming that she is possessed by a lecherous demonic agent. Soon, the other nuns are infected and mass hysteria breaks out. Today, when a whole society is dissociated from reality, there are no Mothers Superior or exorcists around to contain the ensuing bedlam. Indeed, the universal hysteria serves the purpose of those who calculatingly promote and use that hysteria to draw a “line of blood” between the collectivity and responsible, humane behavior. For once one has demonized Palestinians in general as guilty, thereby justifying gruesome acts, it becomes almost impossible to retreat into a position of condemning those selfsame acts of criminal revenge that you previously blessed since that means inculpating oneself. Even those prominent public figures who simply have kept silent in the face of atrocity thereby fall into this trap.

The stunning, frightening truth is that Western societies – American & European – are behaving hysterically.

For the Senate in Washington to pass a near unanimous resolution condemning what it called “anti-Israel, pro-Hamas student groups” is a clear sign of abnormality. It is unmistakable from statements by supporters that the label is applied to anyone who protests the onslaught in Gaza or expresses support for the Palestinian people. Widespread denunciations and purges of individuals who voice those sentiments confirm that. Some might question how one can describe as hysterical the actions of private institutions and governments as well as individuals of being part of an irrational mass psychosis – and on a matter that does not concern them directly.

After all, these countries are composed of educated, autonomous, diverse members schooled in civic ethics – the majority secular and unattached to any dogmatic creed or movement. We are not speaking of medieval cloisters or theocracies or totalitarian societies. That is exactly the point. The observed phenomenon meets all of the criteria for a diagnosis of mass hysteria – speaking objectively.  Manifest hysteria where you do not expect to see it at once underscores the psychopathology and raises the most profound questions as to what species of social entity we have become. The few, very rough historical analogies are not ones we want to contemplate.

Collective hysteria does have predictable effects. One is that participants cease to think independently – some, including leaders, are unable to think at all. That is to say, to interpret reality in ways other than that dictated by the fixed, unqualified and simplistic narrative of what is happening, why it is happening, as well as with whom the rights and wrongs lie. Uniformity of outlook impervious to observed facts is what we have seen in the impassioned Russo-phobia, and now regarding the Palestinians. This phenomenon, orchestrated at the top by leaders who themselves are prey to dogmas and irrational emotions, stifles critical thought and judgment even when faced with the most stark, most bloody and gross sins against the very principles that we celebrate as underlying our morally superior Western societies.

A related effect is that deception and self-deception blend into a homogenous mindset. It is insulated from encroachments by a mental Hepa filter which keeps out anything – even the smallest particle of truth – that could stimulate doubt or self-awareness. Consider the likes of Biden, Trudeau, Sunak, Schulz et al. Their endorsement, and thereby encouragement, of mass murder in Gaza – once expressed becomes imprinted. Thus, if you were to probe for justification in a quiet one-on-one exchange, you would get the same canned, elusive sloganeering that marks their public statement. The mental faculty has become paralyzed. Sustaining this unnatural state is helped by the systematic suppression of dissent. Doing so serves two purposes: it keeps at bay any dissonant, reality-based idea or evidence challenging the fixed mindset, and unjust suppression/punishment of dissenters creates an additional disincentive to critical reflection since that threatens to evoke feelings of shame for those revealed misdeeds.

What this tells us is that the phenomenon that we are describing is most pronounced among Western political elites. There: hysteria, mutually reinforcing collective emotion, uniform attitudes and fixity of reference points combine to produce perverse behavior.

The one aspect of the situation that shows a measure of conscious cerebration  is the political – in particular, the electoral. It is Biden’s worries about his faltering Presidential campaign that led him to the surprise declaration that Israel was at risk of exceeding its quota in killed Palestinians. That is accompanied by a cavalier rewriting of the earlier record of when Washington promoted unrestricted Israeli retaliation and lobbied neighboring governments to accept the expelled Gazan population. Accommodating media are only too happy to go along with the mendacity since it erases memory of their own cheerleading for those draconian actions.

We should understand Emmanuel Macron’s sudden advocacy of a ceasefire in the same vein. It is a mistake to imagine that this shift was the outcome of a somber reflection on the moral and diplomatic issues involved. Macron is another one of those self-designated messiahs without message or mission – like Barack Obama – whose sole concern is self-promotion and self-advancement. In Macron’s case, he has his eye on an even bigger position than President of France – Secretary-General of the United Nations or President of the European Union. Preferably the former. So, presenting himself as a Gaza humanitarian could win him votes in the global South and also make him more palatable to Russia and China. The rest of the French political elite are still insisting that protesting crimes gainst humanity in Gaza is tantamount to an act of anti-Semitism.

Back to Europe. In the Middle East, the net effects are 1) that Europe is burdened with the heavy baggage of interventions that inflame Muslim hostility toward the West, and 2) to create the psychological imperative to find some way to assuage their own sense of guilt by finding, and magnifying, the sins of their victims. That dubious enterprise acquires a thick veneer of contrived virtue by making a tight embrace of Jewish Israel the ultimate symbol of their good intentions and by blinding themselves to the transference of their accumulated guilt for historical abuse of the Jews into empathy for their former victims’ abuse of Arab Muslims.  


The internal dynamics of the United States are very similar to those of Europe – with three exceptions. One, guilt regarding historical mistreatment of Jews is largely absent. Yes, individuals may feel something about the Christian scapegoating of ‘Christ-killers,’ but generally speaking it is far more abstract. The empathy for Israel has arisen, and intensified, mainly from an instinctive sympathy for the underdog threatened by people you view negatively (1956, 1967) – a heart-wrenching narrative that has been vastly strengthened by vivid accounts, cinematic and written, of the tragic 20th Century Jewish saga. Moreover, there is the exceptional influence exerted by the powerful pro-Israel lobby.

Two, the dramatic growth in the influence of a politicized Evangelical movement has added a significant factor to the equation. The Book of Revelation is their guide and inspiration. Therein, they are told that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and Armageddon will be signaled by the restoration of the Jews in their Hebrew homeland. What happens next, of course, is blurred by both Israelis and the Evangelicals.

Three, the United States’ rededicated project to entrench its global dominance has spurred American assertiveness around the world. Its long-time focus on the Middle East for multiple reasons inclines Washington to secure what it sees as prized assets. That strong impulse is accentuated by its declining influence elsewhere in the region – especially the Gulf.

With creeping doubts as to its prowess, and of its presumed calling to be the prophet of progress for all the world’s peoples, America compulsively grasps every occasion in order to confirm that it is Destiny’s child and to be reassured that its national mythology is inscribed in the heavens.


Michael Brenner is professor of international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh; a senior fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations, SAIS-Johns Hopkins (Washington, D.C.), contributor to research and consulting projects on Euro-American security and economic issues. Publishes and teaches in the fields of US foreign policy, Euro-American relations, and the European Union. mbren@pitt.eduMore

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 20 Nov 2023.

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