Friday 17. September 2021
#214 - April 2018

Europe and Israel – exchanges between a rabbi and a diplomat

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still a major inflection point for imbalance in the Middle East.

This is the message of the publication “Europe et Israël : deux destins inaccomplis” (Europe and Israel: two unfulfilled destinies), the result of a collaboration between a rabbi, David Meyer, Professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and Bernard Philippe, former European Union diplomat. This book reviews the thick threads of the history shared by Europe and Israel in order to ask whether it would be possible, at present, to try and weave them together differently with a view to producing a new garment that would see the beginning of a common destiny shared in the service of peace.


Transforming violence into peace


In the first part, entitled, “Europe et Israël : deux destins inaccomplis” (Europe and Israel: two unfulfilled destinies), Bernard Philippe talks of the urgency of once again getting to work on European involvement. But this time in a different way. Europe should rethink its relationship with Israel to remove the deadlock preventing a return to its fundamental principles. It should therefore share that with which it is most familiar: its experience of transforming violence into peace, so characteristic of its own formation. This experience of peace follows on from centuries of incessant bloody wars in Europe, culminating in the millions of victims of the Second World War and the extermination of the European Jews in Nazi death camps.


A radical transformation though it may be, it has only been possible by the passage of laws and the establishment of joint institutions. This gives rise to a question that runs through the whole of the essay: can that which enabled Europe to reverse its own destiny become the keystone of a political and philosophical reflection by Europe on the currently insoluble conflict between Israelis and Palestinians? This is where Europe has a unique ingredient to offer, a truly decisive ingredient that neither the Americans nor the Arab countries, nor Russia, can contribute, but which is indispensable if peace is to come to the Middle East. It is also indispensable for building up a Europe whose history is yet to be written.


A rabbi’s reflection on Israel


In the second part, called “Israël: tout autre chose” (Israel: a completely different matter), Rabbi David Meyer examines the point from which the thinking of Judaism is now paying the price for its own impasses, which arise from affirming its unconditional relationship with Israel. Unable to put forward a reading of history in which a religious vision of Israel may rally the Jewish people and inject a peaceful dynamic into the region, the Jewish tradition succumbs gradually to the illusion of a messianic, mystical view of the Jewish State, deifying the Holy Land and Jewish sovereignty, its army and its state apparatus. According to the author, these beliefs – are a kind of refuge when faced with the uncertainties of the present – only serve to enclose Israel in a logic of territorial possession that justifies violence and segregation, offering no viable vision for the future and in its wake destroying all the intellectual vivacity of Judaism.


Faced with this claim of failure and impasse, could Judaism, in the light of European daring as well as its own historical boldness, dare to radically reformulate a rabbinical reflection on Israel, far from the usual propositions that currently undermine Jewish communities? What innovative, bold Jewish view of Israel could then be brought about? This section is therefore devoted to setting the yardsticks for a revision of contemporary Jewish and rabbinical theology regarding the state of Israel. In particular, theological acceptance by Judaism and the Jewish people of a bi-national state of Israel (no longer a solely Jewish one) seems to be an indispensable key to all contemporary reflections on Israel, Palestine and the Middle East.


The third part, written jointly, is called “Le retour de Jethro sur la scène du conflit israélo-palestinien” (The return of Jethro to the scene of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict). The authors use the figure of Jethro (the father of Moses, considered in Judaism to be the inventor of justice) to reflect on the link between Jewish law and international law, which seem fundamentally opposed. On the contrary, here they draw up the conditions for the emergence of a creative tension between law and rights, in the service of peace.


Martin Maier SJ



Translated from the original text in French


« Europe et Israël : deux destins inaccomplis, regards croisés entre un rabbin et un diplomate » Editions Lessius, 2017.


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Editors-in-Chief: Martin Maier SJ

Note: The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Jesuit European Office and COMECE.