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Tough Love

by Yiftach Ashkenazy

The young Israeli writer Yiftach Ashkenazy asks the Europeans for more authority and strictness when dealing with Israel. An essay about cricket rules, Joschka Fischer and how the writer fell in love with Europe.

Whether it is about the naive story of Romeo and Juliet or the moving tale of 'Posh Spice' and the soccer legend David Beckham, a true love story needs only one thing, a bad beginning. And so began my love for Europe, Germany and Joschka Fischer, starting with a miserable prologue about cricket regulations. It all happened during my freshman year at college, when I took a course on sports and nationalism.

Photo: Hanna Huhtasaari

It was April, which is known to be the cruellest month of the year, and my honourable instructor decided that in order to understand the British Empire, we needed to memorize the rules of the fascinating game of cricket. The next week I came to class in fear of a cricket quiz, but there was a change of plans. My professor's inquiry was not focused on cricket, but rather on the more pleasant question of how many of us were interested in a free trip to Germany to meet with the foreign minister, Joschka Fischer. Surprisingly enough, almost the entire class raised their hands. There were questions about the practicalities, but none of us dared articulate the most obvious question, is the German foreign minister so bored that he would be willing to spend the time and money to participate in a conference with freshman students from Israel?

Forgive and forget

And so I arrived to Berlin with a small group of students like myself. And probably because the Germans we met were used to handling ”actual” diplomatic guests, they spoiled us with the same treatment. Perhaps they didn't quite know what to do with us, so they arranged many meetings on the European unification. In a way I became envious of the Europeans, who seemed to be overcoming years of ridiculous national conflicts among themselves and with their neighbours. This was the first time I fell in love with Europe, a love which was based on the wish that this ability to forgive and forget could someday cross continents.

Politically correct

It took me about a week to discover the weakness of this merciful attitude. One of the outcomes of this process was the new politically correct codes and behaviour. Because everyone smiles and flatters each other, it seems that people have lost some of their humour. Maybe I am old-fashioned, but when I talk about France with a German, I prefer to exchange jokes rather than admire the great French culture. I was convinced that the euphemism had won until the good god of football blessed me with the European Championship, the UEFA cup. As I sat in German bars and watched the matches, all semblances of politeness disappeared. I decided then that this was my dream for the Middle East, a borderless peace, spiced up with a few jokes kept for the rare occasions of nationalistic outbursts.

Football and frustrations

Later I understood that behind the scene not everything works that well, or perhaps the football outbursts are not totally disconnected from reality. It might be that in the richer nations of Europe, the frustrations are acted out mainly as football commentary, but in reality most of these countries are facing problems in dealing with immigrant communities and unemployment. Furthermore, in the poorer countries, many have bitter feelings due to western investors who bought factories and local resources. For instance, when I visited Poland I saw how the anti-European feelings bolstered the intolerant xenophobic anti-Semite right wing. Although I am an outsider, I am sure that if the EU would invest more in the countries' economies, their main problem might become the unusual responses to soccer.

Joschka was waiting for us

Back in Berlin, we went to meet with the Minister in his half-modern, half-third-Reich-built office. Unlike any other important persona, Joschka was already waiting for us, and even more astonishing, he was actually interested in hearing what we had to say. So the discussion began. Some were polite and thanked him for meeting with us, the other well-trained teacher's pets asked him to give us his valuable opinions about world peace. Only then, after a reckless friend of mine tried to squeeze poor Joschka Fischer into a corner by stressing the fact that even the Green Party in Germany was currently supporting nuclear development in Israel, I was ready to make my move.

Our violent kindergarten

It was 2003, and Israel's Prime Minister Sharon continued with the well-known Israeli policy of talking about peace but doing everything he could to avoid any and all negotiation. As a left-winger, and tired of the check points, the mutual killings and the unending occupation, I seized the moment to ask Joschka Fischer why Germany and the European Union kept sending their generous donations to the area, when they aren't used correctly. I felt like a small child crying to the grownup to enforce their authority, support boycotts and other measures until some peace and quiet would reach our violent kindergarten.

We need some tough love!

Joschka is a nice guy. And as such he explained why he, a representative of Germany, could not make any claims against Israel or the Palestinians due to obvious reasons. One thing he did not mention was that even if the German government decided to take any sort of action, most likely it would not be able do so because of the diversity in Europe. How can Europe enforce policy when the EU's management of foreign affairs is paralysed by conflicting interests and different world views? Another more important point is that until we, who live in the conflict zone, get smart, no-one can help us. It was clear to me that there would be more bloodshed and pain before we reached this utopia. If only I could cry out to Joschka: We need some grownup supervision in the Middle East; we need some tough love from you Europeans!

The EU: role model for Middle East

Today the chances for such European tough love have become more unlikely. An increasing number of people support us because they see in our regional conflict a reflection of their local problems with immigrants. Others embrace the American right wing doctrine and place Israel on their side of a cultural war between the Jewish-Christian West to the Islamic East. But these views should not take over the EU's official foreign policy, since it can and should be an alternative to the US. For example, it could accept Turkey to the EU and show that cultural differences can be overcome.
When I returned to Israel, a new round of the war had started. And you don't need to be a prophet to know that when it will be over, another would begin. This is why I still hope for a Freudian intervention between us and the Europeans, to make them see that support and affection alone don't really help either side. After Joschka had brushed me off, I needed some parental regulation to get me back on track. Finally, I got my tough love in the form of a test on the rules of cricket.

Yiftach Ashkenazy
Yiftach Ashkenazy was born in 1980 in Karmiel, Israel. He lives in Jerusalem, studies Cultural Studies at Hebrew University and works as a guide ...
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