Tip O’Neill, a longtime speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, famously said that “All politics is local.” The same could be said of geopolitics.
When Hamas fighters stormed across the border fences separating the Gaza Strip from Israel and slaughtered some 1,400 Israeli men, women and children in their homes and villages in a surprise attack on October 7, politicians around the world were called upon by the media to react instantly.
Most European leaders condemned the massacre as a barbaric act of terrorism and voiced solidarity with Israel and support for its right to defend itself. But there were nuances even in the early reactions, reflecting divergent perceptions of the Middle East conflict, different sensitivities in parties’ membership and electorates, and fear that massive Israeli retaliation would cause many civilian Palestinian casualties. The war has exposed bitter divisions in the European left.
In some West European countries, it has sparked political clashes, demonstrations, tensions among ethnic communities, a surge in anti-semitic acts and hate speech, a handful of apparent Islamist attacks, calls to expel radicalised Muslim migrants and debates about freedom of speech. Those battles often had more to do with local politics than with the Middle East conflict. Let’s unpack some examples.