After Madrid: How will train bombings affect attitudes toward Mideast

paris | Across the continent, Jewish communities wondered how the attacks in Madrid, which left more than 200 people dead and some 1,400 wounded, would affect European attitudes toward the Middle East and the war on terrorism.

Some feared that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — and by extension, local Jews — would be blamed for bringing terrorism to a European capital. Others said the attacks would make Europe more vigilant against the Islamic terrorist threat that Israeli leaders have been warning about for years.

European terrorism experts will gather Friday, March 19, for an emergency workshop on “the lessons of Madrid” at the American Jewish Committee’s new Brussels institute, according to Deidre Berger, head of the AJCommittee’s Berlin office.

European Jewish leaders said they are adopting a wait-and-see approach on new anti-terrorism measures, saying the March 19 meeting of European Union justice ministers was critical.

In Italy, Andrea Jarach, president of the Federation of Italy-Israel Associations, said he was pessimistic about how fallout from the Madrid attacks would impact Israel and Jews.

On the popular level in Europe, “they will say even more than they do now that if the ‘Jewish problem’ did not exist, there would not be terrorist attacks,” he said. “It’s terrible, but I fear that the expansion of al-Qaida activities into Europe will be a further step that cannot but harm the Jews of the world and Israel in particular.”

But that same notion — that the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one reason terrorism has come to the heart of Europe — could produce some positive results, the AJCommittee’s Berger said.

“I think this could create a dynamic where there will be more interest in Europe in helping to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because many here in Europe see that as one of the critical incitements to terror,” she said. “It is a faulty analysis, but we can perhaps use the emotions of the moment to create a new dynamic toward pressuring Arab countries to create a more peaceful climate, engendering a long-term peaceful solution.”

In fact, much of the new policy set for the European Union is likely to please supporters of Israel — provided it doesn’t include nuances distancing Europe from Israel in the hope of reducing the terrorist threat.

Jerusalem likely would warmly receive proposals expected to be presented by the Irish E.U. presidency calling for clearer definitions of terrorist organizations.

That could mean that Hezbollah would immediately be included on proscribed lists in every state in the European Union. Unlike the main Palestinian Islamist groups, the Lebanese Shi’ite organization is not on certain countries’ terrorist lists — but now it’s likely that even secondary or charity support groups based in Europe will be banned.

One senior Israeli diplomatic source in Europe said the Jewish state might gain both sympathy and empathy in Europe following the Madrid attacks.

“It’s like after 9/11, when Americans started to realize what Israelis face everyday,” the source said on condition of anonymity.

Nevertheless, he said it was too early to tell if that would translate into a more pro-Israel policy in Europe.

While some Jewish leaders believe the attacks would further strain transatlantic ties, European Muslim leaders were worried about a backlash similar to the one they felt after Sept. 11.

Haj Thai. Braze, head of the Union of French Islamic Organizations, the leading group on France’s recently created Muslim Council and an organization with strong ties to the international Muslim Brotherhood, said European states previously had been careful but now would come closer to U.S. policy.

The United States “is going to say ‘Watch out — you should support the U.S.A. You’ve had your March 11 like we had our Sept. 11,'” he said. “I fear for a crusade against Islam and Muslims.”

JTA correspondents Ruth Gruber in Rome, Richard Allen Greene in London, Jerome Socolovsky in Madrid and Toby Axelrod in Berlin contributed to this article.