The Role of National Culture in Foreign Policy Making. Anti-Semitism in Europe and European-Israeli Relations

Seminar Paper, 2011

25 Pages, Grade: 1,0



Over the last decades, the foreign policies of the European Union member countries have become more and more consistent. However, up to date, the European countries differ signifi­cantly in their views on Israel, Palestine and the Middle East conflict. This study tries to ex­plain these differences by focusing on a factor that has been largely ignored by existing litera­ture on foreign policy making: culture. More precisely, this study tests the argument that anti­Semitism as a cultural trait influences a state 's foreign policy toward Israel. In order to test this argument, we are examining the levels of anti-Semitism in five European states (France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom) as well as the quality of their relations with Israel. Our findings suggest that the countries with the highest levels of anti-Semitism indeed have the worst relations with Israel and vice versa. Thus, anti-Semitism (and, more generally, culture) seems to be an important factor that deserves greater attention from scholars that are trying to understand the process of foreign policy making.


On October 31, 2011, Palestine became the newest member of the United Nations Ed­ucational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The Palestinian UNESCO mem­bership bid, which required approval by a two-thirds majority of the agency's General Con­ference, easily passed with a vote of 107 to 14, with 52 abstentions (Lynch 2011). Among those countries that voted with “no” were Israel, the United States, and a couple of European states, including Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands, stating that such a unilateral move­ment by the Palestinians will only further undermine stability in the region and that peace can only be achieved by direct negotiations between Palestine and Israel. Support for the Palestin­ian bid came not only from the vast majority of African, Asian, Latin American, and Middle Eastern countries, but also from France, which puzzled its European allies who were trying to reach a uniform position of the European Union (EU) member states. Other European coun­tries like the United Kingdom were among those who abstained, thus corroborating the im­pression that Europe is deeply divided in its foreign policy toward Palestine, Israel, and the conflict in the Middle East (Sherwood 2011).

The Palestinian bid for UNESCO membership is part of the broader effort by the Pal­estinians to seek recognition as a UN member state. During the last couple of months, Pales­tinian officials became increasingly frustrated by the fact that direct negotiations with Israel did not bring them closer to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, and thus decided that taking their cause into the international arena has greater potential for progress. Their chances for success are, however, rather low, as the United States has announced to use its veto power in the UN Security Council to prevent the establishment of an independent Pal­estinian state. Yet, the Palestinians have already achieved a symbolic victory, as they were able to convince numerous members of both the UN Security Council and General Assembly to support their cause (Hasnah 2011). Not only are the United Nations deeply divided on this issue, but so is the European Union: EU members like Belgium, Luxembourg, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and France support the Palestinian request at the United Nations, while oth­er European countries, including Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Italy, and the Czech Republic have announced to oppose the recognition of an independent Palestinian state and instead support Israel in this matter (Conrad 2011). This is not the first time that the EU member states are in massive disagreement on how to coordinate their policies toward the Middle East Conflict, as, during the last decades, there have been numerous incidents where the European Union has been unable, despite great efforts, to reach a uniform position toward Palestine and Israel (Musu 2010: 96-102).

This leads us to the two research questions by which this study is guided: What is the reason for the divergence in how European countries structure their relations with Israel? And what are the forces that shape European foreign policy, especially toward Israel? In order to answer these questions, this study focuses on a factor that has been largely neglected by for­eign policy research: culture. In this paper, the argument is made that anti-Semitism is not a mere individual attitude but a certain (sub)form of culture, and therefore impacts the process of foreign policy making just like other elements of culture do. However, before showing that anti-Semitism as a cultural trait indeed seems to influence European-Israeli relations, the pa­per provides a review of the existing literature on this topic, which consists of four themes: first, foreign policy making in the European Union; second, EU policies toward Israel; third, culture's influence on foreign policy; and fourth and finally, the connection between culture and anti-Semitism. What follows is an explanation of the methodology, that is, why the meth­od of case study has been chosen, why the particular cases examined in this study have been picked, and which sources have been used. Next, we proceed to the actual analysis of five European countries and their relations to the state of Israel. By examining the cases of the United Kingdom (UK), France, Germany, Italy and Spain, this study aims at testing whether or not the level of anti-Semitism in these states correlates with the quality of their relations to Israel. A final section then summarizes the main findings of this study and indicates the direc­tions for future research on this topic.

Literature Review

There is extensive literature on EU foreign policy making (Andreatta 2011; Thomas 2011; Verola 2011; Keukeleire & Mac Naughtan 2008; Smith 2008; Bretherton & Vogler 2006; Smith 2004). Most of this literature stresses normative institutionalism as the main force that shapes foreign policy making in EU member states; that is, their aspiration to make foreign policy decision that are consistent with those of other nations in the European Union. Even though the field of foreign policy is not a part of the supranational pillar of the EU but of its intergovernmental pillar and thus ultimately lies within the responsibility of the individ­ual member states, socialization processes have led EU member countries to put increasing effort in reaching consensus when making foreign policy. This applies especially since the year 2009, as the Treaty of Lisbon has strengthened foreign policy institutions within the EU system (Verola 2011). However, in quite a few instances, the individual member states of the European Union pursue rather different foreign policy strategies. This is also the case for their policies toward Israel; thus, the existing literature on EU foreign policy making in general fails at sufficiently explaining why countries that usually strive for consensus, are geograph­ically close, and have quite similar institutions pursue rather different foreign policies toward Israel. Therefore, we should turn our attention to the literature which specifically deals with European-Israeli relations.

There is only little literature that specifically focuses on EU foreign policies toward Israel (Musu 2010; Pardo & Peters 2010; Aoun 2003). The existing research mainly deals with policies employed by the European Union as a whole and especially its role in the con­flict between Israel and its neighbors. What this literature does not address is why individual states pursue strategies toward Israel that differ from those of other EU member countries as well as from the general policies framed by EU institutions. Thus, it is reasonable to search for factors that might help explain these discrepancies and have not been sufficiently captured by the existing research.

Both the literature on European-Israeli relations and EU foreign policy in general have largely ignored how societal culture affects foreign policy choice; in fact, it is the least devel­oped angle in foreign policy analysis (Hudson 1997: 1). There are two reasons for this: first, as realism still remains the dominant paradigm in the study of International Relations, the majority of scholars has been arguing that the structure of the international system dwarfs the domestic idiosyncrasies of nations, thus assuming that societal culture has little or no influ­ence on a state's foreign policy; second, even scholars who recognize that domestic culture shapes foreign policy decisions have largely ignored it because of the fact that is a rather vague phenomenon that can hardly be grasped, let alone measured. However, this neglecting of culture is a potentially huge loss to the study of foreign policy, as a couple of authors have convincingly argued that taking culture into account can enrich our understanding of foreign policy making and inter-state relations. They have reasoned that culture, defined as “an orga­nized body of rules concerning the ways in which individuals in a population should com­municate with another, think about themselves and their environments, and behave toward one another and towards objects in their environments” (Hudson 1997: 3), influences the making of foreign policy in two ways, one direct and the other one indirect. First, culture plays an essential role in the socialization of state leaders, the ultimate makers of foreign poli­cy. Second, not only state leaders are being exposed to and influenced by societal culture, but also the general population, whose opinion also impacts state leaders in the foreign policy decisions they make. Thus, culture constitutes restraints, limits, and blinders for foreign poli­cy makers; or, in other words: Culture creates a framework in which foreign policy decisions can be made (Pavlov 2008; Hudson 1997; Huntington 1996; Vlahos 1991; Iriye 1979; Hoff­man 1962). Not only is this theoretical argument convincing, but it has also been tested by a few authors, who found that culture has indeed been shaping foreign policy making in several cases (Schaffer 2006; Ben-Porat & Mizrahi 2005; Kalberg 2003; Jeffords 1994; Ebel, Taras & Cochrane 1991). Thus, shifting our focus to culture should help us explain EU foreign poli­cies toward Israel.

As the popular image of Israel is inseparably linked to the fate of the Jewish people, there is ample reason to assume that anti-Semitism influences a state's relation with Israel. This notion goes against to popular misconception that anti-Semitism is a mere individual attitude, a pure matter of individual choice. However, the definition of Helen Fein, which has also been adopted by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), an official institution of the EU, demonstrates that anti-Semitism is much more than that. Ac­cording to Fein, anti-Semitism is a “persisting latent structure of hostile beliefs towards Jews as a collective manifested in individuals as attitudes, and in culture as myth, ideology, folklore and imagery, and in actions - social or legal discrimination, political mobilization against the Jews, and collective or state violence - which results in and/or is designed to distance, dis­place, or destroy Jews as Jews” (Fein 1987: 67). This definition makes clear that anti­Semitism is a persisting element in cultures, one that occurs in different intensities in different societies. This point has been elaborated by several studies; one of them is Daniel Goldha- gen's Hitler's Willing Executioners. In his seminal work, Goldhagen finds that the Holocaust was made possible by a unique and virulent eliminationist anti-Semitism inherent in German culture, which had developed over the preceding centuries (Goldhagen 1996). In a more re­cent study, scholars found that German cities which faced anti-Semitic incident in the medie­val times show higher levels of anti-Semitism than other cities today, thus suggesting that anti-Semitism is a cultural trait that can persist in local culture (Voigtlaender & Voth 2011). Therefore, anti-Semitism can be expected to influence foreign policy decisions just like any other cultural trait does.

As existing approaches to EU foreign policy making cannot sufficiently explain the differences in European countries' behavior toward Israel, it is reasonable to shift our focus to a factor that has been largely ignored by scholars concerned with European-Israeli relations: culture. In this paper, we test the argument that culture is an important factor in explaining foreign policy making; by itself, it is not sufficient to explain every event occurring in the realm of foreign policy making, but it is an essential contribution to a more comprehensive understanding of foreign policies and inter-state relations. As a review of the related literature has shown, not only has culture as an effect on foreign policy choice been largely ignored by foreign policy analysis, but also has anti-Semitism not at all been taken into account by schol­ars concerned with European-Israeli relations. Here lies the merit of this study: it focuses on a factor that has been largely neglected by existing research and thus can help enrich our under­standing of European policies toward Israel. Moreover, this study might help draw scholarly attention to anti-Semitism, and, more generally, culture, as a factor that shapes foreign policy and inter-state relations.


The previous section clearly illustrated that culture as an influence on foreign policy has been widely ignored by scholars of International Relations; even more remarkable, anti­Semitism as a possible factor shaping a state's policy toward Israel has been completely dis­regarded. Thus, this study is breaking new grounds, which means that it is exploratory in its nature. Under such circumstances, the method of choice is usually a structured, focused com­parison; that is, conducting case study research. Besides several other virtues like a high level of conceptual validity, one main advantage of case studies is that they are a valuable tool for the development of new theories, as they show a great potential to uncover new or omitted variables, hypotheses, causal paths/mechanisms, or interactions effects (George & Bennett 2005: 19-22, 109-115). Therefore, the case study approach, defined as an intensive analysis of an individual unit stressing development factors in relation to context, proves to be the most suitable method to answer the research question posed by this study (Flyvbjerg 2011: 301).

When conducting case study research, the question arises which cases to chose? As this study examines the impact of anti-Semitism in the EU on European-Israeli relations, the population from which the cases could be drawn is the current 27 member states of the Euro­pean Union. The cases ultimately chosen are: the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. They got picked for a practical and theoretical reason. The practical reason is that these states represent some of the “major players” in the EU; thus, there are lots of sources which provide information on them and are rather easily available. The theoretical reason is that the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Spain can be considered “extreme cas- es”, as they show the greatest variation on the independent variable. Thus, if the argument that anti-Semitism influences a state's foreign policy toward Israel is correct, we would expect these five countries to also show great variation on the dependent variable.

The independent variable is a phenomenon thought to influence, affect, or cause some other phenomenon; for this study, it is the level of anti-Semitism in a state. Measuring anti­Semitism is a difficult task to undertake, especially when doing it cross-nationally. However, the publications of the EUMC provide a quite solid basis for comparing anti-Semitic resent­ments in different European countries. A survey conducted by the EUMC in 2002 compares public attitudes toward Jews, Israel and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict in nine EU member states. The virtue of this survey is that it is based on a rather large sample size (500 respond­ents in each country) and that the questions are the same for each country, thus allowing for comparison (Bergmann & Wetzel 2003: 44). Table 1 summarizes the findings of the EUMC report: the highest average values of anti-Semitism are found in Spain (50.5%) and Italy (39.25%), followed by Germany (33%) and France (30%), while the lowest average value is reported for the United Kingdom (19%).

Table 1: Anti-Semitism in selected EU member countries

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Source: Bergmann & Wetzel 2003, page 44.

Critics of the EUMC study might argue that some of the questions used in the survey are not very accurate measures of anti-Semitism and yield exaggerated numbers. However, such criticism misses the point, as the absolute numbers are not so much of interest here. In­stead, it is the difference in anti-Semitism values between our five sample countries that is of importance to the purpose of this paper. Other studies on anti-Semitism like the one conduct­ed by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) largely support the findings of the EUMC. As a 2007 ADL survey has shown, anti-Semitism is exceptionally widespread in Spain, followed by Italy, Germany and then France (Anti-Defamation League 2007).1 Therefore, our ranking based on the EUMC survey appears to capture actual conditions rather well: the highest value of anti-Semitism is found in Spain, followed by Italy, Germany, and France, while the lowest value is reported for the United Kingdom.

The dependent variable is a phenomenon thought to be influenced, affected, or caused by some other phenomenon; in our case, it is the quality of a state's relation with Israel. For the purpose of this study, we assess the quality of European-Israeli relations by employing three different measurements: EU member states' voting behavior in the UN General Assem­bly, foreign trade relations, and European policies toward Israel's current main enemy, the Iranian regime. The first measurement looks at how Spain, Italy, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom have voted in the UN General Assembly on issues regarding Israel and the Middle East Conflict during the last eight years. The data for this purpose is available through the website of the United Nations (General Assembly of the United Nations 2011). The sec­ond measurement looks at the intensity of foreign trade relations between our five European cases and Israel, using data from the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) in Israel (Central Bu­reau of Statistics 2009). The third measurement is admittedly a little controversial; however, given the hostility between Iran and Israel, the fierce anti-Semitic rhetoric and actions of Ira­nian leaders, and the fact that Iran's support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and its aspirations to become a nuclear power poses a direct threat to the physical security of Israel, there is ample reason to believe that good relations with Iran go together with bad relations with Israel and vice versa (Grigat 2010; Grigat 2008: 28-32). For the purpose of this study, we assess the quality of a state's relation with Iran largely by looking at three factors: the imple­mentation of unilateral sanctions, the intensity of foreign trade relations, and the effort a coun­try puts into convincing other states to implement sanctions against Iran. As for the data, Eu­ropean policies toward Iran are well documented by secondary literature (Becker & Spaney 2010; Hartmann 2010; Küntzel 2009). Put together, these three measurements allow for a ra­ther solid assessment of a state's relation with Israel.

Thus, if the argument that anti-Semitism influences a state's foreign policy toward Israel is correct, we would assume Spain to cast the most votes against Israel in the UN Gen­eral Assembly, to have the least trade with Israel, and to carry out the most pro-Iranian poli­cies, and the United Kingdom to cast the most votes for Israel in the UN General Assembly, to have the largest trade with Israel, and to carry out the most anti-Iranian policies, with Italy being closest to Spain and France being closest to the UK on our scale. If that is the case, we have demonstrated that there really is a correlation between anti-Semitism and a state's rela­tion with Israel. What such a methodology is not capable of, however, is to show a causal relationship between these two variables and how cultural traits concretely influence foreign policy making. But this is not the intention of this study anyway; its purpose is to determine whether or not culture is a factor that shapes foreign policy, a factor that needs to be recog­nized in order to reach a comprehensive understanding of foreign policy making and inter­state relations, and to draw scholarly attention to anti-Semitism as an important element in foreign relations with Israel.

Findings Voting Behavior in the UN General Assembly

Within the last eight years, there have been 179 recorded votes in the UN General As­sembly regarding Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories and the Arab-Israeli conflict. In 156 cases (87%), France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom voted consensual. These findings are in accord with those of other authors, who found that over the last couple of years, the voting behavior of the European Union member countries has become more con­sensual (Musu 2010: 99). Therefore, scholars are right when they stress the importance of normative institutionalism as an essential factor in European Union foreign policy making. In annual UN General Assembly votes such as those on the occupied Golan Heights, the status of Jerusalem and the Israeli settlement, the European Union member countries usually speak with one voice. Out of the 156 consensual votes, 118 had been against Israeli interest, 36 had been abstentions, and only two have been in favor of Israeli interest (General Assembly of the United Nations 2011).

However, as the figures above show, not all of the votes have been consensual. As the European Union member states have been able to reach consensus on most issues regarding Israel and the Middle East, those issues on which they did not reach consensus stand out. For example, in the annual UN General Assembly votes on both the economic activities and the information policies of the occupied Palestinian territories, France and the United Kingdom have been abstaining over the last eight years, while Germany, Italy and Spain regularly vote against Israeli interest (General Assembly of the United Nations 2011). Another issue of dis­pute among the European countries is the controversial Durban Declaration. The Durban Dec­laration, which is an international accord to fight racism and xenophobia worldwide, is criti­cized by many for wrongfully accusing Israel of being a “racist state” (Bayefsky 2011). Since the original Durban Conference in South Africa in 2001, there have been annual follow-ups on the achievements and future directions of the Durban Declaration in the UN General As­sembly, and the voting behavior of the European Union member countries regarding this issue has been varying significantly. Out of our five sample countries, Germany, Italy and the Unit­ed Kingdom seem to be the most critical of the Durban Declaration and therefore the most supportive of Israel in this matter. Table 3 shows a complete record of how our five sample countries Spain, Italy, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom have voted in the UN Gen­eral Assembly on issues regarding Israel and the Middle East during the last eight years.

Table 2: Recorded votes in the UN General Assembly regarding Israel (2003-2011)

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Source: General Assembly of the United Nations (2011).


1 Respondents in five European countries were asked a series of indicator questions representing the most perni­cious notions of anti-Semitism and whether or not they thought statements were "probably true" or "probably false." These statements include: “Jews have too much power in international financial markets”, “Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust”, “Jews are responsible for the death of Christ” and “American Jews control U.S. Middle Eastern policy”.

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The Role of National Culture in Foreign Policy Making. Anti-Semitism in Europe and European-Israeli Relations
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role, national, culture, foreign, policy, making, anti-semitism, europe, european-israeli, relations
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Michael Neureiter (Author), 2011, The Role of National Culture in Foreign Policy Making. Anti-Semitism in Europe and European-Israeli Relations, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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