Although European leaders, especially in France, the UK, and Germany, have affirmed their full support for Israel and labeled Hamas as a "terrorist" organization, European popular opinion and political circles remain more divided. We are not only seeing fissures between government stances and various segments of society, but broader divisions at the EU level. EU member countries differ regarding how they feel Europe should intervene in the ongoing crisis and how to engage with the situation on the ground. European stances on the war are not only the result of longstanding foreign policy tenets, but also spurred by fears that the Israel-Hamas war could threaten European stability in ways that governments might not be able to handle.
There are various indications that the stability and security of several European countries has been threatened by the ongoing conflict in Gaza, including the following:
1. Rival protests across Europe: In response to the Israel-Hamas war, protests have erupted in various key European countries. This was one of the first indications of the crisis spreading to Europe. Police responded differently to demonstrations supporting versus criticizing Israel, depending on their assessment of the sensitivity of the situation, and the size of Arab and Jewish populations in the country in question.
On 12 October 2023, the French police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse an "illegal" protest in Paris in support of the Palestinian people. President Emmanuel Macron urged the French people to remain unified, and the French minister of the interior warned that unrest could undermine public order. It is worth noting that France is home to some of the largest Muslim and Jewish communities in Europe.
Meanwhile, in Germany, major demonstrations were held in the main square in Berlin in support of Israel. The German police banned most pro-Palestinian protests in the city. In other European capitals such as Dublin and Stockholm, demonstrators on both sides took to the streets without significant police repression of either set of protests.
2. Heightened security in various areas: Another sign of security threats in European capitals is the tightening of security around particular buildings where Arab or Jewish communities congregate. This is due to European fears of violence against these groups. In Warsaw, the Polish police tightened security for a Jewish synagogue where Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich was set to hold a service.
The French police also implemented security measures to protect the largest Jewish community center in Paris. In the Netherlands, Jewish schools were closed for safety reasons, while two other Jewish schools in London were temporarily shut. Thousands of police officers are undertaking additional patrols and have been sent to protect Jewish schools as well as synagogues and mosques.
3. Party divides widen across Europe: The conflict between Israel and Hamas has had implications beyond popular demonstrations. It has also caused significant shifts in the political sphere and the balance of political parties in these countries. In France, the left-wing party La France Insoumise refused to label the Hamas attacks as terrorism, which further deepened rifts in the French left. It also suggests that the leftist coalition known as the New Ecological and Social People’s Union (NUPES) could soon fall apart. La France Insoumise and its leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon have also been continuously accused of treason by other parties during sessions of the French National Assembly.
In Spain, leftist parties launched a relentless campaign against Israel, accusing it of committing war crimes. The ruling coalition even went as far as summoning the Israeli ambassador to Madrid. These actions have caused major rifts among Spanish political parties as well.
In the UK, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, a left-wing movement, has faced restrictive measures even from the Labour Party due to the former’s use of terms such as "apartheid" and "war crimes" to describe Israel’s actions in Gaza. It appears these fractures in the British left will continue to grow.
3. Conflict could spread to Europe: In the coming period, there could be attempts to bring the Israel-Hamas conflict into Europe through targeting Israeli interests there. There have already been signs of this in recent days, including an explosion near the Israeli embassy in Cyprus on 20 October 2023. The explosion occurred about 30 meters from the Israeli embassy in Nicosia. No one was injured and the police arrested four suspects in connection with the incident.
4. Crimes against religious communities on the rise: The recent developments in the war between Israel and Hamas could lead to an increased incidence of crime against religious communities. Such incidents could occur in response to the prevailing view that the West will support Israel unconditionally. Since the war erupted on 7 October 2023, Germany has already experienced a growing number of incidents against Jewish institutions, including Molotov cocktails being thrown at a Berlin synagogue on 18 October 2023. On 13 October 2023, an incident occurred in the French city of Arras in which a Russian man named Mohammed Mogouchkov stabbed Dominique Bernard, a secondary school French teacher, to death. Gérald Darmanin, the French minister of the interior, made statements immediately after the incident linking the attack to recent events in the Middle East.
5. Fears of a new wave of terrorism: The current war between Hamas and Israel has stirred up tremendous fears in European countries of the possibility of a new wave of terror attacks. Terrorist organizations such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda have exploited the current war to draw attention to their claims of injustices perpetrated by the West. These groups have called for action against the international powers that support Israel. In light of European concerns about terrorism, several French airports were evacuated in recent days following email threats about explosives. The Palace of Versailles has also recently been shut on several occasions following anonymous bomb threats.
6. Waves of migration could pose challenges: Migration and displacement have been longstanding challenges for the European continent, since it is located in close proximity to areas in the Middle East that have experienced crises. Charles Michel, president of the European Council, stated that tensions in Gaza could create "onward migratory waves to Europe." Other assessments suggest that Egypt will not be the only country affected by the forced mass displacement of Palestinians. European countries will also have to deal with the political pressures and ethical obligations of taking in large numbers of displaced persons. This would entail enormous security and financial burdens on Europe, which is also concerned about increase terror threats.
7. Pressure for legislative and executive action: In light of the growing popular unrest in European countries, some expect to see rising tensions between Jewish and Arab communities in Europe. Some countries might decide to strengthen legislation against antisemitism and racism and to protect minority rights, due to European governments’ pro-Israel stances. There is already conversation about or proposals drafted in the UK Parliament and French National Assembly regarding amending definitions of antisemitism in existing legislation, which proponents argue would better protect Jewish communities and places of worship.
8. Increasing financial costs: European countries will have to shoulder an increasingly heavy financial burden in the wake of these crises. This will likely extend beyond larger budget allocations for domestic security and police forces to increasing commitments for additional aid funding for UNWRA and the Palestinian people. Although the European Commission announced during the first days of the conflict that it was suspending aid to Palestinians, it later reversed that decision, and indeed pledged additional humanitarian support as soon as conditions on the ground allow aid to reach Gaza. This will create additional financial burdens on European national budgets.
9. Increased US pressure on Europe: Although European nations often seem to hold similar positions to those of the US, the latter has continued to exert pressure on key European countries to offer greater support to Ukraine so that the US would not have to bear the costs of the war alone. The same is true of the current conflict. As with the Ukrainian crisis, Washington is expected to continue reaching out to Europe and ramping up pressure, especially on Paris, London, and Berlin. Washington wants European powers to expand their aid to Israel, not only to issue statements of support.
10. Marginalized communities in a difficult position: Marginalized communities in Europe have long faced troubling circumstances during such crises. These communities feel they have faced injustice and a lack of respect in European societies, and their marginalization poses a significant threat for European countries. The Israel-Hamas war could exacerbate these challenges, particularly for communities from the Middle East, given unconditional Western support for Israel and European restrictions on pro-Palestinian speech.
11. Openings for Russia in Ukraine: Over the past year and a half, the Russia-Ukraine war has occupied global attention and produced various economic and strategic repercussions affecting the entire world. As the world’s focus shifts towards the Middle East, there is slightly less focus on the Russia-Ukraine conflict while nations are distracted elsewhere. This has prompted concerns that these circumstances could enable Russia to strengthen its position in the war on Ukraine and vis-à-vis Western Europe. These shifts are expected to result in increased pressures on European ruling elites to end one of the conflicts as quickly as possible.
In conclusion, the fallout of the Israel-Hamas conflict will extend beyond the Middle East and will be felt to varying degrees across Europe. This is especially true of the three major European capitals (Berlin, London, and Paris), given their significant Arab and Jewish populations and historical linkages to the Arab-Israeli conflict. As demonstrated above, the conflict in Gaza will directly affect European security and stability in various ways. It is likely that there will be domestic and foreign policy implications for Europe as it navigates push-and-pull pressure dynamics with the US.