Borderline Views: Doomed to succeed

The recent attacks on the EU and its funding of civil society and human rights organizations here are threatening to drive a serious wedge in Israel-Europe relations.

May 11, 2010 11:06
4 minute read.
Borderline Views: Doomed to succeed

Europe flag. (photo credit: DR)


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At today’s meeting of the Board of Governors of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, special awards will be given to two leading European personalities – member of the Académie Française and former president of the European Parliament Simone Veil and Ambassador Miguel Moratinos, Spanish minister of foreign affairs and cooperation and the first EU special representative to the Middle East peace process. Chairing the event will be the new European Union ambassador to Israel, Andrew Standley, who is fast making a name for himself as an erudite and eloquent spokesman on behalf of the EU.

The event could not have been timed more appropriately, taking place just two days after the celebration of Europe Day on May 9, 60 years to the day on which French foreign minister Robert Schuman announced  the famous plan which later became known as the “Schuman Declaration.”

Schuman argued that Europe would not be united at once, but step by step.

This would require the elimination of Franco-German hostility, and Schuman proposed that French and German coal and steel production be placed “under a common High Authority, within the framework of an organization open to the participation of other countries in Europe.”

This would be “a first step in the federation of Europe,” and would make war between France and Germany “not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible.”

NO ONE who has witnessed conflict or can remember the situation in Europe just 60 years ago can be anything but amazed at the peace, harmony and cooperation which exists throughout this continent today. It is a political and economic union which, despite some internal disagreements, has surpassed the dreams of its founders back in those unstable days after World War II. Analysts with a good historical perspective would agree that the EU, even allowing for some of the contemporary economic problems, has indeed turned into a project doomed to succeed.

In his excellent new book on post-World War II Europe, American political analyst Steven Hill has described the quiet revolution occurring in Europe over the past 60 years. “A world power has emerged that is meticulously recrafting the rules for how modern society should be organized and how it should provide economic, political and personal security, as well as environmental sustainability, for its many peoples.”

Hill argues that a distinct “European way” has emerged, if only because the Europeans have developed a new expertise – killing problems off by discussing them to death. It is another version of the mythical Churchill statements that “jaw jaw is always preferable to war war.”

EUROPE IN general, and the EU in particular, have suffered from a mixed reaction here over the years. Our collective memory instinctively takes us back to the Holocaust whenever any form of European criticism of Israel comes our way, and for many Israelis – especially an older generation – it is difficult to think of Europe without associating it with anti-Semitism.

In a 2007 survey carried out by the Konrad Adenauer-Stiftung Foundation, 78% of those surveyed held that the EU is not doing enough to counter anti-Semitism in Europe. Likewise, 64% of the respondents to the Dahaf – EU Commission 2004 survey agreed that the EU positions toward Israel reflect anti-Semitic attitudes thinly disguised as moral principles.

And yet, 69% of the respondents to the Adenauer survey view the EU as a hospitable framework which could even include full Israeli membership in the foreseeable future. Europe remains Israel’s largest trading partner, with a wide range of cultural, scientific and sporting exchange agreements and memberships.

The recent attacks on the EU and its funding of civil society and human rights organizations and NGOs here are threatening to put a serious wedge in Israel-Europe relations. European governments see such a move as one which is repositioning Israel as a society which no longer honors the basic values of freedom of speech and the right to open debate – those very principles on which Europe decides which countries to favor with special economic, trade, political and cultural partnerships.

Who, if not Simone Veil – today’s doctorate recipient – is more suited to represent the great democratic and Jewish tradition of open debate, the right to be critical of governments and to have alternative opinions? Veil, a Holocaust survivor, has fought for these values all her life. For his part, Moratinos, tirelessly works to advance democracy in Latin America and Eastern Europe. In February 2007 he founded Casa Sefarad Israel, a unique institution which promotes the contribution of Jewish values and heritage to the history of Spain and Europe.

It would be a sad irony if at the same time Veil and Moratinos are being honored by an Israeli university, the government of that country passes legislation aimed at curbing that same right to free speech and critical voices.

Dan Diner, professor of history at the Hebrew University and director of the Simon Dubnow Institute for Jewish History and Culture at the University of Leipzig, once said that “Israel is from Europe, but not in Europe.”

As long as Israel fails to move from sterile words about its commitment to the development of civil society to meaningful actions, it will remain morally and politically on the other side of Europe’s border. If, as is beginning to happen now, it moves to clamp down on civil society and human rights organizations, then it will not only be beyond the European border, but it will begin to exclude itself from the family of nations for whom democracy and free speech constitute the most basic of common values.

David Newman is professor of political geography at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and editor of the International Journal of Geopolitics. Sharon Pardo is a Jean Monnet lecturer of European studies at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and director of the university’s Center for the Study of European Politics and Society.

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