HOW WILL Israel’s elections relate to relations with the European Union? .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. Like everything positive concerning the country, this has become the subject of direct and indirect attacks by external and internal enemies.
All Israeli citizens can vote for in elections to the Knesset, the country’s parliament. The Supreme Court is the highest judicial authority. There is no foreign court that can overrule its decisions. Israel has an independent state comptroller and a national ombudsman. Israel’s media are often extremely critical of the government.
Free speech is guaranteed. However regrettable, people can call others Nazis or neo-Nazis without much risk of being taken to court. The membership of Israel’s largest political party, Likud, is in the order of magnitude of Britain’s governing Conservative Party. Yet the UK’s population is more than seven times that of Israel. All members of the Likud can vote for its party list.
Israel’s situation remains precarious. Iran wants to wipe Israel off the map. In the Muslim world, in general, there are many who think that Israel has no right to exist. The main aim of the hard-core of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign in the West is to end the existence of Israel.
In many Western countries there are significant numbers of people who do not want Israel to exist. A 2019 poll in the United Kingdom found that 5% of British citizens disagree with the statement “Israel has every right to exist.”
Besides direct verbal assaults that claim Israel is not a democracy, there are also indirect attacks. The same study found that about 20% of the UK population think Israel is an apartheid state. If this were true, Israel could not be democratic. Israel’s enemies are helped in these false accusations by some Israelis, both Jews and Arabs. If Israel were really an apartheid state, these people would languish in jails. Nor would Palestinians be permitted into general Israeli hospitals.
No perfect democracies exist. Israel is no exception. A justified limitation to democracy is a country’s need to defend itself. Israel has many violent enemies. For its defense and to avoid murders by terrorists, Israel has to exercise a certain amount of control over its Palestinian neighbors. Those on the West Bank are ruled by the Palestinian Authority, which rewards the murderers of Israelis generously, and funds the families of such murderers and of jailed terrorists. Hamas, ruling in Gaza, is even worse.
European Union member states cannot meet Israel’s democratic characteristics. They cannot fully determine their own laws and policies. Their parliaments are not the highest authority of policy making. The treaties entered into by EU members prevail on substantial issues over the laws of these states.
THE TYPICAL answer to this analysis that the “pooling of sovereignty” and restriction on the powers of national parliaments have been voluntary agreed to by the EU member states. A further claim is that sovereignty has potentially only been given up temporarily. Member states can decide on exiting the EU. The polarization and political chaos which has been wrought in the past two years by the Brexit process in the UK illustrate the social cost of exiting the EU and its burden on democracy.
Those favoring Brexit rightly claim that many important decisions affecting their country’s sovereignty have been transferred to foreigners, and that in the EU, Germany has far too much power. This is in particularly so for the many issues for which no unanimity of member states is required. Brussels bureaucrats who have not been elected can make decisions that affect member countries.
Some decisions by courts in member countries can be overruled by the Court of Justice of the European Union. The judges of this court are overwhelmingly nationals of other countries, rather than of the country where an appeal to that supranational court comes. The EU member countries are thus not fully sovereign in this area.
One small example illustrates the intrusive nature of EU policies in some areas. The EU has set standards of surface water quality that are required to be met by its members in 2027. This may make sense for rivers which flow across borders. Yet it also refers to national lakes and small waters, such as short canals, ponds and even water ditches. If these standards are not met, huge fines can be imposed by the EU. A recent Dutch study found that 99% of all Dutch surface waters do not currently meet the EU standards. Dutch citizens might reasonably have expected that this issue can be freely decided nationally.
Brussels even tried to impose a rule that said EU countries had to take in asylum-seekers from other member states. A few countries rebelled because they understood that the rule might allow Muslims into their countries on a non-selective basis, and some of them could be highly dangerous individuals. Several thousand Muslims who lived in EU member states have joined ISIS, one of the most criminal terrorist organizations in the world.
Literature from pro-Brexit sources reveals the partial lack of sovereignty of EU member states. Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban’s statements may supply a few additional insights.
The above does not even relate to the argument about other issues in which some EU member states are also less democratic than Israel. Such an analysis would have to include the existence of no-go areas and the poor performance of these countries’ police and judiciary.
The writer is emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, and the International Leadership Award by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
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