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.

Europe flag (photo credit: DR)
Europe flag
(photo credit: DR)
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, Americanpolitical analyst Steven Hill has described the quiet revolutionoccurring in Europe over the past 60 years. “A world power has emergedthat is meticulously recrafting the rules for how modern society shouldbe organized and how it should provide economic, political and personalsecurity, as well as environmental sustainability, for its manypeoples.”
Hill argues that a distinct “European way” has emerged, if only becausethe Europeans have developed a new expertise – killing problems off bydiscussing them to death. It is another version of the mythicalChurchill statements that “jaw jaw is always preferable to war war.”
EUROPE IN general, and the EU in particular, have suffered from a mixedreaction here over the years. Our collective memory instinctively takesus back to the Holocaust whenever any form of European criticism ofIsrael comes our way, and for many Israelis – especially an oldergeneration – it is difficult to think of Europe without associating itwith anti-Semitism.
In a 2007 survey carried out by the Konrad Adenauer-StiftungFoundation, 78% of those surveyed held that the EU is not doing enoughto counter anti-Semitism in Europe. Likewise, 64% of the respondents tothe Dahaf – EU Commission 2004 survey agreed that the EU positionstoward Israel reflect anti-Semitic attitudes thinly disguised as moralprinciples.
And yet, 69% of the respondents to the Adenauer survey view the EU as ahospitable framework which could even include full Israeli membershipin the foreseeable future. Europe remains Israel’s largest tradingpartner, with a wide range of cultural, scientific and sportingexchange agreements and memberships.
The recent attacks on the EU and its funding of civil society and humanrights organizations and NGOs here are threatening to put a seriouswedge in Israel-Europe relations. European governments see such a moveas one which is repositioning Israel as a society which no longerhonors the basic values of freedom of speech and the right to opendebate – those very principles on which Europe decides which countriesto favor with special economic, trade, political and culturalpartnerships.
Who, if not Simone Veil – today’s doctorate recipient – is more suitedto represent the great democratic and Jewish tradition of open debate,the right to be critical of governments and to have alternativeopinions? Veil, a Holocaust survivor, has fought for these values allher life. For his part, Moratinos, tirelessly works to advancedemocracy in Latin America and Eastern Europe. In February 2007 hefounded Casa Sefarad Israel, a unique institution which promotes thecontribution of Jewish values and heritage to the history of Spain andEurope.
It would be a sad irony if at the same time Veil and Moratinos arebeing honored by an Israeli university, the government of that countrypasses legislation aimed at curbing that same right to free speech andcritical voices.
Dan Diner, professor of history at the Hebrew University and directorof the Simon Dubnow Institute for Jewish History and Culture at theUniversity of Leipzig, once said that “Israel is from Europe, but notin Europe.”
As long as Israel fails to move from sterile words about its commitmentto the development of civil society to meaningful actions, it willremain morally and politically on the other side of Europe’s border.If, as is beginning to happen now, it moves to clamp down on civilsociety and human rights organizations, then it will not only be beyondthe European border, but it will begin to exclude itself from thefamily of nations for whom democracy and free speech constitute themost basic of common values.

David Newman is professor ofpolitical geography at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and editor ofthe International Journal of Geopolitics. Sharon Pardo is a Jean Monnetlecturer of European studies at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev anddirector of the university’s Center for the Study of European Politicsand Society.