Snap Judgement: One cheer for the European Union

Europe is facing new dangerous challenges to its best liberal and democratic traditions, and if the EU is to survive then it needs massive reforms and reordering.

A WOMAN hands out leaflets last month, campaigning to stay in Europe for the Brexit vote, in London. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A WOMAN hands out leaflets last month, campaigning to stay in Europe for the Brexit vote, in London.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In a few days when I travel to the Netherlands with my Dutch-born wife and our two children, I’ll be reminded again as we pass through customs that they hold European Union citizenship, and I don’t.
And yes, I’ll be a little bit jealous, despite my holding passports from what I consider as the two greatest countries on Earth, the US and Israel. Still, to be free to enter, study, work or live in 28 countries – err, make that 27 – on just one passport! Who wouldn’t want that privilege? A narrow majority of British citizens, apparently. And sitting here in Israel, where we can’t cross enough neighboring borders on our own nation’s passports to even make an overland trip to Europe, that’s not an easy decision to fathom.
But I won’t join the chorus of those mocking those Brits who voted for Brexit. Not when, on the very day they made that decision, the EU parliament in Brussels gave a standing ovation to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for a speech in which he made a blatantly spurious charge that Israeli rabbis had advocated poisoning Palestinian wells in the West Bank, a claim that positively reeks of ancient anti-Semitic tropes.
Seriously, can there be any better example of typical EU political foolishness, of Brussels fiddling while Brexit burns, than that its bureaucrats chose to occupy themselves with counter-productive meddling in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the very day that could end up deciding the union’s fate? There are of course many other, much more pertinent, reasons for the exasperation with the EU that tipped the scales for Brexit: the EU’s ludicrous fiscal irresponsibility; the lack of democratic accountability that enables the Brussels bureaucracy to frequently act in a high-handed manner toward the peoples of the member states it is supposed to serve; the concerns over the future of the euro and other pan-European financial institutions in the wake of the Greek financial meltdown.
And yes, it can’t be denied that a stubborn English nationalist pride, edging into xenophobia, played its part.
Let there be no mistake though; it was surely the EU’s inability to grapple with the Continent’s most serious crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union – the flood of refugees streaming in from the Middle East and North Africa – that precipitated the Brexit.
Porous borders are one of the classic symptoms of a failed state, and the EU’s failure to secure its southern flank against the flood of humanity pressing against it, or even to give the appearance of making a maximal effort to grapple with that problem, is a resounding sign of the lack of political will that is corroding the organization’s basic foundations.
Without first taking this basic step it will be politically impossible to execute the rational and humane refugee policy this massive humanitarian crisis deserves. Failure to do so will also end up empowering Europe’s racist far-right and undemocratic far-left political movements, accelerating the process of disenchantment with European unity and triggering more member exits.
THE EU’S WOES have naturally proven an irresistible occasion for gloating by those Israelis opposed to its advocacy for the twostate solution, or for the very idea of any supranational political entity.
Yet even some of us who are generally sympathetic to the EU’s diplomatic aims in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but exasperated with the condescending manner and occasionally misguided measures with which it has gone about executing those policies, can’t help but feel a little comeuppance is in order.
To counter all the bad publicity over such things as EU funding for Israeli NGOs with a blatantly anti-Zionist agenda, and the inconsistent selectivity of its labeling policy for settlements’ exports, one could cite the less-publicized EU trade benefits, and research, educational and cultural aid programs, that benefit all Israelis.
It’s unlikely though that those arguments would sway any local euroskeptics, so I like to make a broader, more ideological case for the EU.
My first experience with Europe came right after university, traveling for three months across the Continent by train on a Europass.
I marveled at the ease with which I crossed Europe’s national borders within the EU bloc – even more so in the knowledge that just a few decades earlier, members of my family met their end at the hands of the Nazi death machine precisely because they were denied this right of passage.
It’s too easy to forget that the EU was established as one of the pan-European institutions in the post-World War II period intended to strengthen Europe politically and economically as a bulwark against both a repeated rise of internal fascism, and the external threat of Soviet Communism. And as bad as some of the EU’s travails have been over the past several years, no one in his right mind can genuinely claim that things were better as a whole in Europe’s good ol’ days.
Certainly no Jew can. But Europe is facing new dangerous challenges to its best liberal and democratic traditions, and if the EU is to survive – if it shows itself deserving of survival – then it needs massive reforms and a reordering of its political priorities and purpose.
I for one sincerely hope it does, and not just for the benefit of my children. For the EU, as it once was for Europe as a whole, the clock is ticking down to midnight. Let’s hope its leaders don’t make the mistake of not realizing the urgency – as they have done all too frequently in the past – before it’s too late.
Calev Ben-David is the political/diplomatic correspondent for Israel Television’s English News broadcast.