Absurd? Crazy? Beyond discussion? Wrong, it is discussed. The Government of Israel wants to join the supranational European Union.
When in May 2003 a European Union delegation visited Israel, the Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said, Israel was considering applying for membership of the bloc. The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz: ""Shalom said he is not excluding that this government will ask for full membership in the EU," said Marco Pannella, an Italian member of the European Parliament…" (1) And a spokesman for Shalom confirmed the comment:
"In principle, the minister thinks a possibility exists for Israel to join the EU since Israel and Europe share similar economies and democratic values." (1) The Italian Pannella spoke to Reuters of growing support in the European Parliament for Israel to join the EU but "that it could take up to a decade to complete the process." (1)
Early in November 2003 Ariel Sharon visited the Italian Prime Minister (and current EU President) Silvio Berlusconi, said to be spearheading Israel's membership. And on November 24, 2003 Italian Vice Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini – former neofascist and current leader of the ultra right-wing Allianza Nationale – received a hearty welcome from the Sharon Administration when visiting Jerusalem. With a kippa on his head the man who once called Mussolini "the greatest politician of the 20th century" visited Yad Vashem – much to the outrage of Israelis.
So, one day we may live to see a (temporary) EU President named Ariel Sharon. Brace yourself for the debate. It has already started – behind closed doors. The citizens of Europe are not asked if they favour Giscard d'Estaing's new neoliberal EU Charta (May 9, Actionday!) and we won't be asked if we want the Middle Eastern State of Israel in the EU either. Perhaps they won't even ask the Israeli people – far less the occupied Palestinians.
"There is, however, little enthusiasm among EU member states for Israel to join," Ha'aretz writes, "The EU is frustrated by Israel's reservations about the road map peace plan. It has also expressed concern at Israel's treatment of Palestinians and its military measures intended to quell the intifada." (1)
The EU has always viewed Israel "as a country deeply anchored in democratic values and institutions," said Italian Foreign Minister Frattini, in representation of the EU Presidency, when a survey, ordered by the EU Commission, brought shocking results (Eurobarometer, Oct. 2003):
Asked, which state posed a main threat to world peace (you were free to choose among 14 non-EU countries), most of the asked EU citizens chose Israel; the U.S. came second – together with North Korea and Iran. (By the way, 68% thought the military intervention of the U.S. and its allies in Iraq "not justified". Only 29% thought it justified.) Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, or Libya were regarded as less threatening. The least afraid are Europeans of India, China, Russia and Somalia. The poll's astonishing results angered Israel and shocked the EU leadership to the point of dissociating from their own study.
The gap between the not so democratic, bureaucratic supranational State EU and its citizens is ever widening.
Since there is no public debate about Israel joining the European Union, we have to start one of our own.
Here some arguments pro Israel joining the European Union: EU membership might stabilize the critical economic situation in Israel. There are many Israelis with Western/Eastern European roots and family. So, perhaps, a majority of Israelis might find it quite natural to join the European Union and perhaps many people in the EU think so too: no passports required when visiting friends in Israel/Europe, open borders. EU institutions will have to deal with the status of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. What about the EU Fundamental Rights Charter? What about the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms? By the way, are the malnourished (2) occupied Palestinians to become EU citizens too?
Economic ties between EU and Israel are already as tight as can be (too tight, in regard to weapons' exports to Israel). The EU will have more influence on the "peace process"
On the contra-side you may ask yourself if a EU (formerly EC/EEC) incapable of solving the conflict between Northern Ireland/Britain in decades is likely to solve the bloody Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and help bring about an independent Palestinian State. One thing's for sure though: If at this point in history Israel becomes member of the European Union the EU will become part of Israel's occupation regime – and of Israel's conflicts with its Arab neighbors (there are discussions about Israel joining Nato too).
And won't Israel, fully integrated in a political and economic union with Europe, be further alienated to its geographic neighbors? What about EU courts, institutions, organizations? How will they deal with the occupation situation? All this has to be discussed. But, perhaps, the people of Israel themselves shrink back from the idea (of joining in a political union with Germany, for example). If you know people in Israel, if you know people in Palestine discuss these issues with them. What are their hopes, what are their fears in regard to such possibilities?
To be part of a progressive globalization movement means to be active. Not to let things happen, but to get involved. Discussion is the key. Discuss with the Turkish people how they regard the likely possibility of Turkey finally joining the EU, discuss with Kurds their point of view. Discuss with people from Poland, Czechia or the Baltic States how they view their upcoming EU citizenship.
"Bella gerant alii, tu felix EU nube!" (3)
Remember the motto of the Austrian Emperors? Let others fight wars for territorial extension, we extend our Empire by marrying the right persons. The EU expansion project is not as altruistic as it may seem at first glance. The EU is an economic power comparable to the U.S.. With the Baltic States on board we extend a greedy hand towards the Russian oil and other resources in the East. To bring on board Israel may be the European route to the Middle East. Europe is in no ways military comparable to the U.S. The 'Solana Doctrine' (to be accepted by the EU in December!), the European satellite system Gallileo, and the planned European Rapid Reaction Force – a dangerous development though for Europeans – won't change this disparity.
The EU has a different imperial approach: Let the U.S. fight its wars, we extend our territory by "marrying" new member states (but time and our people permitting, some of us will be good chums too, and help America fight its wars).
"Fair is foul and foul is fair" (the three witches in Shakespeare's 'Macbeth')
The second part of this commentary is about the "anti-Semitism debate", and why Europe's progressive movements are in desperate need of a clearing house. A good example for the topsy turvy situation when it comes to the question, who is "anti-Semite" and who's not is this year's 'Distinguished Statesman Award' of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League (ADL) – a conservative Jewish organization in the U.S.. The prize went to no other than Italian right-wing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi – not the least for his "active role in fighting anti-Semitism".
Well, some of his Government allies, like Mr. Fini, have played an active role in furthering anti-Semitism. Berlusconi has stood firm with Bush's war against Iraq. "I like Bush. I like Sharon. And Silvio Berlusconi, we are delighted to have you here tonight", Abraham Foxman, the ADL national director said at the prize dinner in New York.
The organization proclaims itself as the "nation's premier civil rights/human rights agency" in deference to the interests of the United States and Israel. Only three weeks before the award Silvio Berlusconi had uttered the remark that Adolf Hitler's chief ally and ideological mentor Benito Mussolini was a "benign" dictator, "Mussolini never killed anyone. Mussolini sent people on holiday in internal exile".
Well, those sent "on holiday" might disagree. Three Nobel Prize winners – Paul Samuelson, Franco Modigliani and Robert Solow – protested the award in a letter to the New York Times. But the sharpest reaction to Berlusconi's insensitivity came from the Italian Jews. Former President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, Tullia Zevi, said: "To celebrate a man who has said these things is insulting the memory of these people who suffered under these times". Others, like Jack Rosen, President of the American Jewish Congress, defended Berlusconi.
You shy away from the debate? Well, the debate won't shy away from you
If you are antiracist (and support the rights of the Palestinians) "noveaux réactionnaires" (as Daniel Lindenberg calls them) like Alain Finkielkraut are quick to call you "anti-Semitic". If you argue by leftist, antifascist standards you are informed by Alain Finkielkraut that you are part of "a radical left that has been untouched by the antitotalitarian discourse. It washes its hands off the Stalinist crimes and believes in revolution and utopia. It is not against the use of violence. Noam Chomsky is their leading intellectual figure." (4) In the same interview Finkielkraut claims in all earnest, right-wing extremist anti-Semitism and racist anti-Semitism "has no future in Europe… Dangerous is the anti-Semitism of the alert, of the antifascists. I'm afraid, it has a great future among the opponents of globalization. They have replaced the 'Judenstern' by the sign of equality between 'Hakenkreuz' (Swastika) and 'Davidsstern.'" (4)
Finkielkraut throws them all in one bucket – Noam Chomsky, the brilliant, open-minded Jewish scholar, José Bové, the brave French farmers' activist, our European globalization movement – and let's his black soup of slander boil to acid.
The Finkielkraut interview was first published in the conservative German newspaper 'Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung' (FAZ) – a media that puts the 'b' in biased.
But, why listen to polemics of that sort? We all know Finkielkraut, the neocon French "intellectual", don't we?
The problem: the acid conservatives like Finkielkraut are brewing has already sipped into the left camp and the social movements and is threatening to burn away the fabric between us. Leading up to the European Social Forum in November 2003 in Paris (with over 50 000 people from 60 countries) there was angry debate about an essay written by Tariq Ramadan that some perceived as "anti-Semitic" (5). Debate is always positive. (Selfimposed) silence is danger.
Bewitched we stand when someone hurls the magic word at us: "anti-Semitic" – Shell shocked, barely able to utter a word of defense, we coil away. We can't even think of arguments.
And the islamophobic (rather progressive-phobic) conservatives use this reflex to split us up – the antitotalitarian left, trade-unions, the antirassist and social movement. Being a German is especially difficult. But rest asured, those conservatives, or so-called "liberals", who call the European social movement anti-Semitic, or José Bové, in the same breath call Arundhati Roy a fascist, Walden Bello an America-hater, and the WSF a fascist conspiracy. It's not about Europe, it's about slander.
In Germany we live through sad times: We are losing our Social Democratic Party and our once so promising Green Party to hardcore neoliberalism. And the remaining left is fighting over whether we should be allowed to criticize either America or Israel (antiamericanism was nothing but antisemitism in disguise, some European leftist or liberal "intellectuals" have argued and cite Dan Diner or Leonard Zeskin as their chief witnesses).
"Is it for reasons of antiamericanism that you are so successful in Germany?"
When Michael Moore visited Germany in November 2003 this was the opening interview question a leading "liberal" newsmagazine ('Der Spiegel' 47/2003) posed him. 'Antiamericanism' – and hypnotized we Germans stand, like the rabbit before the snake, till the snake eats us up. Not so eloquent Mr. Moore: "If my books were antiamerican then most antiamericans lived in America," he answered.
The German LEFT is paralyzed, unable to debate. But we can't avoid debate. We can't avoid to have an opinion.
What will we answer, if Israel officially knocks on the door of EU? Or of Nato? Many once promising leftist media projects in Europe (like 'jungle world' or 'konkret' in Germany) go down the drain of self-annihilation:
If you critise America, you're antiamerican, they claim. And antiamericanism was just some sort of anti-Semitism. Antiracism was anti-Semitism. Criticizing the war in Iraq was antiamericanism and antisemitism, to talk of an US Empire, about corporate globalisation, and acting against it was antiamerican and anti-Semitic. Rubbish. Instead, ask yourself what it is to be leftist. What it is to be progressive. What it is to be part of a globalisation (altermondialisation) movement.
It's a fight against HATE, against intolerance, prejudice, rassism, oppression, injustice and inequity, a fight for pluralism, for community, for social progress, equality, for another and a better world. It's the fight for people's rights everywhere on this planet. You know, you're not anti-Semitic, and you're not prejudiced against the American people. So relax. You have nothing to fear, but fear itself, like one great American said (though in a different context). Take courage. Make your point. Defend leftist ideas and don't let no neocons split up your movement.
Here's my personal pledge: I have publicly fought and will always fight Holocaust Revisionism. 'Holocaust' was the worst crime against humanity – so was Hitler's unprovoked and criminal war against the world. I, as a German born in the 1960s, believe, it is part of our heritage to live up to our moral responsibility towards the victims, their families and all oppressed people in the world. I will always argue against those who say, enough is enough, close the book on what Germans did to other humans between 1933 and 1945. Instead, I will work that those things can never happen again – nowhere.
Israel in the EU? Why not? Provided it is Israel living next to an independent Palestinian State – and provided, the people of Israel really want to join an undemocratic, neoliberal project called EU.
(1) "Shalom considers asking to join the EU", Ha'aretz (by Reuters), 05/21/2003 (2) Brave Jean Ziegler, UN special rapporteur on the right to food, published a most dramatic report on the hunger in Palestine:
(3) "Let others fight wars; thou, fortunate Austria, marry!" the motto of the Austrian Empire in which – for centuries – "the sun never set". The Habsburg dynasty extended their territory (mainly) by ways of dynastic marriage
(4) 'Feind aus besten Absichten' (JÃ¼rg Altwegg interviews Alain Finkielkraut), FAZ, November, 12, 2003
(5) Make up your own mind; here's Tariq Ramadan's criticized internet essay: www.naros.info/imprimersans.php3?id_article=258