As Europeans debate the core essence of Europeanism, Israel is becoming a surprising battleground. For some, the Jewish state is the most perfect manifestation of European liberal democracy
The French Revolution and subsequent Napoleonic wars attempted to spread the revolution’s values to the rest of Europe. Yet upon France’s defeat, old monarchies were restored in most of the continent. Even in France itself, there were fierce debates throughout the 19th century about the proper form of government and monarchy was restored on a number of occasions. The debate ended artificially and without resolution with the unexpected outbreak of World War I.
The winners of the war, led by US president Woodrow Wilson, forced democracy upon Europe. This did not go well; soon thereafter, it was reversed in much of Europe and war resumed. After World War II, democracy was restored in Western Europe and in subsequent decades, in reaction to the horror of wars, Europe developed a new twist to its long quest for the ideal form of government: post-nationalist pan-Europeanism.
While there are various variations to such an approach, at its core lies a view that wars erupt due to nationalism, religion, particularity and ideology. Therefore, if one can fulfill the dream of a post-nationalist integrated Europe, along the line of the John Lennon song “Imagine,” peace would prevail. A new entity was created – the European Union – which has been amassing more and more power previously held by its nation-state members. It now seeks to garner even greater control of foreign and domestic policies and pivot toward a more federalized Europe.
A growing number of Europeans feel that such a post-nationalist ethos is outright inconsistent with European values. Many Europeans who were previously happy with features of the European project such as free movement and common market, are now asking, “Why should Brussels dictate the laws of my own country? Why should the way I farm my land in Wales be determined by unelected bureaucrats of the European Commission who have never been to Wales?” Indeed, Wales, just as all of England with the exception of London, voted to exit the European Union.
THE BATTLE for Europe goes well beyond a debate about law and jurisdiction – it goes to the core of what it means to be a European. Mischael Modrikamen, president of the Belgium People’s Party and executive director of The Movement, an organization that promotes right-wing populist parties, argues that the concept of Europe as a political entity is artificial.
“Nobody really prepares to be first a European; to be in love with European flag or a European anthem,” he states.
Yet one can argue that the same was true in France, Italy and Germany during the 19th century. In France, according to Prof. John Merriman of Yale University, half of the people did not even speak French at the beginning of that century.
“In the north they spoke Dutch, in Alsace they spoke German, in the south they spoke Basque,” he explains. Yet the French were able to unite under the Paris-dominated government, love their flag and sing “La Marseillaise.” Similar unions occurred in Germany and Italy. Is the current prospect of European federalization simply the next logical step to the 19th-century federalization of its various sections? Even if one advocates the nation-state model, why could that nation-state not be Europe?
According to Steve Bannon, US President Donald Trump’s adviser who joined Modrikamen in The Movement, this is already happening. Speaking in Oxford University, he claimed, “[French President Emmanuel] Macron is a nationalist, but the capital of his nation is not in Paris, it is in Brussels.” Indeed, the European Commission, the prototype European nation’s government, is comprised of commissioners that pledge to pursue the interests of Europe and not that of their own origin nation.
Most Eurosceptics do not advocate abolishment of the EU, but rather reform and de-federalization. Yet the practical political process, such as in a yes/no referendum, pushes the debate into a perceived exaggerated choice: United States of Europe vs sovereign nation states.
WHAT IS often missed by some Eurosceptics is that European integration provided stability in Europe in the last 70 years. For one, it shoved the national aspirations of minorities within European countries under the European rug. For example, German-speaking Tyroleans are okay living under Italian control (or occupation, per some narratives), as long as they feel European. Europe provides a sense of identity and reduces the requirement for a Tyrolean to artificially feel “Italian” (there is only limited integration between the German-speaking indigenous and Sicilian settlers brought to Tyrol by Mussolini). If the EU weakens, or outright abolishes, the risk of Italian disintegration rises. The situation is similar in various other countries where minorities have national aspirations or feel suppressed, including in Sweden, France and Spain.
There is much more that is swept under the EU rug: From border disputes through Austrian-German competition (Austria was the flag-carrier of German culture and identity through history and some say, still should be), to outright intra-European animosities.
The European fabric provided serenity, but such serenity was recently shaken. The battle for Europe was ignited by an exogenous event: immigration. The vast influx of migrants from the Middle East and Africa, mostly Muslim, was followed by an increase in crime, terrorism and a growing fear among some Europeans of “replacement.” Integrationists dismiss such fears as Islamophobia, yet one thing is clear: European demography has changed forever and likely so is its character.
Europeans blame this on the EU and its lead proponents – Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel – who adapted a seemingly delusional belief that immigrants will integrate and embrace European values and lifestyle. After all, who does not want to be Europeanized?
Indeed, when the Europeans first invaded the Middle East 2,300 years ago, they brought European values and technologies to the locals, liberating them from their primitive ways of life (except the Jews who refused to be Hellenized). Europe did the same during the colonialist era and today, once again, Europe invests massive amounts of money to enlighten the new arrivals. Yet still, shockingly, many European Muslims follow the precedent of the Jews and refuse to be Europeanized. Indeed, just like the Jews since their earliest history, European Muslims chose to maintain their language, dress and names.
Those two topics of debate – immigration and European integration – have been packaged together in a series of recent elections in European countries. Parties that are both Eurosceptic and anti-immigration made strong inroads and are expected to do well in the May 19 elections for the European Parliament. Some of those anti-immigration parties house Islamophobic and antisemitic elements. This allows integrationists to paint Eurosceptics as xenophobic and haters.
The European divide has clear social-economic demarcations. For example, Europhiles are associated with Europe’s large metropolis, banking sector and academia, while Eurosceptics are linked with rural Europe. This leads to a clash of interests, as was on display during France’s ongoing yellow-vest political demonstrations for economic justice, sparked by high fuel taxes. France and the EU were perceived to “penalize” rural Europe for the use of such an environmentally unfriendly resource, and indirectly discourage the primitive habit of driving, as opposed to using public transportation. The EU and France, like Marie Antoinette, were perceived to send the message that if you do not have a Metro in your village, use the RER.
But Euroscepticism does not just reside with the anti-immigration Right; it is also prevalent in Europe’s Left. In Italy, Eurosceptic populist parties on the Right and Left have joined forces to form a government. This is a demonstration that the battle for the nature of Europeanism is front and center and trumps other issues such as socialism vs. capitalism. Such coalitions could be a template in coming European elections.
AS THE challenge from Euroscepticism strengthens, some feel that the European Union found a classic answer: unite the people against a rival – the United States of America. After all, in the last century, Europe was shocked not only by wars, but also by the humiliating fall from grace. Its colonies were taken away and global power and influence abruptly shifted to the United States.
The Europe-US feud goes well beyond policy issues such as Iran and the environment. It is anchored in core philosophical differences: Europe’s universalism, post-nationalism, zealous secularism vs. America’s particularity, ideology and faith – one nation under God. Every century has its defining global philosophical divide. In the 19th century, it was monarchy vs. republicanism. In the 20th century it was communism vs. capitalism. It seems that this era’s divide is Europeanism vs. Americanism.
In counter-Americanism, Europe seemingly found a flag to unite its people under and an anthem to spread its gospel to the outside world. Yet more and more Eurosceptics believe that Europe is on the wrong side of this 21st century divide. Just like with previous partitions, there are those in the United States who want America to be more like Europe and those in Europe who want the continent to adapt a more American approach.
To escalate Europe’s counter-American stance, its leaders now stunningly call for the establishment of a European army, as Macron said, “to defend itself, including against the United States.” Some Eurosceptics view this as outright thanklessness: The United States saved Europe in World War I, World War II, the Cold War and continues to do so today in the war on terrorism.
Another expression of Europe’s counter-Americanism is through Jerusalem, the Achilles heel of European secular fundamentalism as it represents religion. Europe’s official policy is derived from a 1949 United Nations resolution that calls for Jerusalem and Bethlehem to be taken away from Israelis and Palestinians alike and be turned into an international Corpus Separatum (a code name for a European colony). That was supposedly the legal basis for Europe’s passionate and angry reaction to America’s decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem.
Europeans on the other side of the battle for Europe, many of which are still religious Christians, are emotionally hurt by Europe’s recurring opposition to Jerusalem, which includes European countries’ support or abstention on ludicrous UNESCO resolutions implying that Christian and Jews have no historic connections to Jerusalem.
The EU has been exerting intense pressure on its member states not to move their embassies to Jerusalem, but those on the other side of battle for Europe are beginning to rebel: the prime ministers of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic defied the European Union and announced last month the opening of diplomatic offices in Jerusalem. Last week, Romania went even further and to the great dismay of the EU, announced that it will follow the US lead and move its embassy to Jerusalem as well.
Similarly, while denouncing nationalism at home, the EU has been aggressively promoting Palestinian nationalism abroad, leading to the de facto EU policy of PNEP: Post-Nationalists except Palestine.
Europe’s obsessive intervention in Israeli-Palestinian affairs has indeed been debilitating to the prospects to peace and damaging to Palestinians, such as through Europe’s relentless efforts to sabotage Palestinian employment in Jewish-owned businesses. The EU has been sanctioning such businesses and regulating unprecedented special labels as a condition for sales in Europe. This, the EU claims, is done to “help Palestinians.” Yet denying Palestinians employment, livelihood, mentorship opportunities and professional growth is no help – it is a profound expression of European supremacism and colonialism. On the other hand, members of 11 Eurosceptic parties have established the Friends of Judea and Samaria in the European Parliament to counter the EU boycott.
WHILE THE European Union and Israel are allies and partners on a variety of economic and security matters, the EU’s criticism of Israel has turned into an infatuation that is hard to explain through rational reasoning.
Indeed, European opposition to Israel is not just about the conflict or “punishment” for the Jewish state’s steadfast alliance with the United States – an unshakable bond maintained by successive US presidents and Israeli governments. Modrikamen explains that Israel stands in the way of the EU’s narrative that prosperity and peace will only be achieved through post-nationalism: “Israel is affirming exactly the opposite – that you can be a nation-state, that you can unite around common values and cohabitate perfectly in a democracy.” According to such views, the EU does not only have strong disagreements with Israeli policies, such as on settlements, but has a fundamental philosophical problem with the actual existence of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish nation. The only way to reconcile this is to de-Israelize Israel: to Europeanize it!
This, of course, is done in order to help Israel. Some 2,300 years ago, the Jews ungraciously rejected the European invader’s generous effort to enlighten them, sparking 2,300 years of the European-Israeli conflict – history’s longest-running feud. Would Israelis finally accept European dictations of “imagine” and for their own good, abandon ideas such as particularity, ideology, faith in God and nationalism?
Back-then it was the Europeans that eventually accepted the Jewish monotheistic narrative, in the form of Christianity – a stunning case where an invading occupying power succumbed to the narrative of the occupied. Rather than Europeanize the Israelites, Europe was Israelized.
Modrikamen stresses that contemporary efforts to Europeanize Israel do not represent the views of most Europeans.
“There are those in Europe who look at Israel as an aberration, but there are also those who look at Israel as a model. Israel is the example for Europe because it is a nation-state concept that fights for its values and concentrates on the future. It affirms exactly what we are and where we are heading.”
Other Eurosceptic leaders echo similar messages. For example, Beatrix von Storch, leader of Germany’s Alternative for Deutschland, told the Magazine that Israel is a role model for Germany, as well as for Europe as a whole.
While one camp in Europe wants to Europeanize Israel, other Europeans seems to want to Israelize Europe. To some, Israel represents a scion of true European liberalism.
Indeed, when Theodor Herzl was crafting his vision for the Jewish state in the late 19th century, he viewed it as the most exact application of European liberalism. He spent years in Palais Bourbon carefully observing French democracy; he analyzed Bismarck’s audacious state-building efforts during German reunification and noted the challenges of Austria’s pluralism. Herzl studied political philosophers, internalized the imperfections of European liberalism and planted the seeds for a more perfect Europe in Israel.
Herzl envisioned a Jewish state that will serve humanity. Indeed, Israel has been blessed with a string of astonishing successes. Nations in Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East are now seeking to share this blessing and partner with the Jewish state. This is even the case among a growing number of Palestinians – some of whom are sick and tired of the European-sponsored dictation of conflict perpetuation.
As the battle for Europe shapes up, more and more Europeans on both sides of the European divide are now calling for Europe to join the world’s nations, and rather than oppose the Jewish state, view Israel once again as a light to Europeans.
The writer analyzes trends in Zionism, Europe and global affairs, focusing on long-term shifts and applying historical perspectives. His articles are featured on Europeandjerusalem.com
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For the print version of the Magazine, including related articles by EU Ambassador to Israel Emanuele Giaufret, European External Action Service's Secretary General, Helga Schmid, Prof. Alfred Tovias, Dr. Amichai Magen and Amb. Stuart Eizenstat: Jerusalem Post Magazine - The battle for Europe (April 5, 2019)
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