View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Israel in the EU? 

No, this isn't likely to happen any time soon, but reader Barry Rab brought this rather odd polling result to my attention.

What on earth could possibly induce Israelis to want to join the EU? After all, with European anti-Semitism on the rise, that would seem to be tanamount to committing suicide. Literally and figuratively.

First of all, a couple of caveats. The poll was conducted by the Dahaf Institute, and commissioned by the EU's delegation to Israel. Dahaf doesn't have a website of its own, but some of their results in the past have tended to reflect the interests of the customer: a poll by the Third Temple Foundation claiming that 53% of Israeli Jews want to see the Third Temple built. In a country that's religious but not Orthodox, I find it hard to believe that a majority of Israeli Jews are secreting away cordite and shovels for The Day.

Secondly, the Maariv report doesn't mention the actual wording of the questions, their order, or any demographic information about the respondants, even the size of the sample. So a helping of Dead Sea salt may just be in order here.

Still, it's an interesting question: why? The idea actually isn't all that illogical. Western Europe has long since ceased to be Christian in any meaningful sense. The EU is a union of democracies, even as it fails spectacularly to live up to those standards itself. There was, I remember seeing a couple of years ago, a small, fringe political party in the European Parliament, part of whose platform was the admission of Israel to the EU. This was (no kidding) for Israel's own good, and they didn't mean it like Chris Patten might. They sincerely wanted Israel, as a democracy, to join a democratic union for its protection.

Of course, European politics are weird and fragmented, just like Israel's so there's a natural affinity there, too. There's no tradition of compromise, no two-party system where each party takes stands on a broad range of issues. Here, if your coalition falls apart, you get until the next election cycle to reassure your voters that everything's all right. There, you get new elections and every shuffles the chairs. It's a system when many parties each occupy a narrow wedge. No surprise that one wedge somewhere around the circle might not be anti-Semitic.

You can see, though, where Israelis would want entry to the European markets. Being an EU member would probably preclude Germany from embargoing replacement parts for tanks, although you can always imagine special exceptions being made. Israelis may also feel that being "in the club" would confer legitimacy in European eyes that they think they need. The see the EU as a rising power, and one much closer to the neighborhood than the US is. (This bit about the EU being a rising power is a little disturbing. Given their birth rates, they're likely to get all the mechanisms in place just in time to turn them over to the Islamists.)

Interestingly, there was one question where the response made sense: two-thirds of Israelis think that the EU really is anti-Semitic, and that their "principles" were an excuse to indulge this longstanding pastime. The answer is completely in synch with the 74% who believe the EU to be biased in favor of the Palestinians (gee, ya think?), and completely at odds with the result that "almost half of the respondents said that the EU should be involved in the peace process and can also serve as an example for successful conflict settlement.

Let's get one thing straight - the EU isn't a model for any kind of conflict resolution. They resolved their conflicts west of the Elbe because the US was there making sure of it. They resolved their conflicts east of the Elbe because the Sovs were doing the same thing much more brutally over there, incidentally, making it a little easier sell for the Americans. The Westerners had learned how to resolve their own conflict well enough that they had the perfect little debating society, completely unable to keep Serbs, Croats, Muslims, and Albanians from butchering themselves in a region of the world generally acknowledged to be European. In doing so, they found a war even Wesley Clark could win.

In fact, the real story of European "conflict resolution" has been Scandanavian - Danish Hamlet in the Balkans, and Stockholm Syndrome when it comes to the Islamists. In foreign policy, at least, Europe looks less like a place for conflict resolution, and more like a family in desperate need of Bob Newhart. The only possible diplomatic benefit would be that, as member of the Euopean Bloc, they'd be freed from the bloc-system freeze-out that keeps them off the Security Council and is systematically removing them from the other UN bodies. The trade-off is likely to be Jerusalem. It's one of the hzards of trying to maintain your national identity by joining a post-nationalist organization.

No, the draw has to be economics. Israel is, despite the recent efforts of Bibi Netanyahu, still a socialist country. The EU's governing bureaucracy is socialist, too, so it's not entirely clear that New Europe will be able to hold onto its more wide-open economic ideas. It's an organization that, as far as that goes, Israelis can feel comfortable with. Most Israelis probably look at Brussels and think of it as a slightly more efficient Tel Aviv, which is kind of scary when you think about it. Europeans actually make things that Israelis want to buy, unlike most Arab imports which have to be smuggled in under a trenchcoat and have a notoriously short shelf-life. So it's not completely unnatural for Israelis to look West and want to join that neighborhood, given the one they're living in.

Fortunately, it looks like it's going to be hard to find a sponsor.

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