In varietate concordia

This was my first election day as an Israeli citizen. The Israel I moved to is in many ways not the Israel of any of these parties, and yet of course it is the Israel of all of them.

That is the literal meaning of democracy – power to the people – even when the people wield it awkwardly and pull in different directions. The problem is that continuing to do so without proper limits and common goals will eventually tear the fabric of that democracy and the society it is supposed to protect and nurture.

The only feasible way to reverse this dangerous trend, and create a new agenda, one which is pluralist, apolitical and pragmatic, which can appeal as a manifesto across the political spectrum, is to look at the best practices of other countries and organisations, which Israel and its citizens should be looking up to, instead of all too often hating the whole because a part hates us.

One such example is the European Union. Yet Israelis are generally disparaging about Europe, without considering that the EU has provided a framework in which fundamental changes have happened, between and within all of its member states. 

Notwithstanding their often outspoken criticism of Israeli government policy, or the general sentiment of the European media, the EU has in many ways made Israel a part of Europe, with free trade agreements, inclusion in research projects, and so on. 

To apply the European experience to Israel means starting by considering whether the EU model is applicable to the Israeli-Arab conflict as a whole, exploring new ways to implement a two-state solution that is not as zero-sum as currently, and how domestic policy and politics could be radically overhauled.

Just today we can see two aspects of the model the EU shows us as to how nations, which historically warred with each other, with consequences that far outstrip anything between us and our neighbours, including millions of deaths, mass displacement and ethnic cleansing, and the obliteration of a continent, can resolve their differences.

We are celebrating the 50th year of the Franco-German Elysée Treaty, which formed the cornerstone of a period of unprecedented stability and prosperity at the heart of Europe, and effectively gave birth to the EU itself. There will be a joint sitting of the French and German parliaments to mark the occasion, and their two flags will fly side by side in both capitals.

Not only that, but despite the many jokes about war and football, and the current political rhetoric about a referendum on its very membership of the EU, it was announced today that the UK has now overtaken France as Germany’s single biggest trading partner.

Who would have thought, back in the shadow of World War II, that within two generations, either of these events would occur?

Add to this achievement that the aftermath of the Cold War was hugely mitigated by embracing the Warsaw Pact countries into an enlarged Europe, empowering, stabilising and enriching them into the process. For these reasons and more, the EU won the Nobel Peace Prize.

The EU has its flaws on a social, economic and diplomatic level, but overall it has been a massive force for good, and positive change. We have very much to learn from them and others.

We the people can reboot the Start-Up Nation to all our benefit, by reclaiming the idea of the “freier” and making it someone who willingly does the right thing, even if it might put them at some perceived short-term disadvantage. In the long run, the freierim can win. This is a very European attitude that we should adapt, rather than mock.

In many ways, the names of the various Israeli political parties could be a list of modern values and ideals that most of us can agree with, even if we dislike the parties themselves, and which apply the European Union’s model to Israel; a strong Israel, national union, the Jewish home, consolidation, economy, a whole people, there is a future, a new country, forward, movement, work, vigour, new.

These attributes do not have to contradict each other. With a strong, unifying national vision on domestic and regional issues, there is room for substantial disparity on how and when to achieve it. What we lack is that “third way” vision on the big issues – perhaps the fresh faces of the 19th Knesset will provide it.

The reason I made aliyah, and voted today despite being disillusioned with all the parties on offer, was to be a part of an Israel that is worthy of using the same European motto: in varietate concordia – united in diversity.

About the Author
Michael is Executive Director of Asquith Israel Merchant Bank, which seeks to go "Beyond the Start-Up Nation" by investing long-term in Israeli growth companies.