Until now, all Israelis could about Europe and the treatment Israel gets by EU leaders in Brussels was complain. Now there is an opportunity to do something meaningful about it.
European embassies in Israel will soon be required to publish guidelines to facilitate the participation of approximately half a million Israelis, holders of European passports, in the May elections to the European Parliament. For the very first time, every holder of European citizenship, including those Israelis, will be able to participate and influence the composition of Europe’s largest democratic body. In this way, they can help strengthen the ties between Israel and Europe, and contribute to the resilience of European Jewish communities.
Citizens of the 27 member states will elect 705 delegates in a parliament which, somewhat justifiably, is considered one of the bodies most hostile to Israel in the democratic world. Israel often suffers from biased treatment and statements originating in and even led by the Parliament, which has far reaching implications for the content of European public discourse.
Participation of every person holding a European passport is legitimate. It is the natural right of every citizen, and now, it can be practiced in Israel in the convenience of the local embassy, without need to fly to the Continent. Furthermore, in light of the relatively low turnout in past elections, this year, the Parliament launched a campaign called “This time I am Voting” aimed at increasing participation of EU citizens in the greatest democratic celebration on the continent.
Parties, individual candidates and various organizations can recruit and mobilize Israelis/Europeans, to participate in the celebration. (Some might even say “Israelis are heading to the polling stations in droves…”)
Before the presidential elections in France in 2007, an organized campaign helped stimulate and mobilize French-Israelis to participate in the elections. From Netanya to Raanana to Eilat, polling stations were opened to provide tens of thousands of voters with a venue for voting. The majority of them voted for Nicolas Sarkozy for the presidency.
The fact that eight out of ten Jews in France and nine out of ten Israelis voted for Sarkozy, may have had an impact on his policy and conduct towards Israel and France’s Jewish community. During his tenure, the Jewish community was reinforced and there was a dramatic decrease in the number of anti-Semitic incidents in France. France’s policy towards Israel during those years included breakthroughs and special attention to vital Israeli interests, a reality which no one had dreamt of during the tenure of Sarkozy’s predecessor, Jacques Chirac.
Today nearly 500,000 Israelis are eligible to participate in the European Parliament elections. The EU enlargement in 2004, as well as relaxed citizenship laws adopted by Spain in 2013, led to a dramatic increase in the number of Israelis who hold European passports and are entitled to vote, both in the European parliamentary elections and in national elections. This phenomenon is relatively new and its potential advantages has yet to be exploited.
The European Union faces enormous challenges today in the economic, social and even defense fields. Leadership on the continent is forced to adopt a policy that is more determined and proactive than that to which they have been accustomed since World War II and the creation of the Union.
Voters in Israel should consider two issues before they vote: the relationship between Israel and Europe, and the resilience and wellbeing of the continent’s Jewish communities.
A legitimate demand should be that when European leaders make up their minds and policies, they take Israeli interests more closely into consideration. At the same time, Israel-based voters must not support extremists advocating increasingly popular positions against immigrants. This will turn into a double-edged sword damaging both Israel and the Jewish people.
Minorities, including the Jewish community, will not feel safer in a more radicalized Europe. Sooner or later, those who attack Muslim immigrants, will turn their arrows of hatred against the Jews. A strong and self-confident European Jewry serves the interests of both Israel and the Jewish people.
European leaders seeking votes in Israel may grow to become more knowledgeable and thus, balanced in their attitude towards Israel. In the long run, increased participation of Israelis with European origins in European elections and EU’s challenges will also help reinvigorate the currently frail relations between Europe and Israel. After all, besides the United States, it is Europe that is Israel’s most reliable ally, with which it shares values, interests and common fate.
The author founded ELNET (the European Leadership Network) in 2007 and directed it through 2017. ELNET is a network of organizations aimed at strengthening political ties between Israel and Europe and the empowerment of politically active friends of Israel in Europe.