Dr.Gerstenfeld’s article “Why Israel is more democratic than EU member states” was first published in the Jerusalem Post, and republished here with the author’s consent.
Why Israel is more democratic than EU Member States
Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. Like everything positive concerning the country, this characteristic has become the subject of direct and indirect attacks by external and internal enemies.
All Israeli citizens can vote for the Knesset, the country’s parliament. The Supreme Court is the highest judicial authority. There is no foreign court which can overrule its decisions. Israel has an independent state comptroller and a national ombudsman. Israel’s media is often extremely critical of the government.
Free speech is guaranteed. However regrettable, people can call others Nazis or neo-Nazis without much risk of being taken to court. Membership of Israel’s largest political party, Likud,1 is in the order of magnitude of the UK’s governing party, the Conservatives.2 Yet the UK’s population is more than seven times that of Israel. All members of the Likud can vote for its party list of candidates for the Knesset.3
Israel’s situation remains precarious. Iran, another Middle Eastern country, wants to wipe Israel off the map. In the Muslim world in general there are many who think that Israel has no right to exist. The main aim of the hard core of the BDS campaign in the West is to end the existence of Israel.4
In many Western countries there are significant numbers of people who do not want Israel to exist. A 2019 poll in the United Kingdom found that 5% of British citizens disagree with the statement “Israel has every right to exist.” This translates into approximately 3 million people.5
Besides direct verbal assaults claiming that Israel is not a democracy there are also indirect attacks. The same study found that about 20% of the UK’s population think that Israel is an apartheid state.6 If this were true, Israel could not be democratic. Israel’s enemies are helped in these false accusations by some Israelis, both Jews and Arabs. If Israel were really an apartheid state, these people would languish in jail. Nor would Palestinians be permitted into general Israeli hospitals.
No perfect democracies exist. Israel is no exception. A justified limitation to democracy is a country’s need to defend itself. Israel has many violent enemies. For its defense and to avoid murders by terrorists, Israel has to exercise a certain amount of control over its Palestinian neighbors. Those on the West Bank are ruled by the Palestinian Authority which rewards the murderers of Israelis generously and funds the families of such murderers and of jailed terrorists. Hamas, ruling in Gaza, is even worse.
States which are members of the European Union cannot meet Israel’s democratic characteristics. (As an historic aside on France: one might recall that by 1941 Marshall Philippe Pétain as Head of State had largely abolished the country’s democracy.) Nowadays EU member states cannot fully determine their own laws and policies. Their parliaments are not the highest authority of policy making.. The treaties entered into by EU member countries prevail on substantial issues over the laws of these states.
The typical answer to this analysis that the ‘pooling of sovereignty’ and restriction on the powers of national parliaments have been voluntary agreed to by the EU member states. A further claim is that sovereignty has potentially only been given up temporarily. Member states can decide on exiting the EU. 7 The polarization and political chaos which has been wrought in the past two years by the Brexit process in the UK illustrate the social cost of exiting the EU and its burden on democracy.
Those favoring Brexit rightly claim that many important decisions affecting their country’s sovereignty have been transferred to foreigners and that in the EU Germany has far too much power. This is in particularly so for the many issues where no unanimity of member states is required.8 Brussels bureaucrats who have not been elected can make decisions affecting member countries.
Some decisions by courts in member countries can be overruled by the Court of Justice of the European Union. The judges of this court are overwhelmingly nationals of other countries, than the country where an appeal to that supranational court comes from. The EU member countries are thus not fully sovereign in this area.9
One small example illustrates the intrusive nature of EU policies in some areas. The EU has set standards of surface water quality which are required to be met by its members in 2027. This may make sense for rivers which flow across borders. Yet it also refers to national lakes and small waters such as short canals, ponds and even water ditches. If these standards are not met, huge fines can be imposed by the EU. A recent Dutch study found that currently 99% of all Dutch surface waters do not meet the EU standards. Dutch citizens might reasonably have expected that most of this issue can be freely decided nationally.10
Brussels even tried to impose a rule that EU countries had to take in asylum seekers from other member states.11 A few countries rebelled because they understood that this rule might allow Muslims into the country on a non-selective basis, some of whom could be highly dangerous individuals.12 Several thousands of Muslims living in EU member states have joined ISIS, one of the most criminal terror organizations in the world.13
Literature from pro-Brexit sources reveals the partial lack of sovereignty of EU member states. Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban’s statements may supply a few additional insights.
The above does not even relate to the argument about other issues where some EU member states are also less democratic than Israel. Such an analysis would have to include the existence of no-go areas and the poor performance of these countries’ police and justice.
11 www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/22/eu-governments-divisive-quotas-deal-share-120000-refugees; www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/13/eu-takes-action-against-eastern-states-for-refusing-to-take-refugees