Analysis from Israel

Recent news reports from Spain beautifully illustrate why nobody should take the European Union’s pretensions to moral superiority seriously–and especially not when it comes to Israel. Spain is now committing virtually every “abuse” the EU sanctimoniously accuses Israel of, without a peep of protest from its European peers.

For instance, Spain recently erected checkpoints along its border with Gibraltar that are creating real hardship. The checkpoints have lengthened travel times from 45 minutes to two hours for cross-border commuters and also increased costs, since people who used to drive now combine foot travel and taxis to reach work on time. These are precisely the complaints Europeans routinely level at Israeli checkpoints: that they undermine the Palestinian economy by increasing the time and expense of commuting to work or moving cargo.

But unlike the Spanish checkpoints–which blatantly violate the EU’s open-border rules–Israeli checkpoints are perfectly legal under international law, even if you accept the EU’s definition of the West Bank as “occupied territory” (which Israel doesn’t; it considers the area disputed territory). Under the laws of belligerent occupation, an occupying army is entitled to take reasonable military measures within the occupied territory to ensure its country’s security; it isn’t restricted to operating along the border. And Israel’s checkpoints were established to stop Palestinian suicide bombers.

Spain’s checkpoints, in contrast, are officially there to stop cigarette smuggling, though Gibraltar claims they are pure retaliation for its efforts to curb Spanish overfishing in its waters. By any standard, stopping suicide bombers is a stronger justification. Yet the same European officials who vociferously condemn Israel’s checkpoints have nothing to say about the Spanish ones.

Then there are the hundreds of thousands of Catalonians who formed a 250-mile human chain this month to demand independence from Spain. Catalonians also gave an absolute majority to pro-independence parties in last year’s provincial elections. Yet Spain adamantly refuses to let the province hold a referendum on secession.

By any standard, Israel has more justification for caution about Palestinian statehood than Spain does about Catalonian statehood. Catalonia has never threatened Spain in any way, nor is there any Catalonian terrorism. In contrast, large swathes of Palestinian society still call for Israel’s destruction, and every previous Israeli cession of land to the Palestinians has produced a security nightmare: nonstop rocket fire from Gaza, and endless suicide bombings and shooting attacks from the West Bank (until Israel reoccupied it). Indeed, of the roughly 1,800 Israelis killed by terrorists since Israel’s founding in 1948, fully two-thirds–about 1,200–were killed after Israel began ceding land to the Palestinians under the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Yet the European officials who repeatedly demand Israel’s immediate withdrawal from the West Bank haven’t said a word to support Catalonia. Apparently, Catalonians have no right to self-determination.

Then there are the Basques, whose oft-proclaimed desire for independence can’t be tested in a vote because Spain repeatedly bars pro-independence parties from running on the grounds of alleged ties to the Basque terror group ETA. That also doesn’t bother anyone in Europe, even though Europe objects vociferously when Israel refuses to talk to Palestinian parties that actively support terror, like Yasser Arafat’s PLO during the second intifada. Nor was Europe troubled when Spain severed peace talks with ETA at the very first terror attack, which killed exactly two people, though it condemned Israel viciously for halting talks with Arafat over repeated terror attacks that killed more than 1,000 people.

In short, Europe denounces Israeli actions as unacceptable even as it deems the exact same actions by Spain unexceptionable. There’s a name for such double standards, and it isn’t “human rights.” It’s known as hypocrisy.

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How Israel’s Electoral System Brings the Country’s Fringes Into Its Center

Like Haviv Rettig Gur in “How and Why Israelis Vote,” I, too, think the advantages of Israel’s parliamentary system outweigh its disadvantages, and for essentially the same reason: because it keeps a great many people in the political system who would otherwise remain outside it.

Critics of the system’s plethora of small parties—as Gur notes, no fewer than 43 parties have been vying for Knesset seats in this year’s election—maintain that it should be streamlined and redesigned so that only big parties would be able to enter the Knesset. In that case, the critics argue, people who currently vote for small parties would simply switch their votes to large ones.

No doubt, some voters would do so—but many others would not. There are at least three groups among whom turnout would plummet if niche parties became by definition unelectable: Arabs, Ḥaredim (including some ḥaredi Zionists), and the protest voters who, in every election, propel a new “fad” party into the Knesset. (In 2015, as Gur writes, the fad party was Kulanu. This year, it’s been Moshe Feiglin’s pro-marijuana, libertarian, right-wing Zehut party, which Gur doesn’t discuss although polls have consistently showed it gaining five to seven seats.)

Together, these three groups constitute roughly a third of the country, and all three are to some extent alienated from the mainstream. If they were no longer even participating in elections, that alienation would grow.

Why does this matter? In answering that question, I’ll focus mainly on Ḥaredim and Arabs, the most significant and also the most stable of the three groups (protest voters being by nature amorphous and changeable).

It matters primarily because people who cease to see politics as a means of furthering their goals are more likely to resort to violence. Indeed, it’s no accident that most political violence in Israel has issued from quarters outside the electoral system.

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