The new political-organizational challenge of the Jews of the enlarged EU
Author: Open Forum
Date posted: Tuesday 25 Aug 2009
by Sharon Pardo
There is no doubt that the European integration project presents a unique challenge for Jewish communities in Europe and I believe that if this challenge is not met, European Jewry could find itself in a new kind of ghetto. European Jewry must avoid such a destiny by adapting to the changing polity of the European continent.
Professor Michael Brenner has argued that ‘European Jewry tends to let outsiders set their agenda’. The 'outsiders' to whom Brenner disapprovingly refers are the State of Israel, as well as other Israeli and American Jewish organizations. If I am to heed Brenner's warning, then although I may be critical of the existing European Jewish organizations, I should avoid trying to determine the agenda for EU Jewry. While I aim to point out trends in the organizational life of European Jewry and to recommend possible paths of action, the decisions, of course, rest solely with the European Jewish communities themselves.
The EU's process of enlargement carries social and political implications for its Jewish communities. The recent enlargements mean that today the EU incorporates almost all the major Jewish communities in Europe (with the exception of the former Soviet Union).
Among the main challenges that the EU poses its citizens is one of identity: are they citizens of their nation state or of the Union? Although such competing affiliations and identities have always been an integral part of modern European history, the European project has created a crisis at the very heart of what Europeans have learned to mean by 'citizenship'.
This is not a new crisis, however. Such crises have shaped the European concept of Jewishness in the modern age. For the Jew has always been considered to have competing loyalties and affiliations, belonging to a religion, an ethnic group and even, at one point, a 'race'. To the extent, therefore, that the European project is creating a similar crisis at the heart of European citizenry, today all Europeans are, in a metaphorical sense, Jews.
Interestingly enough, this metaphorical sense is not lost on the EU leadership, which often speaks of the need to learn from the history of European Jews and to draw on European Jewry as a model.
In fact, the EU leadership views European Jewry as somehow the European minority par excellence, despite, or rather precisely because the most obvious historical link between the European project and European Jewry is the Second World War. After all, the EU was born out of the atrocities of the past as an effort to reconcile the religious, cultural and linguistic differences of Europe. Moreover, to the extent that religious tensions continue to affect the European space, EU leaders expect the Jewish communities to take a central role in improving and promoting inter-religious and inter-community relations in the EU. In practical terms, this means an expectation that European Jewish communities work to improve their relations with the Muslim communities in all EU member states, and to widen their struggle against antisemitism to include other categories of racial and religious discrimination, including, of course, Islamophobia.
Another expectation that the EU has of its Jewish communities is in relation to Israel. The EU leadership views the Jewish communities as a broker that can bring it closer to Israel and assist in cementing ties with Israel.
To the extent that the EU project and its geographic space are at the centre of the European continent, I believe that European Jewry must transform its existing organizational structure. The EU today is situated in the heart of Europe, but unfortunately, European Jewry still relies on the continent-wide Jewish organizational structure that was created after the Second World War. To my mind European Jewry has not assimilated the structural, institutional, political and economic changes undergone by post-war Europe. European Jewish leadership still lags behind the political, institutional, cultural and community developments, and it perpetuates the 'Westphalian Europe' of nation states, which covered the whole European continent. Thus, European Jewry ignores the new borders that the EU has established, and its current organizational framework is not equipped to cope with the challenges posed by the creation of EU institutions and agencies.
I believe that the European integration project has the power to unite the Jewish communities in all the EU member states, both on the ideological and emotional levels, and on the institutional and administrative levels. For the first time, Jewish organizations have the potential to create a new type of open Jewish community that can become a dominant component in post-war Europe–living in full openness, in complete contrast to the Jewish communities of 'Westphalian Europe'.
Despite significant improvements in promoting cooperation between Jewish organizsations and EU institutions in recent years, European Jewish communities have still not formulated an appropriate strategy for conducting their relations with the EU leadership and its institutions. The lack of such a strategy is a serious omission which can have harmful implications. Without such a strategy, Jewish communities may be less effective in promoting Jewish causes in Europe, from the struggle against antisemitism to developing better relations with European Islamic communities.
The need for such a strategy, moreover, is reciprocal. We are all aware of the absence of a working relationship between the EU leadership and the Muslim communities. EU policies towards the European Islamic communities are characterized by misconceptions and short-term considerations which testify to the lack of such a strategy.
But the positions of European Jewry and the EU are not symmetrical. The weaknesses in strategic thinking in European Jewish organizations about the EU are much more costly for EU Jewry than the lack of strategic thinking about relations with the Jewish communities is for the EU. It is therefore up to EU Jewish communities to take the initiative in crafting a strategy towards the EU, without waiting for the EU to assess its relations with European Jewry.
Before crafting a strategy towards the EU, the Jewish communities should examine their relationships with the EU through a long-range lens, and should not ignore processes related to the European integration project.
The first critical change which the Jewish communities have to effect is on the institutional level. The current institutional structure of European Jews perpetuates to a great extent the obsolete 'Europe of nation states' and ignores supranational Europe. In order to continue to thrive in the EU, the Jewish communities must establish an organizational structure which is compatible with supranational Europe, while continuing to nurture the national Jewish identity.
The Jewish communities have still not created a geographic organizational structure in parallel with the EU. At best, European Jewry has created continent-wide organizations, but they are still weak and frequently rely on American and Israeli organizations to represent their interests. This attitude points to the persistent gap between ambitions, goals and operational effectiveness among EU Jewry.
Because of this organizational structure, communication with EU institutions is compromised and European-wide Jewish organizations do not gain as much cooperation, and also to some degree, the legitimacy which they could enjoy if they were united in a structure that was parallel to the EU.
On the organizational level, Jewish communities lag behind in developing political institutions to represent them within the framework of the supranational institutions.
Clearly, the obsolete European-wide institutional structure of Jewish communities does not fit the geographical region of the EU, and does not permit the proper representation of Jewish communities with the EU institutions.
Some recommendations and a strategic agenda
For European Jewry to transform itself to EU Jewry, it must first recognize the political and geographic reality of post-war Europe, and establish an institutional structure which corresponds to the structure of the EU. The composition of Jewish communities that should be united under this new structure should also include observers from the Jewish communities in candidate countries. The EU provides a supportive environment for associations of this kind, and Jewish communities should create an institutional structure somewhere between a confederation and a federation, exactly like the structure of the EU itself.
Drawing on the model of the EU, this union of Jewish communities should operate on three different levels or structural frameworks: on the individual community level, on the national level and on the supranational level. According to this structure, the supranational Jewish framework should preferably deal mainly with supranational political issues regarding the Jewish communities within the EU space, while the national framework and the community framework should centre on Jewish education, culture and welfare.1
My proposed organizational structure, whose principal location must be in Brussels, may strengthen Jewish communities in the EU, and enable the supranational Jewish leadership to be the voice of all EU Jews at the most important decision junctions: in Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg. It also seems likely that this organizational structure may develop a more attractive Jewish leadership. More than anything, the smaller Jewish communities which are unable to help themselves on the national level will gain attention, support and strength from the supranational level. In addition, such a structure should also recognize the differences between the various communities, their customs, languages and the cultures in which they exist.
My proposal necessitates the formation of a new 'European Jewish Quartet' which will consist of the four largest Jewish communities of France, Britain, Germany and Hungary. Without the full involvement of these communities, their status and the resources they can allocate for developing a Jewish strategy towards the EU, the Jewish communities in the EU will have difficulties reorganising and rebuilding within the framework of the EU. Without a close cooperation between these communities, Israeli and Jewish American organizations will continue to set the agenda for EU Jewry.
In addition I also think that the European Jewish communities should hold a conference to formulate a Jewish strategy towards the EU. A 'task force' should be established, consisting of members of all the Jewish communities in the EU, to examine ways to implement this strategy and present a detailed action plan.
The challenges and opportunities embodied in the enlarged EU are vast, and Jewish communities must grasp and realize them. The EU leadership will doubtless welcome any Jewish contribution towards shaping an open, diverse and more tolerant Union, and I believe that the structural changes that I propose can emphasize even more the Jewish contribution to the wider European society.
Finally, such changes may also assist in fostering an environment that will preserve the difference and uniqueness of the Jews, without leaving them behind in the confines of the institutional ghetto of a Europe that is slowly becoming obsolete.
1 The European Jewish Congress (EJC) and the European Council of Jewish Communities (ECJC) originally tried to operate closely along these lines. However, both of these organizations are afflicted by the problems presented in this paper, operating as they do within the continent-wide region, which does not fit the political and geographic reality that the EU has created.
Dr Sharon Pardo is a Jean Monnet lecturer on European Union affairs in the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and Director of the Centre of the Study of European Politics and Society (CSEPS), at BGU. This paper was originally given at the second CSEPS-JPR Workshop held in Beer-Sheva, Israel, in May 2009.
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