German MEP Michael Theurer, a member of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
In view of the European Parliament elections,from 22-25 May 2014,when 375 million EU citizens in 28 member states will choose their 751 representatives, the European Jewish Press (EJP), in partnership with the European Jewish Association (EJA), sent current Members of the European Parliament written questions on topics of interest and concern to European Jewry. EJP will regularly publish their answers to these questions.
Since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, the European Parliament has been given more say in policymaking as it plays an important role in shaping European policies. It has also a role in determining who should become the next President of the European Commission, the EU’s powerful decision-making body.
Michael Theurer is a Member of the European Parliament from Germany. He belongs to the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). He chairs the European Parliament Committee on Budgetary Control.
Since 1997 he is Chairman of the Friends of the Former Synagogue in Rexingen (Baden-Württemberg).
Q. Are you worried about the reported rise of populist, extremist and Eurosceptic parties ?
M.T : I am extremely worried about the rise of the populist right wing. This is not only a threat to Jews around Europe, but also to the European democracy as a whole. I do not belong to the politicians, who believe that it is enough to duck and cover and hope for the storm to blow over. Instead, we should actively fight those, who seek to find easy answers to complex questions.
Should the leading right-wing-populist parties in Europe manage to create an alliance bent on destroying the democratically elected house of European representatives – the European Parliament – from within, we have a serious problem on our hands. Then there is a real threat of an end to the ‘European Dream’. We need to wake up now and fight against this danger, before it grows too large and they too powerful.
Let us not forget that the idea of European unity was built on the ashes of a devastated continent. A continent destroyed by nationalism, racism and blindness, in which every nation believed it could rule the other. Let us not forget that a European Union is the only solution we found against war and hate and that this remedy has put an end to 1000 years of hatred and war through economic prosperity and collaboration. A united Europe has benefited its citizens for over 60 years now, so much so that we take the advantages for granted. However especially in times of crisis, we need to find the way out together. This is not the time for seemingly easy solutions, as compelling as they may sound. This is a time for Europeans to struggle for finding the right way. A time, in which we need to draw from our diversity, in order to come up with the right policy mix, the correct train of thought, so that we may continue to stand united. The solutions will always be complex, as the crisis is complex. We dream of a Europe, in which its citizens stand strong alongside uncomfortable solutions, in order to reach the greater good.
We cannot allow challenge and crisis to permit us to depart from our values; To lend extensive consideration to every issue; To examine every course of action from every side; To never forget that a decision made alone is a decision poorly made. If the fundamental nature of the European Union is but one thing, it is a constant reminder that never shall any Member State act as if there is no other.
The Europe that all of us want to live in, is a Europe that grapples with its issues in order to evolve. That maybe, from time to time, even drives itself a bit crazy in its determination to find the way that is right, the way that is good. That understands that what is good for us need not be bad for others. That will keep searching until an answer is found that honours our commitment to equality, transparency, and our belief in a strong and united Europe.
It is the danger of being pound-foolish instead of penny-wise. Let us take that on for ourselves. Let us remember that Europe shall never be tempted by the immediate, by the easy, by the words of those seeking to monopolise the problems of others with slogans instead of facts.
Q. How should the European Parliament support the fight against rising anti-Semitism in Europe ?
M.T: I believe we should have clear European wide laws penalizing anti-Semitism. Any politician, who kindles with the fire of hatred should be punished and his career needs to be over. The parliament already honors those who fight anti-Semitism and hatred and we can increase that support, also financially and structurally. I could even imagine a delegation on anti-Semitism and other hate crimes, which meets regularly in the EP and discusses political steps to battle these problems.
Q. Is delegitimisation of Israel a ‘politically correct’ form of anti-Semitism?
M.T: Yes, often criticism towards Israel is used as a politically correct way to express hate against Jews. This is a sensitive subject. It is important to be able to criticize the Israeli democracy and I must say that I am also becoming increasingly worried about the touchiness of Israelis towards criticism from the outside. I have been to Israel many times and know how critical Israelis are of their own state of affairs and that is a good thing. Only the critical eye constantly improves. I was shocked by the reaction of some of the right wing Knesset members, who left in protest of the perfectly good speech of Martin Schulz in the Knesset. I know Martin a little and I know he is a friend of Israel. His criticism of the Israeli settlement politics is shared by me and many other friends of the Jewish state and it is important for Israel to listen to such well meant advice by friends. At the same time, there are many, who question the right of existence of Israel and are thereby inherently making an anti-Semitic statement in what they believe to be a politically correct way. If you listen well, to the arguments made, you can easily distingiush between objective and the the one filled with hate.
Q. Do you believe that boycotting Israeli products made in the West Bank settlements helps advance the peace process? Do you feel the European Parliament has an anti-Israel agenda?
M.T: No and no. Boycott is no useful tool of politics and creates loose, loose situation for both sides. The European Parliament has been an honest broker towards Israel in the past. In my past 5 years I have witnessed about 10% of the MEPs who love Israel and 10%, who have opposite feelings, of which some are even anti-Semites. But the remaining 80% are generally open for arguments in all directions, when it comes to a discussion on the state of Israel.
Q : Are you concerned that labelling and/or boycotting these products will have negative consequences for the thousands of Palestinians working in the West Bank in Israeli companies?
M.T : Yes, of course. As I said: Boycott is no solution. The Palestinians in the West Bank are working at higher wages and better working condition than any other employer in the surrounding of the Middle East, may it be Lebanon, Jordan or Egypt. They have a union and organized tariffs. A boycott would harm their position and economic success.
Q. Have you previously been to Israel? When? What was the purpose of your visit?
M.T : I have been to Israel many times. For work and pleasure. As a mayor of Horb am Neckar I created a project to commemorate the lost Jews of Rexingen, who all fled Germany just in time during the war and created the moshav called Shave Zion, just North of Haifa. It was wonderful to visit all these Swabian Jews and their offspring in Shave Zion and these have been some of my happiest days.
Q. Do you think the Israelis want peace with the Palestinians?
M.T : Yes, the wish for peace is deeply rooted amongst the Israeli people. Of that I am certain. With peace, Israel could truly be heaven. That all Israelis know! But mainly the setback of the failed peace accords at Camp David and everything that has happened since the murder of the Israeli hero Yitzhak Rabbin, have bittered the mood towards peace significantly and made the population more weary and cynical of the various offers out there.
Q. Can Iran be relied upon in its negotiations with the West on its nuclear programme?
M.T :I am convinced that Iran is playing a double game. Rouhani knows how to speak the language of the West and tells us Europeans what we want to hear. It is easier for everyone to listen to his sweet promises and not have to take actions, which would be painful for all. The Iranians have succeeded in becoming a regional power and they will increase their influence in the region continuously. The interference of the Iranian lead Hezbollah from Lebanon in the Syrian civil war on the side of Assad, is just one example. The way the Iranian regime orchestrated the execution of every single inhabitant in Camp Ashraf in Iraq is another proof for the rootlessness of this regime. I believe Iran to be unreliable and dangerous to the stability of the whole region. Iran has continuously lied to the West about the status of their nuclear programme and there is no apparent reason why this should stop now, We should take the threat of a nuclear coffer-bomb in the hands of an Iranian proxy like the Hezbollah very seriously.
Q. What is your reaction to the attacks in several European countries against Jewish religious practices such as circumcision and ritual slaughter?
M.T :We just recently had the discussion about the right to circumcision in the German Parliament and it was strongly debated. I believe that many of the MPs, who supported this law, were motivated by Islamophobia, more than by anti-Semitism. And Muslims in Germany were suddenly happy to see the Jews stand up on their side in defence of the right to circumcise. Many, especially on the left, are motivated by their secular ‚Weltanschauung‘ and their general dislike of religious practices, should they be Muslim, Catholic or Jewish. For a liberal person, like myself, I must say that the argument of free choice for the individual is a strong argument against circumcising a child before it has the possibility to consciously choose. However, politics and laws are not made in a vacuum. To forbid circumcision means to take into account that large parts of the Jewish population will leave the country. The circumcision symbolizes the covenant with God, and if this covenant cannot be made, you leave a religious person no choice as to move to a place, where his rituals are tolerated. Germany has worked very hard to regain the trust of the Jewish people and has been very proud to have succeeded to boast with the third largest Jewish population in Europe again. Do we really want to risk loosing these people again? Can a country with the history of the Shoah afford to affront the Jewish population is such a manner? I believe not; and with me a large majority of the German Parliament. That is good. So my bottom line, also for other European countries, is: Of course there are valid arguments against circumcision or ritual slaughter, but usually the reasons for creating these laws are populist and ill motivated. I am therefore very critical of any Government in the process of tabling such laws in its country.
Q. When faced with the results of a Fundamental Rights Agency survey which shows that a significant number of Jews in Europe have considered leaving their respective countries because of anti-Semitism, what is your reaction?
M.T :My reaction is to be saddened. Europe is all about diversity. Europe is about people with different cultures, religions and languages living and striving together. Historically Europe has always been a melting pot and through that a success story; economically and culturally. That large numbers of French Jews, for example, who have now been leaving France is shocking. They have been an inherent part of French culture and society for many hundreds of years, and now, in the 21st century in a founding country of the European Union, they suddenly feel unwelcome?! A lot of the hate sadly finds its origin within the Muslim population. This was not the case 20 years ago. What has changed? Satellite television indoctrinates our Muslim compatriots day in and day out and fill stem with hate against our Western values and against Jews. This has to stop. I do not understand why Europe has been finding it so hard to shut down a TV Station like Al-Manar for example, where children are already been taught that it is heroic to die as a martyr and to kill Jews. We need to do everything possible to guarantee the well-being of all our minorities in Europe. May they be Gays, Jews, Muslims or Roma. Our democracies should be measured by how safe and integrated minorities feel. Putin’s treatment of homosexuals, for example, is the first indication of the many flaws Russian society still bears. We need to be better than that. Should Jews continue to leave one of the most prosperous continents of the globe, then that is a clear indication of grave issues that need to be addressed by all of our societies.
Q. Is there a future for Jews, especially the younger generation, in Europe?
M.T : Of course there is. Europe has the necessary foundation and culture to be a safe home for its Jewish population. There is a deeply woven band between Europe and its Jews: Europe is unimaginable without Jews and Jews would not be the same without Europe. It is the rich Polish, German, Austro-Hungarian culture which has influenced the Jews as much as vice versa, just to name the most obvious examples. As much as I love Israel, I have always been saddened by the loss of culture that often is inherent to the integration of European Jews into Israel. In Turkey a mere 20.00 Jews are left from the 500.000 that used to be there under the Ottoman Empire and their numbers are demising rapidly, because of the chauvinist atmosphere created by Erdogan and the AKP.When you meet Turkish Jews in Israel, then the second generation usually has already lost the language and rich identity that made Jews in Turkey. They don’t speak Turkish anymore nor the beautiful ladino that has been transported for 500 years, since the expulsion from Spain. That is a shame and that is why we have to fight for the survival of the French, German, English, Hungarian, Jewish culture, etc. in all the member states. By the way, this is no different for the Alsatian or Tyrolean culture. They are suffering from overbearing nation states, who dominate their cultural values from the capital. The Europe of the Maastricht treaty, however, envisaged a federal Europe of regions, where the many European cullers can thrive again. This also counts for the Jews in Europe. It is no coincidence that the first president of the elected European Parliament was Simone Veil, a Jewess from France, who had survived the Shoah. The history of the European Union is straggly linked to the story of the Jews in this continent.
source: European Jewish Press