Israeli and European Civil Actors Exchange Ideas and Experiences Regarding Democracy
Organisation: RLF Brussels and Rosa Luxemburg Foundation Tel Aviv
Venue: RLF Brussels, Ave. Michel-Ange 11, 1000 Brussels
Contact: Anna Striethorst, Tel. +32-(0)2-7387665
Which emancipatory concepts of democracy does the Left in Europe and in Israel presently have? And how can the Left influence the democratic constitution of society by means of such concepts?
Participatory concepts, citizens’ referendums and the participation of citizens in political decision-making processes beyond parliamentary representation are a topic of discussion in Europe. Questions of the relationship between majorities and minorities, of integration, and of socio-cultural autonomy are highly controversial issues. At the European level, the European citizens’ referendum has been introduced under the Lisbon Treaty, and is currently being implemented. On the other hand, the ability of citizens to have their process of opinion formation supported by a functional public discourse, a wide variety of media, and autonomous access to information, is equally decisive for democracy and participation.
Currently however, that grand old dame democracy is undergoing a surprising rejuvenation with the democratic movements in North Africa and the Arab world. Democracy is becoming a hope, especially for young people attempting to free themselves from despotic and corrupt regimes.
How is the Left in Israel and in Europe dealing with these new developments? Is the Left in a position to face those challenges, and to draw lessons from them? Some signs of new democratic approaches are already visible:
1) The digital media, the Internet communications and the dissemination of pictures and videos of events in real time across the entire globe are a new and anarchic strategy of political formation of intent that is directed against domination.
2) The manifest expression of movements is the nonviolent occupation of central spaces in cities, where people have gathered again and again, even in the face of brutal violence.
3) Classic political ideologies and even parties are hardly a factor.
It is not yet clear whether, and if yes, which new institutional forms will emerge from the democracy movements, nor is it clear whether the traditional patterns of distinction of political parties are still valid. It is clear that the Left will have to address these developments.
The mass movements for democracy and freedom in North Africa and the Arab world are still very young, and no one can predict how things will develop, and how the new democratic and institutional architectures of these countries will look like. At the same time, these events are not only disrupting the existing political structures in the countries involved, but the entire security architecture of Europe and the Middle East is also being mixed up. It is clear that Europe, and Israel and Palestine too, will have to reorient themselves in this context.
Furthermore, the democracy movements also indicate new political strategies of grassroots movements, which are of interest to the Left as a whole. The movements are being supported by young, well educated people, who are using the electronic media and who have very little interest in classical political debates. These developments are already spreading to southern Europe: a major demonstration has just been held in Lisbon, organized over the Internet, and directed against the increasing precariousness of conditions of life in Portugal. A few weeks ago, a similar demonstration took place in Brussels, organized by five students via the Internet, and directed against the inability of the Walloon and Flemish political leadership to form a common federal government in Belgium.
To what extent do the developments in the Middle East influence Israeli society in general and the Left in particular? Will new possibilities for alliances open up, or will the isolation of Israel in the region be further reinforced?
The current upheavals are having an effect not only in the realm of foreign and security policy. The major question is whether this offers a chance for the Israeli society to become aware of its democratic values and to open up to a new movement for peace in the Middle East. Or will insecurity regarding future developments cause Israeli society to reinforce its fortress mentality? Beyond doubt, the experiences of the past decade suggest a rather pessimistic view of developments. Nonetheless, a small glimmer of hope deserves careful attention.
Positively formulated: Can the profound changes in the North African and Arab world provide impulses for a new dialogue between nations and peoples? Is there any chance that Israeli society will readjust its democratic structures and open up to a peace process with Palestine?
Participants are civil society representatives, researchers and politicians from Israel and Europe.
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