BRUSSELS – Civil society movements and decision-makers in Israel, Poland and Hungary are launching on Wednesday a new global network, striving to defend the values of democracy and liberalism in Europe, Israel and elsewhere.Set to be introduced at the European Parliament in Brussels under the name DemoCrisis, the new network will bring together not only activists from the three countries, but also legislators from four different European parties, stretching from the center-right until the Greens on the left.
In essence, the idea is to link the Israeli pro-Democracy/judicial overhaul protest movement with European groups sharing the same worldviews, especially in countries such as Poland and Hungary, ruled by nationalist or populist governments.The launching of DemoCrisis will start with a handmaid march by Israeli, Polish, Hungarian and other European women, outside the European Parliament building in Brussels. Israeli singer Achinoam Nini will sing at the event.After the rally, a conference will take place inside the European Parliament, with the participation of two European Parliament Vice Presidents – Marc Angel of the Progressive Alliance, and Othmar Karas of the European People’s Party. Speakers on the Israeli side will include activist Ofra Kaplan and Free Israeli Arts founder Talia Goshen. Polish Solidarity leader, Nobel peace prize winner and former president Lech Wałęsa is sending a video message.
Brussels-based Israeli Dan Sobovitz, who heads a PR office, has been leading the DemoCrisis initiative from Day One. He tells The Jerusalem Post that the idea was born when he organized for European Parliament members to meet with leaders of the Israeli protest movement, when they visited Israel last summer.
Discussing Israel’s hi-tech rights
’The delegation arrived to Israel to discuss consumer rights, innovation and high-tech. But for me, it was unimaginable for the European legislators to tour the country, and ignoring the elephant in the room. And so, VP Marc Angel and Polish parliamentarian Roza Thun agreed to meet with Mika Almong, Yiftach Golov and Achinoam Nini. They came out of the meeting thrilled, with a sort of revelation,’’ he said.
Dan has been working many years with European Union institutions. He knew that quite a few European politicians would be reluctant to associate themselves with the Israeli protest movement. The strong connection that emerged from that meeting in Israel opened a new door of solidarity between democracies, or, more precisely, between groups defending democratic values.‘’I have been exploring with leading Israeli thinktank Mitvim ways to connect with European thinktanks on this issue of protecting democracy. The DemoCrisis network enables exactly that, for European researchers, decision-makers and activists to voice their concerns without directly interfering with Israeli politics. We are talking about a global plague which requires global actions,’’ noted Dan. He explains that apart from Mitvim, the Brussels Secular Jewish Community Center (CCLJ), the Alliance4Europe group and the Polish Free Courts Initiative have also joined to set up the DemoCrisis initiative. The DemoCrisis conference will take place just four days before crucial elections in Poland, where voters will have to choose between four more years of a populist government and its long-standing opposition. Michał Wawrykiewicz, a veteran human rights activist and co-founder of the Free Courts Initiative, is persuaded that the erosion of democratic values is not a local problem. For him, it’s an issue that touches many countries, which is why the new network is so important. ‘’Democracy is under attack across Europe. In Poland, we have been facing that for eight years already. Hungary’s democracy has been under threat for 13 years. And now you in Israel. That is why it is crucial to stand together. To share experiences. To strengthen one another. To send the European Union, the world, a joint message, that we will not surrender. I do believe that by the end of it, democracy will prevail over tyranny,’’ Wawrykiewicz told the Post. The Polish activist noted that whatever is happening in Israel is significant also for the European Union. ‘’Our countries share western values. If we do not stand together to defend democracy, it could simply collapse. Israel is the only democracy in the region, and like Europe, it can only survive when preserving liberalism, democracy and human rights.’’ European Parliament Vice President Angel agreed. ‘’Today, the political climate in one country can affect its neighbors and influence political events across the world. Populist parties are usually well-organized and we have seen that they inspire each other by using similar strategies and tactics to undermine democratic institutions and human rights,’’ he told the Post, adding that ‘’It seems imperative that pro-democracy movements join forces to show solidarity and defend their cause across borders.’’
Angel said that European leaders are worried over developments in Israel, noting that these could affect the country’s partnership with the European Union.“A range of European leaders have voiced concerns or spoken out against the judicial reform…The European Parliament held a debate on the deterioration of democracy in Israel in March, and was in broad agreement that the judicial reform puts democratic values and the rule of law at risk,’’ he noted, stressing that the parliament has expressed its support of the Israeli protest movement.