JCall is not J Street.
The American group is a Washington-based lobbying organization (or set of organizations) that pays salaries, funds campaigns and lobbying activities, and plans to stick around for a long time. The new European imitator is, so far, little more than an online petition.
“Right now it’s just a call [to action],” founder David Chemla told The Jerusalem Post on Monday, “but we hope to turn it into a movement.”
Yet the comparison is already being made, in part because JCall has billed itself as the European version of J Street – not the organization, but the zeitgeist. It is a group of Jews, some of them prominent, who, while supporting the existence of Israel, don’t trust the intentions of its government and seek to bring foreign pressure to bear in changing its behavior.
Drawn largely from the French-speaking world, it has faced criticism from many Francophone Jewish groups, including the French and Belgian communal umbrella organizations, the CRIF and the CCOJB.
Worse, it has faced “praise” from some of Israel’s avowed enemies, such as the Iranian regime’s Press TV Web site’s glowing report about the group’s “stand against Israel.”
Since its message is similar to J Street’s, the criticism has also been roughly the same: While perhaps well-meaning, the group besmirches Israel by placing the onus for the failure of peace talks on the Jewish state.
Chemla excuses this focus by noting that, as Jews, the petition signatories are merely speaking to their Jewish brethren.
Yet, say critics, as actors in an international arena where Israel is often made the pariah among the nations, doesn’t the group have a responsibility to also speak about Palestinian responsibility for the failure of peace talks? Does it truly believe that Israel alone controls the pace or success of the negotiations? And tactically, critics complain, the group’s dire warnings are counterproductive, since they convince the Palestinians that time is on their side.
The JCall petition argues that peace negotiations are “urgent,” and failing to pursue them could be “disastrous” for Israel. Why, if you were on the Palestinian negotiating team, would you want to help the Israelis out of that jam?
As with J Street, the answer to these questions does not lie in what the group says, but in the question it doesn’t quite answer.
In the US, J Street has proven itself a serious supporter of Israel. It is adamantly opposed to boycotts of Israel, passionately supports Israel’s “Jewish character,” and lobbied Congress in favor of sanctions legislation against Iran.
Considering these facts, try this exercise: Spot the difference between J Street’s policies and those of the much-maligned, much larger AIPAC.
In Europe, too, both the umbrella body of French Jewry, the CRIF, and the umbrella of Europe’s Jewish communities generally, the European Jewish Congress, support the position of the Israeli governments that a two-state solution is the ultimate goal of negotiations.
So what’s the difference? The difference is trust. At the end of the day, AIPAC, which supports the two-state position articulated by every Israeli and American government since 1992, generally views Israel’s leaders as honest in their pursuit of peace, while Palestinian leaders are seen as rejectionist.
J Street, on the other hand, does not trust Israeli intentions nearly as much. Asked if he trusted Binyamin Netanyahu’s declaration of support for Palestinian statehood, J Street director Jeremy Ben-Ami told the Post that Netanyahu himself “hasn’t answered that question... We will support this prime minister and every step he takes that supports the end of this conflict.”
JCall, too, is not innovative in its call for a two-state solution, but
in its distrust of the Israeli government’s willingness to pursue that
Thus, the petition is replete with warnings that “Israel will soon be
faced with two equally disastrous choices: either to become a state in
which Jews would be a minority in their own country, or establish a
regime that would be a disgrace to Israel and lead to civil unrest.”
Since the Israelis aren’t negotiating in good faith of their own
volition, JCall reasons, it may help to lay out for them the doomsday
scenario of catastrophic collapse. Perhaps they will be scared into
Chemla himself insists that the document is a message to Israelis. And
that message, repeated several times in case any Israeli doesn’t get
the hint: “... the survival of Israel as a Jewish and democratic
state... depends on the creation of a viable and sovereign Palestinian
Israel, take note. The divide today between the large Diaspora “Right”
and the newer, smaller Diaspora “Left” is not about policy, but about