Uncomfortable connections

JCall raises question about Diaspora Jews’ fascination with Israel.

By
May 6, 2010 22:16
3 minute read.
Uncomfortable connections

french jews rally 298. (photo credit: AP)

A group of European Jews, apparently working under the premise that Israel’s leaders lack reason, issued a Web-based petition last weekend entitled “European Jewish Call for Reason.” As of Thursday, the petition, dubbed JCall, had been signed by about 5,000 self-defined Jewish citizens of Europe – including respected intellectuals such as Bernard Henri-Lévy and Alain Finkielkraut – though the establishment European Jewish organizations have criticized the initiative.

JCall denounces Israeli settlements as “morally and politically wrong” and beseeches the European Union and the US to “put pressure on both parties” to “achieve a reasonable and rapid solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict.”

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Its raison d’etre and very name are modeled after J Street, a Washington-based lobby group with widening grassroots support. But JCall is currently nothing more than an online petition.

Its drafters, who include the chairman of Peace Now in France, David Chelma – a former IDF officer born in Tunisia who served in the Yom Kippur War before moving to France in 1977 – were careful, to their credit, to acknowledge that “the final decision [about a peace agreement with the Palestinians] belongs to the sovereign people of Israel.”

Still, one cannot escape the sad irony inherent in the initiative: Here they are, the remnant of European Jewry, expressing their lacking faith in the political reason of their own brethren – the Jewish leaders of Israel – while choosing to placing their own destinies in the hands of Germany, France, Austria and other countries that failed miserably to protect their Jewish citizens during the Holocaust.

Europe’s historical baggage did not escape the authors of the petition. Indeed, they noted that “history confers on Europe a particular responsibility in this region of the world.”

It is not, however, the responsibility to respect the sovereign Jewish nation’s decisions as it seeks to protect its people more effectively than Europe did seven decades ago. Rather, JCall is imploring Europe to press a solution on Israel, and thus essentially declaring that it trusts EU nations to champion Israel’s existential interests more effectively than our democratically elected government.

Most galling of all, these Diaspora Jews proceed in their advocacy knowing that the violent consequences of any failed initiative they would help impose would be paid not by themselves, far away in Europe, but by us – “unreasonable” Israelis who might be forced to live next to a hastily created, terrorist-sponsoring Palestinian state in the West Bank.

Apparently unthinkable to JCall, and arrogant others like it, is the possibility that Israel has been unable to reach a viable peace with the Palestinians because of the other side’s intransigence, and that Israeli leaders’ caution today, even as they seek a two-state partnership, is warranted.

JCALL RAISES a question about Diaspora Jews’ fascination, even obsession, with Israel. One might ask why many Diaspora Jews feel the need to maintain such close scrutiny of a country in which they have chosen not to live. Not all exiled peoples maintain such strong emotional ties to their mother countries.

Obviously, part of the reason is the centrality of the Land of Israel in Jewish liturgy, theology, history and culture, whether as an idyllic symbol of redemption or as the spiritual and physical homeland of all Jews. But another part of the explanation is some Diaspora Jews’ discomfort with the way Zionism is being represented in Europe.

“The word Zionist has become an insult in France,” Roger Cukierman, the former president of the French Jewish umbrella group CRIF and vice president of the World Jewish Congress, explained to the JTA recently.

“In our streets we hear ‘Israel murderer, Israel apartheid.’ They set fire to the flag of Israel, they boycott its products,” added Cukierman, who said he was empathetic to the JCall initiative – though he did not sign, out of concern that it would split European Jewry.

True, visibly Jewish Europeans often pay a heavy price for anti-Israel sentiments. Admittedly, it is difficult to constantly defend Israeli policies against a flood of anti-Zionist criticism. Perhaps signing a petition critical of Israel makes life easier.

The sad truth is that there are no instant solutions to the disproportionately negative bias heaped on Israel. But seeking to force Israel into a potentially dangerous imposed deal with a Palestinian people not yet prepared to live side-by-side with a Jewish state is no solution for us here in Zion, and it is no answer to what some of European Jewry regards as an uncomfortable Zionist connection.


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