JCall founder denies placing onus on Israel alone

New left-wing Jewish initiative in Europe, modeled after J Street, defends itself against critics.

The new left-wing European initiative JCall, which seeks to pressureIsrael’s government to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinianim-passe, is helping Israel, not harming it, according to founder DavidChemla.
The initiative was formally launched Monday at an eventin Brussels with the presentation of an online petition that hasgarnered over 3,000 names, including famous centrist Jewish figuressuch as philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy and anti-boycott activist DavidHirsch.
It has already drawn criticism from many circles, whocalled the group unrepresentative and one-sided in placing the onus forstalled peace talks on the Israelis.
The European Jewish Congress heaped criticism on the new effort, saying it was “counter-productive, unhelpful and disuniting.”
Ina statement Monday, the EJC said it “applauds the very difficultconcessions” made by Israel in pursuit of negotiations, citingspecifically “the increase in access and movement for the Palestiniansby removing two-thirds of all road-blocks and the settlementmoratorium.”
The groups blasted the JCall initiative as“one-sided pressure on Israel,” which “does not encourage thePalestinians to engage in serious negotiations and only endangers thealready unstable situation in the region,” in the words of EJCpresident Moshe Kantor.
“While there has been consistentpressure on Israel,” Kantor continued, “it is important, especially forthe EU, to place pressure on the Palestinian Authority to end itsincitement, rhetoric and hate education.”
Speaking to The Jerusalem Poston Monday, Chemla rejected the criticism and insisted the newinitiative would be a boon to the peace process and to Israel’s image.
“We’re not saying that only Israel is responsible for the problem. As Jews tied to Israel, we speak to the Israelis,” he said.
“Sothis is a call to the Israelis, but of course [the Palestinians] have alot of the responsibility for the continuation of the conflict.”
Chemla,62, insists the initiators of JCall are Jews firmly committed toIsrael. The petition itself states that “our connection to the state ofIsrael is part of our identity.”
His own story would seem tobear this out. Born in Tunisia and raised in France, Chemla is aveteran of the Yom Kippur War, during which he served in the IDF’sParatroopers Brigade. He left for France in 1977, but has maintainedclose ties to the country and many Israeli friends. He is chairman ofPeace Now in France.
In Europe, he says, “Israel is seen as responsible for all the problems [in the region].”
Ratherthan harming Israel’s image, his initiative is improving it by “showingthat the Jewish community is not monolithic, that there is an internaldebate. And at the same time, we’re also mobilizing against the effortsin Europe to demonize the state.”
Some veteran European Jewish officials, including in the Frenchcommunal umbrella group CRIF and in the EJC, have blasted the newinitiative as “unrepresentative,” since it does not operate within theformal – in some parts of Europe officially-recognized – communalinstitutions.
But according to Chemla, “many Jews don’t feel the communityorganizations represent them. These organizations are completelylegitimate, but they don’t represent us. They take positions [insupport of the Israeli government] without caring what that governmentbelieves. We’re serving the needs of many Jews who feel themselves veryattached to Israel,” but who disagree with its government’s policies.
Timing is as important as the message, Chemla maintains.
“We think that if in the next couple years things don’t move forward,then we’re worried about another Palestinian intifada, or that we’llhave a state that can’t even be divided.”
Peace is easiest to achieve in the quiet between the wars, he says.
“When there are wars, intifadas, you can’t talk or advance politicalsolutions. Everything becomes emotional, everyone is turned inward ontheir pain. When there’s calm, we have an opportunity – maybe one ofthe last opportunities – to move forward politically.”