The Israeli Lobby with a Difference
It was a struggle. Torn between loyalty and rebellion, solidarity and concern, the feeling of concern was ultimately the strongest.
With the publication of its "Call for reason", a recently established group of European Jews has brought its concerns into the public sphere. But this is no ordinary Jewish lobby group; it is a lobby group with a difference because it is calling on politicians in the European Union to exert much more pressure on Israel.
Walking a tightrope
JCall is fighting for an end to Israel's policy of occupation and settlement and for the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. In this way, liberal European Jews want to act as a counterpoint not only to the right-wing government in Jerusalem, but also to the traditional lobby groups of the Jewish diaspora, which have often presented themselves as unwavering apologists for this policy in the past. A new force has arrived on the scene.
A number of prominent personalities are behind the initiative, including the French philosophers Bernard-Henry Levy and Alain Finkielkraut, the Green MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit, and Avi Primor, a former Israeli ambassador to Germany.
Each of them has defended Israel on a number of occasions in the past – even in the recent Gaza war. Now, however, they no longer want to defend. Nor do they want to remain silent.
They are well aware of the tightrope all critics of Israel walk. On the one hand, they always run the risk of being applauded by the wrong side, by the many enemies of Israel, whether they be in ministerial offices in Tehran or the brown-tinted backrooms of Templin in eastern Germany. All these enemies are only too willing to use such personalities as chief witnesses in their campaign of agitation against the Jewish state.
Quite apart from such cheap attempts to co-opt them in this way, critics of Israel are always exposed to a biting wind of opposition from Jerusalem. If these critics come from outside the fold, they are quickly dismissed as anti-Semites. If they come from inside, i.e. if they are themselves Jews, the shots fired in defence hit them even harder.
Defamed as the "capitulation lobby"
They are dismissed as "self-hating Jews" or despised as the "capitulation lobby" that stabs Israel in the back in its ongoing fight for survival. Anyone from the diaspora who gives good advice must also put up with being told that the world looks very different from the terrace of a Parisian café than it does from a watch-tower on the Gaza border.
This is why JCall founders emphasised in their appeal that they are "unfailingly committed" to the state of Israel, which they describe as "part of our identity". They recognise the existential threat from outside; they share the concern about the future and the security of the state, especially in the light of the mounting nuclear threat from Iran.
They also recognise the existential threat to the state of Israel that comes from within, namely as a result of "the occupation and the continuing pursuit of settlements in the West Bank and in the Arab districts of East Jerusalem". These are "morally and politically wrong and feed the unacceptable delegitimization process that Israel currently faces abroad."
For JCall, the boundary of solidarity runs parallel to the Green Line, which has separated Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories since the Six-Day War of 1967.
Beyond this border, they are no longer willing to support Jerusalem's policy. In the words of the appeal, it sounds as if arriving at this point was a painful learning process: "Systematic support of Israeli government policy is dangerous," it reads, "and does not serve the true interests of the state of Israel."
Inspired by J Street
JCall is styled after the Jewish American lobby group J Street, which was established two years ago. Right from the word go, the J Street initiative was attacked both by Israel's right wing and by long-established and hugely influential Jewish organisations such as AIPAC.
The intention was to torpedo J Street, but it didn't work. Today, the liberal Jewish organization is encouraging President Obama in his Middle Eastern policy. From the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, to Israel's ambassador to the United States, there is no getting past J Street.
JCall now hopes to gain a similar foothold in Europe, which is why the founding appeal was officially handed over to members of the European Parliament in Brussels last week. Levy, Finkielkraut & Co. were roundly and swiftly rebuffed by the European Jewish Congress, the Paris-based umbrella organisation for Jewish organizations in Europe, which termed the JCall appeal "divisive, counter-productive and unhelpful".
By the weekend, over 5,000 people had signed the appeal on the Internet. Although the main base of the initiative has to date been in France, which is home to 700,000 Jews, the largest Jewish community in Europe, a number of well-known Jews in Germany such as Micha Brumlik or the publisher Abraham Melzer, have already put their names to the appeal. In Munich, the Jerusalem-born peace activist Judith Bernstein has declared her willingness to co-ordinate a German section of JCall.
Opinions cannot be suppressed
Such a co-ordination task could be a highly complicated exercise, especially in view of the wide range of opinions held by Jews in Germany. One refreshingly open reaction to JCall – and one that contrasted sharply with that of his French colleagues – came from Stephan Kramer, the secretary-general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.
"I expressly welcome the initiative," said Kramer, who went on to say that one cannot "impose a ban on thought" and that one should not try to "destroy such initiatives with killer arguments". After all, he pointed out, the people behind JCall are not the "usual woolly-headed peaceniks", but prominent intellectuals.
However, by the weekend, Kramer had not yet signed the appeal. There are certainly a number of aspects that a secretary-general has to consider, not least the opinions of fellow council members, even those of apostates such as Rolf Verleger, who was asked to leave the Central Council a year ago because of his all-too-open criticism of Israeli policy.
But even Verleger had his difficulties when deciding whether or not to sign the JCall appeal. He found it too dovish in some respects; certain elements were missing. For this reason, he signed the appeal, but only after he had added the following caveat: "The most important difference is that one must also talk to Hamas."
Others, even though they would like to support the strong impulse for peace, have a fundamental problem with the fact that the appeal identifies the "connection to the state of Israel" as part of the identity of German Jews as well.
Every Jew has a different view of the Promised Land. It is no surprise, therefore, that the new initiative met with insults and objections. However, as if in anticipation of this reaction, the founders of JCall cleverly included the following statement in the last point of the appeal: "This movement is non-partisan."
© Süddeutsche Zeitung / Qantara.de 2010
Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan
Edited by Lewis Gropp/Qantara.de