Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israel European Parliament

JCall and the Distress of European Jewry

The new European group JCall raises a disturbing question: how could pro-Israel intellectuals like Alain Finkielkraut and Bernard-Henri Levy support a venture that is simultaneously anti-Israel and intellectually incoherent?

JCall presented a petition to the European Parliament this week that asserted that Israel’s future “depends upon” peace with the Palestinians, so the European Union must “put pressure on both parties.” Then, abandoning the pretense of even-handedness, it added: “Systematic support of Israeli government policy is dangerous and does not serve the true interests of the state of Israel.” There was no comparable warning against supporting Palestinian Authority policies, some of which clearly endanger Israel.

Asked to explain this disparity, founder David Chemla told the Jerusalem Post, “As Jews tied to Israel, we speak to the Israelis. So this is a call to the Israelis.”

That is obvious nonsense: if JCall really wanted to address Israelis, it would petition the Knesset — not the virulently anti-Israel European Parliament, which just two months ago backed the Goldstone Report’s allegations of Israeli “war crimes” in Gaza. The U.S. Congress, by comparison, denounced the report as hopelessly biased.

And that contrast highlights the more serious intellectual incoherence in JCall’s position. JCall, like JStreet, on which it is self-consciously modeled, opposes “delegitimization and boycotts of Israel,” Chemla told Haaretz. But America could reduce support for Israel in many ways short of boycott/divestment/sanctions. Europe can’t.

Unlike the U.S., the EU doesn’t vote against anti-Israel UN resolutions, give Israel financial aid, serve as a major Israeli arms supplier, and publicly defend (or at least refrain from condemning) Israeli counterterrorism measures. Indeed, it makes only one major contribution to Israel’s welfare: it’s Israel’s largest trading partner.

So when you urge European “pressure” on Israel, you’re effectively urging BDS. The EU has no lesser pressure mechanisms left.

Chemla nevertheless insisted that JCall is “actually helping Israel’s image in Europe” by showing that the Jewish community is “not monolithic.” How Europeans’ image of Israel would be improved by learning that prominent Jews also deem Israel the conflict’s main culprit remains a mystery.

But it’s no mystery how that might improve Europeans’ image of European Jews. On a continent where opinion polls consistently show Israel to be widely loathed, even implying that Israel isn’t solely to blame makes you suspect. But if you urge the EU to withhold support from Israel’s government, yet not from the PA; if you even declare that this serves Israel’s “true interests,” so Europeans need suffer no qualms of conscience, then you’ve restored yourself to the European consensus. You’ve showed, to quote JCall’s petition, that you, too, hear “the voice of reason” — at least as Europe currently defines it.

It’s hard being a Jew in Europe today. So it’s understandable that some would seize on anything, however irrational, that labels itself “pro-Israel” while not violating the European consensus. But their Israeli and American brethren must remind them of the truth: being “pro-Israel” in Europe today requires emphasizing Palestinian guilt, which Europeans routinely ignore, rather than reinforcing their “blame Israel” reflex. And it requires lobbying against “pressure” that can only be manifest through BDS.

The new European group JCall raises a disturbing question: how could pro-Israel intellectuals like Alain Finkielkraut and Bernard-Henri Levy support a venture that is simultaneously anti-Israel and intellectually incoherent?

JCall presented a petition to the European Parliament this week that asserted that Israel’s future “depends upon” peace with the Palestinians, so the European Union must “put pressure on both parties.” Then, abandoning the pretense of even-handedness, it added: “Systematic support of Israeli government policy is dangerous and does not serve the true interests of the state of Israel.” There was no comparable warning against supporting Palestinian Authority policies, some of which clearly endanger Israel.

Asked to explain this disparity, founder David Chemla told the Jerusalem Post, “As Jews tied to Israel, we speak to the Israelis. So this is a call to the Israelis.”

That is obvious nonsense: if JCall really wanted to address Israelis, it would petition the Knesset — not the virulently anti-Israel European Parliament, which just two months ago backed the Goldstone Report’s allegations of Israeli “war crimes” in Gaza. The U.S. Congress, by comparison, denounced the report as hopelessly biased.

And that contrast highlights the more serious intellectual incoherence in JCall’s position. JCall, like JStreet, on which it is self-consciously modeled, opposes “delegitimization and boycotts of Israel,” Chemla told Haaretz. But America could reduce support for Israel in many ways short of boycott/divestment/sanctions. Europe can’t.

Unlike the U.S., the EU doesn’t vote against anti-Israel UN resolutions, give Israel financial aid, serve as a major Israeli arms supplier, and publicly defend (or at least refrain from condemning) Israeli counterterrorism measures. Indeed, it makes only one major contribution to Israel’s welfare: it’s Israel’s largest trading partner.

So when you urge European “pressure” on Israel, you’re effectively urging BDS. The EU has no lesser pressure mechanisms left.

Chemla nevertheless insisted that JCall is “actually helping Israel’s image in Europe” by showing that the Jewish community is “not monolithic.” How Europeans’ image of Israel would be improved by learning that prominent Jews also deem Israel the conflict’s main culprit remains a mystery.

But it’s no mystery how that might improve Europeans’ image of European Jews. On a continent where opinion polls consistently show Israel to be widely loathed, even implying that Israel isn’t solely to blame makes you suspect. But if you urge the EU to withhold support from Israel’s government, yet not from the PA; if you even declare that this serves Israel’s “true interests,” so Europeans need suffer no qualms of conscience, then you’ve restored yourself to the European consensus. You’ve showed, to quote JCall’s petition, that you, too, hear “the voice of reason” — at least as Europe currently defines it.

It’s hard being a Jew in Europe today. So it’s understandable that some would seize on anything, however irrational, that labels itself “pro-Israel” while not violating the European consensus. But their Israeli and American brethren must remind them of the truth: being “pro-Israel” in Europe today requires emphasizing Palestinian guilt, which Europeans routinely ignore, rather than reinforcing their “blame Israel” reflex. And it requires lobbying against “pressure” that can only be manifest through BDS.

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