Friday, September 24, 2010

Ubiquitous dissent

The chair of Peace Now in France, David Chelma, is helping coordinate a European effort to dissent from Israeli policies by means of a nascent initiative dubbed JCall – to evoke Washington-based J Street – and featuring a web-based petition entitled "European Call for Reason" demanding "pressure on both parties" in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. More than 3,500 people have signed including luminaries on the pro-Israel Left such as philosophers Bernard Henri-Levy and Alain Finkielkraut. Israel's former ambassador to France Elie Barnavi is also a backer.

Campaigners say they are exasperated with the "monolithic" Jewish mainstream. Chelma wants to show that "it's okay" to criticize some Israeli policies. "Systematic support of Israeli government policy is dangerous," according to the text published in six languages on www.JCall.eu. The Israeli broadsheet Haaretz lauded JCall for rejecting "automatic support" of Israeli policies especially regarding Jerusalem neighborhoods over the Green Line. Critics were further incensed over advertisements placed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel describing Jerusalem as "the heart of our heart, the soul of our soul" and urging that the city's fate be dealt with at a later stage of peace negotiations. J Street is countering Wiesel by placing a retort by former Meretz Party leader Yossi Sarid in US Jewish newspapers.
The notion that dissent within the pro-Israel community is muffled is taken as axiomatic. Yet opposition to Israeli peace and security policies among Israel's Diaspora friends is hardly out of the ordinary. Nahum Goldmann, the venerable head of the World Jewish Congress, publicly broke with Israeli policies in 1967. In 1973, rumor had it, he helped finance Breira, whose 100-member Reform and Conservative rabbinic advisory council advocated the creation of a PLO-led state alongside Israel decades before Yasser Arafat ostensibly recognized the country's right to exist. Goldmann also appealed to US decision-makers to pressure Israel into withdrawing from the West Bank and Gaza. Similarly, Philip Klutznik, who succeeded Goldmann at the World Jewish Congress, aligned himself with the International Center for Peace in the Middle East to further dissent from Israeli policies.

Indeed, the JCall petition recalls the 1978 letter signed by 37 prominent US Jews – academics, writers, theologians – demanding Israel show greater flexibility in negotiating a peace treaty with Egypt. In 1980, the New Jewish Agenda following in Breira's footsteps mobilized against the 1982 Lebanon War. Also in the early 1980s, Rabbi Alexander Schindler of the Reform movement asked: "Must we indulge in annexationist fantasies in order to prove that we are passionate Jews?" In 2010 his successor Rabbi Eric Yoffie said he stood with the Obama administration and against the Netanyahu government on the matter of a construction freeze in east Jerusalem. Indeed, the roster of Jewish figures that have campaigned against Israel's settlement policies includes former chairs of the Presidents Conference and a leader of Conservative Jewry. If anything, criticism of Israel's approach to peace has become institutionalized with more Presidents Conference organizations dissenting than supporting.

The one constant -- from Nahum Goldmann's day through JCall – has been the absence of any countervailing pressure on the Arab side to lobby Fatah, Hamas and the Arab League into adopting less intransigent policies.




-- May 2010

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