Settlement Policy Wrong, Say European Jews

PARIS – Prominent Jewish intellectuals living in Europe have begun denouncing the Israeli policy of allowing settlements to come up on Palestinian territories as “morally and politically wrong.”

In a collective declaration, presented in the Belgian capital Brussels on May 3, hundreds of prominent European Jews also said that the main danger to the state of Israel “lies in the occupation and the continuing pursuit of settlements in the West Bank and in the Arab districts of East Jerusalem.”

The intellectuals, including some who had expressed staunch loyalty to Israeli authorities in the past, warn that Israel currently faces an “unacceptable de-legitimization process.”

Among the 500-odd initial signatories of the declaration are the former Israeli ambassador in Berlin, Avi Primor, and French intellectuals Alain Finkielkraut and Bernard Henri Levy – so far known as uncompromising critics of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and tenacious defenders of Israeli policies.

In the declaration, titled “European Jewish Call for Reason,” Primor et al. identify themselves as “citizens of European countries” and “Jews.” “Whatever our personal paths, our connection to the state of Israel is part of our identity. We are concerned about the future of the state of Israel to which we are unfailingly committed.”

In their call, the authors estimate that “the future of Israel depends upon urgently achieving peace with the Palestinian people on the basis of the Two-State Solution.”

This two-state solution is “urgent,” they add. Otherwise “Israel will soon be faced with two equally disastrous choices: either to become a state in which Jews would be a minority in their own country, or establish a regime that would be a disgrace to Israel and lead to civil unrest.”

At the same time, the European Jews urge the European Union and the United States to “put pressure on both parties and help them achieve a reasonable and rapid solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict. History confers on Europe a particular responsibility in this region of the world.”

The call goes as far as to denounce as “dangerous” the Jews’ “systematic support of Israeli government policy.” This Jewish systematic support of all Israeli policies “does not serve the true interests of the state of Israel,” it points out.

Coming from conservative Jews, for long identified with the stubborn defense of all Israeli policies, such choice of words is astonishing – and may come too late. As the renowned French journalist Jean Daniel, publisher of the weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, puts in a comment, this “initiative we have hoped for since many years.”

Daniel, himself a Jew, described the European Jewish call “a cry of alarm and a declaration of love for Israel.”

More than 6,000 people have signed the declaration.

In an interview with IPS, David Chemla, president of the Paris-based Jewish organization Chalom Arshav (Peace Now) and signatory of the declaration, said that he supports the “call for reason” because “I want to fight back the campaign of de-legitimization Israel suffers as [a] state.”

At the same time, Chemla said, “I also fight for peace in the Mideast, based on the two-state solution. The other signatories of the call and I also see that there is a political deadlock in the conflict, that there is no perspective for the process of negotiations” between the Israeli government and the PA.

“We wanted to call the Israelis’ attention and tell them: Listen, we have always been on your side,” Chemla added. “But we are worried about the future of Israel, because if the two-state solution is not put in practice within the next couple of years, later it won’t be feasible anymore.”

Chemla said that the imbrications of Israeli settlements within the Palestinian territories will make “more and more difficult to create a viable, sovereign Palestinian state. Seeing the risk that the two-state solution becomes impossible already in very next future, we thought it was urgent to launch this call.”

Chemla said that the presence of people like Finkielkraut, Levy, and Primor among the signatories, “all of them well-known defenders of Israel, gives our call even more legitimacy. We have received support from many organizations in and outside Israel.”

However, in a column published by the German daily newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau on May 19, Primor complained that many Israeli commentators and organizations have insulted the signatories of the call “as ‘traitors’ and as ‘Jews driven by self-hate.'”

According to Primor, such radical Jewish organizations are driven by a “cramped relationship to the state of Israel. They ask Jews in the Diaspora to unconditionally support Israel, even as a political lobby. But they try to discredit the differing opinions, those which are not in complete accordance with whatever policy the Israeli government of the moment is applying.”

In yet another interview, Primor complained that some European governments support Israeli policies following this “cramped principle.”

Primor’s criticism and the “European Jewish Call for Reason” are already having some effect. On May 18, German chancellor Angela Merkel, for the first time, met the Palestinian head of government, Salam Fayyad.

During Fayyad’s first visit to Berlin, the German government and the PA created a “coordinating committee” in charge of supervising the German aid to the PA. Furthermore, the German government promised to massively support the building of state structures for the PA.

Fayyad called the meeting with German authorities “an historic moment.”

(Inter Press Service)