(Haviv Rettig Gur)
The initiative was formally launched Monday at an event in Brussels with the presentation of an online petition that has garnered over 3,000 names, including famous centrist Jewish figures such as philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy and anti-boycott activist David Hirsch.
It has already drawn criticism from many circles, who called the group unrepresentative and one-sided in placing the onus for stalled peace talks on the Israelis.
The European Jewish Congress heaped criticism on the new effort, saying it was “counter-productive, unhelpful and disuniting.”
In a statement Monday, the EJC said it “applauds the very difficult concessions” made by Israel in pursuit of negotiations, citing specifically “the increase in access and movement for the Palestinians by removing two-thirds of all road-blocks and the settlement moratorium.”
The groups blasted the JCall initiative as “one-sided pressure on Israel,” which “does not encourage the Palestinians to engage in serious negotiations and only endangers the already unstable situation in the region,” in the words of EJC president Moshe Kantor.
“While there has been consistent pressure on Israel,” Kantor continued, “it is important, especially for the EU, to place pressure on the Palestinian Authority to end its incitement, rhetoric and hate education.”
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Monday, Chemla rejected the criticism and insisted the new initiative 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.
“So this is a call to the Israelis, but of course [the Palestinians] have a lot of the responsibility for the continuation of the conflict.”
Chemla, 62, insists the initiators of JCall are Jews firmly committed to Israel. The petition itself states that “our connection to the state of Israel is part of our identity.”
His own story would seem to bear this out. Born in Tunisia and raised in France, Chemla is a veteran of the Yom Kippur War, during which he served in the IDF’s Paratroopers Brigade. He left for France in 1977, but has maintained close ties to the country and many Israeli friends. He is chairman of Peace Now in France.
In Europe, he says, “Israel is seen as responsible for all the problems [in the region].”
Rather than harming Israel’s image, his initiative is improving it by “showing that the Jewish community is not monolithic, that there is an internal debate. And at the same time, we’re also mobilizing against the efforts in Europe to demonize the state.”
Some veteran European Jewish officials, including in the French communal umbrella group CRIF and in the EJC, have blasted the new initiative as “unrepresentative,” since it does not operate within the formal – in some parts of Europe officially-recognized – communal institutions.
But according to Chemla, “many Jews don’t feel the community organizations represent them. These organizations are completely legitimate, but they don’t represent us. They take positions [in support of the Israeli government] without caring what that government believes. We’re serving the needs of many Jews who feel themselves very attached 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’ll have 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 political solutions. Everything becomes emotional, everyone is turned inward on their pain. When there’s calm, we have an opportunity – maybe one of the last opportunities – to move forward politically.”
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