A European "Call for Reason"

“Not your usual anti-Israel rant” as Bernard-Henri L?vy and others call for an end to settlements

By Joan Montgomerie

In April a petition was circulated in Europe, which could be widely seen in the Guardian and other newspapers and is now online at www.jcall.eu .

Its authors, including some of Europe’s best-known pro-Israel intellectuals, are calling for international pressure on Israel to foreswear Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. It had 5730 signatories when I last looked. Prominent French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy is one of them and Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the former student radical turned Green MEP, is another.

This “Call for Reason” was presented at the European Parliament in Brussels on 3 May 2010, stating: “Our objective is to allow the opinions of European Jews, who have been silent for too long, to be expressed publicly and to allow a Jewish voice to be heard that is both committed to the state of Israel and critical of the current choices of its government.”

This has stirred a storm of protests because this is not your usual anti-Israel, antisemitic rant,” acknowledged Patrick Klugman, who signed the “JCall” petition. “It is actually coming from Jews with impeccable pro-Israel credentials, and this is what drives the official Jewish world and the right wing crazy.” Some, such as LÚvy, say they had always supported the peace camp, most recently the Geneva Initiative, which advocates a plan for rapidly achieving a two-state solution.

Meanwhile, far left groups also criticized J Call, claiming it legitimizes a racist Israel. It has similarities to JStreet in the US, a group which seems progressive compared to mainstream Jewish opinion but finds Rabbi Michael Lerner to be too dangerously progressive to include.

But further on in the Guardian on May 12th there was this statement by Jews in Israel: “Jerusalem residents attack writer Elie Wiesel over appeal to Barack Obama.” It seems that Wiesel had written an open letter to Barack Obama appealing for him not to “politicize” differences over Jerusalem by pressing Israel to stop Jewish settlement construction there. A hundred Jewish residents responded with their own open letter expressing “outrage” at Wiesel’s call, and accusing him of falsely claiming that there is no discrimination against Jerusalem’s Arab population. Wiesel had claimed that Jerusalem is above politics. The Jerusalemites, who include academics and political activists, responded in a letter in the New York Review of Books that expressed “frustration, even outrage” at Wiesel’s claims:

“We cannot recognize our city in the sentimental abstraction you call by its name,” they wrote. “Your Jerusalem is an ideal, an object of prayers and a bearer of the collective memory of a people whose members actually bear many individual memories. Our Jerusalem is populated with people, young and old, women and men, who wish their city to be a symbol of dignity—not of hubris, inequality and discrimination. You speak of the celestial Jerusalem; we live in the earthly one.”

The whole exciting row can be seen in the New York Review of Books and at the Just Jerusalem (Sheikh Jarrah) website www.en.justjlm.org/?p=97.

Meanwhile there were signs of hope from Canada. In the Globe and Mail on April 29th: Irwin Cotler, a former Canadian justice minister and an expert on international law, attributes the legal approach regarding these issues (Israel and the settlements) to the US president.

“Obama is a rule-of-law president,” Mr. Cotler said, noting that the president, a former constitutional law professor, also has emphasized other legal issues such as torture and the Guantanamo detention centre in his agenda.

When it comes to Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the issue that has most clouded Israel’s relations with the United States, it’s the first time they’ve been viewed primarily through a legal prism, he noted.

“Past US administrations viewed the settlements as ‘ill-advised’ or as ‘obstacles to peace,’ but not usually as illegal. But Obama sees them as illegal,” Mr. Cotler said. “The rule of law is Obama’s organizing idiom, the way in which he frames the issues. If that is how the US president frames the issues, then Israel would be well-advised to do the same.” And Mr. Cotler likes the rule of law.

And then there is Louise Arbour, now president of the International Crisis Group (ICG) Commenting on the Israeli attack on the aid flotilla, the ICG issued a statement that all countries are to blame who hold to the same morally bankrupt view: isolating Hamas while promoting the West Bank. This only injures the people of Gaza. It is reprehensible, they stated, and doomed to fail.

Joan Montgomerie, an editor of Peace, lives in Toronto.

Peace Magazine Jul-Sep 2010

Peace Magazine Jul-Sep 2010, page 25. Some rights reserved.

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