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What is the controversy over the J Street lobby and the new European J Call group about?

The controversy is not about questions of peace or land. These are legitimate political differences of opinion. The controversy is about the means used to pursue the ends: Calling for interference of foreign governments against Israel, and, in effect, calling for an end to the independent self-governance of the Jewish people, the heart of Zionism. The approach of J Street and J Call is inherently anti-Zionist.

The core belief of Zionism is that Jews must be a free people in our own land. In principle, it means that Jews alone are ultimately responsible for our destiny, and do not submit our governance and affairs to the whims of foreign governments. In practice, every country must have allies. Israel in particular, a small and relatively weak state, depends on the support of large foreign powers for survival. For 2000 years, the Jewish people were the passive objects of history. For the first time in two millennia, we are now also active subjects in making our own history. Israeli independence is a tender plant, 62 years young. No consideration of policy or partisan politics can be more important than maintaining the independence of the Jewish state. To be sure, guarding that independence must always be balanced against the grim realities of international geopolitics and great power rivalries. Geopolitical decisions are rarely based on sentiment or morality. They reflect the most cynical and self-serving calculations. But it is surely incorrect in principle for would-be "friends of Israel" to try to aid the forces that seek to undermine Israeli independence, on the excuse that it is "for the good of Israel."

Europe and the U.S. are vying to gain Arab support by wresting land concessions from Israel. Within Israel and the Zionist movement there has been an ongoing debate between several camps. The camp that wants an end to the occupation at any price was never really in power. They are marginal in Israeli society. Sincere attempts to make peace, supported by most Israelis, failed in the past. We learned that while peace is still a desirable goal, it must be approached with caution. For the most part, the "al-Aqsa Intifada" violence initiated by the Palestinians in 2000, and their refusal to even consider seriously the terms offered by Israel or the U.S. bridging proposals, destroyed the real Israeli and Jewish peace camp. The real peace camp are those who want to trade territories for peace. Today the banners of "peace" among Jews are increasingly raised by those who are interested in Israeli withdrawal regardless of the security consequences or the prospects for lasting peace. But a small minority of genuine peace supporters did not understand the lesson of the "al-Aqsa Intifada." They still want to end the occupation at any price, and are willing to go to great lengths to achieve their goal.

There is also a fourth camp in the Jewish community, larger proportionately in Europe than in North America. It is the camp of the anti-Zionists. They look on the entire enterprise of Zionism like the evil son at the Passover Seder table, who asks, "What is all this work to you?" For them, self-government of the Jewish people is anathema, and must be ended at all costs. They will be willing allies in any initiative to end Jewish self-government.

The way is open, and must remain open, for any Zionists to voice their opinion and exercise their influence within the Zionist movement. A counter J call movement has called for an intra-Jewish European dialog in place of the J call appeal to the European Union. Who can fault this approach? For that matter, nobody stopped the "J People" of J Street and J Call from buying the Zionist Shekel and participating in the Zionist movement. If they represent a majority of their communities as they claim, they would have great influence. Nobody stops them from settling the Negev and the Galilee and making themselves indispensable to the Zionist movement and to Israeli national life, as Labor Zionism once was. They don't want other Jews to settle in Jerusalem, but they themselves will not settle in Arad or Afula. On the pretense of support for Israel, these groups chose instead to circumvent the Zionist movement as well as the Israeli government, and have appealed to "higher powers."

Having failed to gain power by democratic means within the Zionist movement, the dissidents decided to enlist the help of first the American, and now the European, governments. They have gotten an unknown degree of support from anti-Zionist Jews and non-Jews. For anti-Zionists, any pressure on Israel is good pressure. The European J Call movement told the EU parliament:

It is essential therefore that the European Union, along with the United States, 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.

Indeed European "responsibility" is special. History teaches us that almost every time European governments interfered in the fate of the Jewish people, the results were not good for the Jews. It is not necessary or tactful to dwell too long on European responsibility, or rather culpability. The Europeans are experts at calling conferences on the solution of the Jewish problem. From the admittedly subjective point of view of the Jewish people, however, the St. James Conference, the Evian Conference and the Wannsee conference cannot be said to have had positive outcomes. What sort of Jew would want to put the fate of the Jewish people in the hands of European powers again? (see also here).

There is a case to be made that America is pro-Israel and that it has been reticent until recently about criticizing the occupation. It can be argued that perhaps an American Jewish voice that shows more "flexibility" will help inspire confidence in the peace process. That is certainly not true of European governments or of European Jews. While the United States has often, but not always, been fair to the Jews, the same can hardly be said of Europe, either in history or at present. In Europe, J Call adds its voice to that of Jenny Tonge and Jacqueline Rose, to Mr. Galloway and the people who chant "Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas." There is already a BRICUP organization and several others that support boycotts of Israel. There are already European boycotts of settlement products. European anti-Zionist Jews, many of whom spearhead the anti-Israel movement, can well ask, "Mah od tevakshi me itanui mechorah ve'eyn adayin?" "What more can you ask of us O homeland, that is not yet present?" What sort of anti-Israel activities can the J people of J Call add, other than calling for European military intervention in favor of the Palestinians and legitimization of Hamas?

It is not relevant that the J Call founders deny that they want Europeans to put greater pressure on Israel. We can hardly imagine a Palestinian Arab group that wanted foreign governments to put equal pressure on Israel and the Palestinians to make peace and grant concessions, It is equally preposterous that there is a Jewish and supposedly pro-Israel group that announces that it is "fair:" It has the same relation to the PLO as to Israel and wants pressure exerted on both.

As citizens of Europe or the United States, of course the J people are entitled to voice their views to their governments. That is not the same thing as advocating an anti-Israel policy in the name of the Jewish people (or is it the "J people?) or the Jewish community.

J Call and J Street will tell you that they are concerned that there must be a Jewish majority in Israel in order to preserve its Jewish character. That is a necessary condition, but not a sufficient one. A Jewish majority is not enough to realize Jewish self-determination. The Russian Pale of Settlement and the Warsaw Ghetto had a Jewish majority too. An Israel saddled with an Iranian controlled Hamas state as a neighbor will not have a great chance of survival. The point of having a Jewish majority is to leave the Jewish people in control of our own destiny. A "Jewish state" that has surrendered its independence to the European Union and the United States is no longer a Jewish state.

Anyone, of course, is entitled to voice their opinion about Israel and Middle East policy as citizens of their own countries. J Call and J Street, however, do not claim only to be citizens of their countries. They claim that they are family: part of the Jewish people. If you have a quarrel with your family, settle it in your living room or around the dinner table. Don't bring it to the United States congress or the European Parliament!

What happens when outside powers are called in to settle a "family" dispute? We have an important example. The Hasmonean kings Hyrcanus and Aristobolus quarreled over the kingdom. They invited their great ally, Rome, the only superpower in the ancient world, with whom they had an unbreakable bond, to decide between them. In 63 BC Pompeius Magnus sacked Jerusalem and installed Hyrcanus as high priest. The Jewish kingdom lingered on for another 130 years, but Jewish independence was dead. The rump kingdom probably had a Jewish majority, but so what?

Ami Isseroff

Original content is Copyright by the author 2010. Posted at ZioNation-Zionism and Israel Web Log, http://www.zionism-israel.com/log/archives/00000734.html where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Disributed by ZNN list. Subscribe by sending a message to ZNN-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by e-mail with this notice, cite this article and link to it. Other uses by permission only.

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Replies: 4 Comments

Happy Jerusalem Day!

Want to test your knowledge of Jerusalem? Take the quiz:


Jerusalem Center, Wednesday, May 12th

I agree with you in principle.
Many Thanks

tiffany, Monday, May 10th

1. Zionist Jews who disagree with Israeli policy should, as Jews, disagree within the Zionist movement. The J organizations insist that their J People are really the majority of the Jewish people in the Diaspora. If that is so, they can influence Israel and the Zionist movement from within.

What you are asking is like this: "When I am called to fight for my country, I go when I agree. When I disagree, should I go and fight for the enemy?"

Of course, if they are not acting as Jews but as French people or British or Americans, they can do what they want, but then they should not say they are acting as Jews.

2- Israel should present a public peace plan that is modeled on the final Taba offers, modified by lessons learned in the Intifada: A "Jewish Peace Initiative" that is consistent at least with a broad interpretation of the Arab peace initiative.

The plan should be worked out in detail with the participation of Zionists abroad, though not all of the discussion may be public. Participants should include these J people, so we all "own" the plan. Once there is a democratic decision, everyone needs to get behind it.

If it is not possible to make peace, then of course there may be war. But we need to demonstrate to ourselves, to Jews abroad and to the international community, as we did in 1967, that all avenues of peaceful resolution were truly exhausted. If we fight a war, it should be understood that it is a war for survival, and not a war to protect some settlements or impose our government on people in Nablus and Jenin.

Zionism & Israel, Sunday, May 9th

I agree with you in principle, but there are two questions.

1) Often diaspora Jews in the US and Europe act on the behalf of Israel. They write articles and books and create lobbies in order to influence their governments and public opinions on behalf of Israel, especially when it is unfairly pressured or criticized. How should they act, as Jews, when they disagree with Israeli policies?

2) Assuming that peace with the Palestinians is unattainable at present, and assuming that the occupation is harmful to Israel, what should Israel do?

Micha, Sunday, May 9th

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