Saturday, 1 May 2010

Even Israel's biggest lovers are growing impatient

Thankfully, we have lived long enough. For 2,000 years - or at least 43 - we expected to hear this voice from the heights, but it tarried. No one can accuse the 3,000 Jewish intellectuals who signed a letter to be presented to the European Parliament Sunday calling on Israel to cease construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem of being Israel-haters. No one can depict French Jewish philosophers Bernard-Henri Levy or Alain Finkielkraut as self-hating Jews.

These are people who seize every opportunity to defend Israel publicly and remain faithful to it. Even during Operation Cast Lead and after the Goldstone report they were on Israel's side. The State of Israel is the apple of their eye in good times, and especially in bad.

But even their patience is running out and their hearts are filled with sincere concern. They listen to French President Nicolas Sarkozy and hear someone who feels disappointed and betrayed. Sarkozy feels cheated, and he's angry. German Chancellor Angela Merkel's face also reveals anger over the way Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took advantage of her and her goodwill.

In Britain hostility is growing; more and more Israelis are viewed there as personae non gratae. Our official and semi-official representatives are fleeing campuses by the skin of their teeth. A cool Scandinavian breeze is blowing from one end of Europe to another like hot volcanic ash. Even Berlusconi is showing the first signs of Italian impatience.

The signatories to the petition, all of them Shimon's friends, have concluded that they no longer have a choice: Their Israel has no idea where it's living. It doesn't realize how cut off it is from the world, from America, Europe and the Arab countries that have made peace with it, just when it needs them more than ever.

They deliberated, consulted, formulated and reformulated. It's not easy for them. But in the end they decided to stand up and make their statements, to write an unprecedented document. "European Jewish Call for Reason" is its title. They call on the Israeli government to immediately freeze construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in order to "ensure the survival of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state."

They plan to submit this important document to the European Parliament on Sunday. Would Herzl, whom we are now commemorating, have joined the call and the delegation out of concern about the loss of his vision?

As is the way of thinking people, the signatories have finally managed to distinguish between the government of Israel and the State of Israel. Governments come and go, while the state will always be there. That's what we hope, and that's the way we should act, so the state doesn't fall.

Not all people who who flatter Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and Eli Yishai - flatterers who blindly and deafly say "amen" to their policies - truly seek Israel's good. On the contrary, such people could bring great evil upon us and all of Israel. Too much responsibility is sometimes a lack of responsibility. As the signatories state: "Systematic support of Israeli government policy is dangerous and does not serve the true interests of the state of Israel."

Therefore, to paraphrase Amos 5:13, the prudent shall not keep silent at such a time. The signatories are already being attacked. Because they don't live here with us, they don't have the right to interfere in our internal affairs, to criticize an elected government, their detractors will say.

For a moment I was prepared to agree with this argument, if I had not suddenly recalled Elie Wiesel's open letter to the president of the United States last month. Those who applauded Wiesel will now find it hard to excoriate Finkielkraut. And perhaps the open letter from America is what, thankfully, roused the European intellectuals.

Those who refrain from criticizing are not necessarily friends, and even if they are not enemies, they could find themselves standing where outright enemies stand. The 3,000 European Jewish intellectuals therefore are acting out of love.

For Obama, room to maneuver on Israel
His approach upsets pro-Israeli groups, but he retains substantial backing among American Jews overall

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