European Jews Have Failed Their Duty

By not talking out about the diplomatic dangers of our occupation policies, European Jewish communities have done Israel a great disservice.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

The government is frantically grasping at straws to avert the European Union's decision that the West Bank and East Jerusalem must be recognized as occupied territories, rather than part of sovereign Israel, in every new agreement it signs with Israel. The only question that still remains is why anyone was even surprised.

There was no shortage of warning signs about the EU's growing frustration at Israel's intransigence on the occupation issue, while the anti-settlement policy of all the significant EU members has been clear for years. If anything, the government could consider itself lucky that Brussels held off from taking such a move for so long. It doesn't matter where you stand on the new EU guidelines – whether you regard them as yet more proof of Europe's incorrigible anti-Semitism and deep hostility to the Jewish state or a long overdue decision by friendly nations hoping to convince Israel that it is harming itself by continuing to defy the international consensus against the occupation - the latest development is simply a logical conclusion based on an objective reading of the situation and the EU's long-held positions.

So who is to blame for the collapse of Israeli assumptions that the occupation could continue forever without any significant sanction from Israel's strategic allies and main economic partners? The list of culprits is long, starting with the senior ministers who blithely denied there was any imperative to restart the peace process with the Palestinians. They are followed by the demoralized Foreign Ministry professional diplomats who failed to sound the warning bells loud enough and of course by the Israeli media (with the exception of this newspaper) which lulled Israelis into a false sense of security that they could continue living in their comfortable bubbles perpetually. But there are also other accomplices.

The three largest and most influential Jewish communities in Europe are also those of the members with the most say in the EU's foreign policy: France, Britain and Germany. Leaders of all three communities are well-connected in the upper echelons of their governments. Surely they were aware that the day would come when Europe would no longer be content with empty protests against the settlers, while signing yet more unconditional cooperation agreements with Israel, and would lay down a green-red line?

Three years ago, Mick Davis, then-chairman of the United Jewish Israel Appeal, Britain's main Jewish fundraising organization, sent shockwaves through the local community when he warned at an open meeting in London that Israel risked becoming an apartheid state if it did not act resolutely to end its rule over the Palestinians. What was particularly shocking about Davis' words was not their content - centrist Israeli politicians such as Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni have made similar assessments in the past – but the fact that a mainstream communal leader outside Israel was prepared to air such fears in public.

But it was a one-off. We have not heard similar warnings from any senior figure in European Jewry - just blanket expressions of support for Israel, occasionally accompanied by bland and meaningless endorsements of the two-state solution. Instead of sounding the alarm bells, they preferred to lend their voices to the choir that muffled all warnings.

No-one could accuse these communities of lacking in their devotion to Israel. They tirelessly raise tens of millions of Euros annually; their members regularly flock to Israel for their vacations and are not ashamed to voice their undying support, despite often being accused of dual loyalties (as if British or French Jews cannot be considered loyal citizens while loving their ancestral homeland.) So why have they let Israel down so dismally and so consistently over this issue? I know that some have tried to make their concerns known in private to Israeli leaders, but surely they noticed that for the past four years we have had a right-wing government with no interest in listening to any dissenting opinions?

The only way they could have had some influence was to speak out in public, both within their own communities and to Israel's citizens. They were best placed to counter the self-confident assurances of Israeli politicians that we have nothing to worry about, as long as our technology and other exports are in demand around the world. Had they spoken out loudly and repeated the truth often enough, they could have had some influence; but they missed their opportunity.

Of course, some European Jewish leaders agree with the right-wing in Israel and do not believe in ending the occupation (or, indeed, that there is an occupation.) They can only be accused of misleading their constituents and the Israeli public as to the true political situation in Europe. But, as polls have shown, the majorities in these communities are not right-wing and neither is most of their leadership. They represent a wide range of political views in their own countries, nearly all of them shunning the far-right (though there are worrying symptoms of a greater tolerance of the National Front among French Jews) and largely identifying with progressive and liberal values.

These European Jews have let Israel down in double measure. Not only did they fail to warn of the EU guidelines, which may or may not cause significant damage to Israel's economy and foreign-relations, but their continuing failure to provide critical support - to point out that the ongoing policies in the West Bank are immoral, antithetical to Jewish values and disastrous for Israeli society - they acquiesced in the immorality.

Just as European Jews should never allow others to accuse them of disloyalty for supporting Israel, they should not feel that honest criticism of Israel is in any way disloyal. If they feel that as Jews they have a duty to Israel's future then they have failed in that duty.

A stop sign outside the West Bank settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim.Credit: Reuters



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