Friday, April 23, 2010

J Street à la française

The French blogger Gilles Paris recently posted a story on his Le Monde blog about the formation of a J Street-inspired organization in Europe. With little familiarity with the nature of lobbying in the EU, it is difficult to me to judge how this will all work in practice, or how it will compare with J Street's efforts to rival AIPAC for influence in Washington. But the organization's leaders, the French celebrity philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy and the Franco-German politician, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, have planned a start-up meeting in Brussels in May. The focus is thus squarely trained on influencing EU foreign policy with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Just guessing, again, but BHL's influence seems stronger on the national level -- he was Chirac's special envoy to Afghanistan -- while Cohn-Bendit is a truly European figure. It was "Danny the Red," after all, who in 1968 heckled the French sport minister beside a Nanterre pool with the charge, "That's what the Hitler Youth used to say!"

What's this organization about? For one, stemming the flow of delegitimation of the state of Israel in European political discourse. Well, that doesn't deserve to be scoffed at, which is particularly clear if you read the comments on the Le Monde blog post. But I find this part of their charter most interesting:

"Si la décision ultime appartient au peuple souverain d’Israël, la solidarité des Juifs de la Diaspora leur impose d’œuvrer pour que cette décision soit la bonne. L’alignement systématique sur la politique du gouvernement israélien est dangereux car il va à l’encontre des intérêts véritables de l’État d’Israël."

"While the ultimate decision belongs to the sovereign people of Israel, the solidarity of Diaspora Jews pushes them to work to find a good solution. The systematic alignment [of Diaspora Jews] with the policy of the Israeli government is dangerous, since it runs the risk of going against the true interests of the State of Israel."

Many will find the presumption of BHL and Cohn-Bendit to know "what's best for Israel" sickening. But I think the question of the alignment of interests is a serious one. It's also at stake in Amos's criticism of Roger Cohen's NYT column today (see below). Cohen's point there is that old one about a disconnect between the way Israelis see things, chiefly their security threats, and the way other stakeholders do, namely, the Americans, and implicitly, Diaspora Jews, and so on. I doubt that BHL and Cohn-Bendit can "disalign" mainline European Jewish organizations from official Israeli policy positions. Europe isn't fertile ground for another J Street.

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