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As Fighting Goes On, European Jews Worry About Waning Support for Israel

July 24, 2006
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European Jewish officials are warning the Israeli government that public opinion in their home countries is threatening to turn Europe’s governments against Israel’s military operations in Lebanon. In meetings here Sunday with Israel’s defense and foreign ministers, European Jewish leaders urged the Israeli government to launch a full-court press in European capitals to maintain continued international support for Israel’s campaign to rout Hezbollah. Media reports of mounting Lebanese casualties, photographs of the devastation and mass demonstrations on the Continent threaten to undermine that support, they said.

“It is not something that we are used to, where Israel and the international community see a situation the same way,” said Israel’s foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, in a meeting with European Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. “For the first time, the G-8 and the European Union made statements saying the cause of the conflict is Hezbollah and the goal is to dismantle Hezbollah.”

Serge Cwajgenbaum, the secretary-general of the European Jewish Congress, which organized the trip to Israel, said, “The question is how long public opinion will continue to accept this.”

The delegation is led by Israel Singer, chairman of the Policy Council of the World Jewish Congress, and Pierre Beisnainou, president of the European Jewish Congress, which is part of the WJC.

In most European countries, the governments are supportive of Israel’s current action against Hezbollah but the people are mostly opposed, the European Jews said.

For example, German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed strong support for Israel’s operation in Lebanon at the recent G-8 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, saying, “We do not want to let terrorist forces and those who support them have the opportunity to create chaos in the Middle East. Therefore we place value on clearly identifying the cause and effect of events.”

But in Germany, noted Stephan Kramer, secretary-general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, “There is a lot of resentment against the Israeli position in the German public.”

There have been numerous demonstrations in European cities against Israel’s bombardment in Lebanon. Many of them were organized by Muslim groups, the Europeans said.

“Public opinion, because of the media, because of the pictures in the paper, is maybe reacting emotionally. We hope it will not affect drastically the status quo,” Cwajgenbaum said. “Our concern is to explain to public opinion that Israel wants to live in peace with Lebanon, that it has no intention to occupy one inch of Lebanese territory.”

The Jewish leaders, who also were scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and visit Haifa, urged Livni to take Israel’s case to Europe’s capitals. The foreign minister demurred, saying Shimon Peres would go in her place and she would stay in Israel to meet the foreign leaders visiting the Jewish state.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to arrive in the region this week.

As part of European Jewish efforts to preserve support for the cause of destroying Hezbollah, some European Jewish communities, like that of Ukraine, are sponsoring journalists’ trips to Israel to present them with Israel’s case.

Rabbi Yakov Dov Bleich, one of Ukraine’s chief rabbis, said most Ukrainians have no opinion about the conflict, because they don’t really pay much attention to the Middle East.

To capture Russian public opinion, said Sol Bukingolts, executive vice president of the Russian Jewish Congress, it is important that Israel stress that it is fighting a war against terrorists, much like Russia is fighting Islamic terrorists in Chechnya. A pro-Israel rally of 10,000 people is planned in Moscow for Aug. 9, he said.

Along with European Jewish leaders from Greece to Sweden, the group from the European Jewish Congress included non-Jewish lawmakers from France, Ukraine and The Netherlands.

“We will support you because it’s crystal clear that you need to act,” said Dutch lawmaker Hans van Baalen, of the Liberal Party, told Livni on Sunday. “You don’t have an option.”

French legislator Rudy Salles, who is president of the French National Assembly’s France-Israel Friendship Group, said the close relationship between Lebanon and France makes generating support for Israel in his country particularly difficult. He noted that French policy toward Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War has been “not very objective, not very friendly.”

French Jewish leaders said they are monitoring closely whether Israel’s current conflict with Lebanon stirs up anti-Semitic activity, as the intifada did several years ago. So far, they said, the situation is stable.

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