The following is part of an article by Claude Kandiyoti, the Brussels-based publisher of Contact J, a monthly of the Belgian Jewish community, published in Haaretz, October 3:
… Last July, I interviewed Louis Michel for the Belgian Jewish monthly Contact J. … Michel, a leader of the Liberal Party, is a highly regarded statesman, a former Belgian foreign minister and the current European commissioner for development and humanitarian aid. We talked about human rights in the Palestinian territories. Michel claimed that the Israeli government shows no understanding of the matter and tramples the basic rights of the Palestinians.
After a long tirade against Israeli actions in the West Bank, he burst into a passionate plea against what he saw as an intolerable mixing up by many Jews between legitimate criticism of a government and an assault against the very existence and legitimacy of the people and state this government represents: “I am a victim of this confusion, in the way I am accused of anti-Semitism each time I speak out against Israel’s policies. I always was, I still am and I’ll always be a genuine friend of Israel and of the Jewish community of my country, but I can no longer tolerate being insulted by members of the community.” …
The Belgian political class does not understand the sensitivity of the Jewish community, which tends to see verbal attacks against “their” state as an avatar of the old threats, rooted in old prejudice, against their people. The Jews often do not grasp the difference between criticism of a sovereign state whose policies might be considered problematic – and sheer anti-Semitism. In this gap of perceptions lies the problem.
This is not only a Belgian problem, not even a solely Jewish problem. In the whole of Europe, the strong national ethos has given way to an array of antagonistic communal feelings and demands. It feels as if the effort to create a set of values shared by all has vanished, only to be overcome by particular identities fighting each other for mutually exclusive recognition and respect.
What is to be done? To be sure, putting an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be helpful. In the meantime, one should negotiate red lines compatible with a democratic way of life.
We Jews need to be more prepared to accept criticism in line with what Israelis themselves direct toward their own regime. But by the same token, Europeans should be careful not to confuse Israel with the Jewish citizens of Europe. Nor should they confuse criticism with xenophobia, and must distinguish between rejection of the ephemeral policies of an elected Israeli government and an attempt to deny Jews the freedom to their own state. It is not okay to deny Jews the human rights to which every people is entitled; it is okay to debate achieving a solution that will restore and preserve the human rights of both Palestinians and Israelis. These should be the red lines of the public discourse.