LONDON: Some of the most respected members of the UK’s Jewish community have written to Israel’s ambassador in London to condemn “alarming” plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank and Jordan Valley.
The letter to Mark Regev, signed by 40 people including politicians, academics, scientists and writers, called the move “alarming,” saying it would be a “pyrrhic victory intensifying Israel’s political, diplomatic and economic challenges without yielding any tangible benefit.”
The signatories include former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, historians Sir Simon Schama and Simon Sebag Montefiore, scientist Lord Robert Winston, former Labour MP Luciana Berger, Lord Daniel Finkelstein, a columnist at The Times newspaper, the author Howard Jacobson, and Sir Ben Helfgott, one of the UK’s best-known Holocaust survivors.
“We are yet to see an argument that convinces us, committed Zionists and passionately outspoken friends of Israel, that the proposed annexation is a constructive step,” they said. “It would have grave consequences for the Palestinian people most obviously. Israel’s international standing would also suffer and it is incompatible with the notion of Israel as both a Jewish and democratic state.”
The letter continued: “The impact on diaspora Jewry and its relationship with the state of Israel would also be profound. The British Jewish community is an overwhelmingly Zionist community with a passionate commitment to Israel. We proudly advocate for Israel but have been helped in doing so by Israel’s status as a liberal democracy, defending itself as necessary but committed to maintaining both its Jewish and democratic status.
“A policy of annexation would call that into question, polarizing Jewish communities and increasing the divisive toxicity of debate within them, but also alienating large numbers of diaspora Jews from engaging with Israel at all. Under these circumstances, the commitment to Israel that has been such a vital glue in sustaining and uniting Jewish communities, as well an asset for Israel, will decline.”
The letter was welcomed by Tal Ofer, a member of the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD), who has previously spoken out about the annexation, and was one of 33 signatories of a letter to the board by various deputies in May, calling for it to denounce the plan. The BoD rejected the demands, saying: “We don’t take sides in Israeli politics.”
But Ofer said that this latest letter, from such a prominent set of respected supporters of Israel, might force a rethink.
“I think this intervention is unprecedented and a game-changer in the Jewish community, especially as many of the signatories do not usually sign letters,” he told Arab News. “These are some of Israel’s strongest supporters in the community, including the former president of the BoD, Vivian Wineman.
“The BoD, which is the democratically elected representative of the community, needs to reflect the mainstream view of the community, which supports the two-state solution and opposes annexation.”
Others also applauded the intervention.
A spokesperson from the campaign organization Na’amod: British Jews Against Occupation said the group welcomed “communal leaders speaking out” against the annexation, but added that the letter should have made more effort to refer to the impact that annexation would have on Palestinians.
“After 53 years of occupation, it is time for our community to go beyond condemnation and set out consequences if annexation goes ahead,” the spokesperson told Arab News. “We are calling for action, such as an end to our community’s informal relationship with Israeli officials, and are proud to have mobilized hundreds of British Jews from across communal life in support of this cause.”
Ofer, though, highlighted that the letter would make it harder for people, governments and organizations to stay silent, even if they held an affinity with Israel.
“Regarding the consequences, there will have to be a reaction from the international community,” he said. “There could be some sanctions or some form of diplomatic isolation. Also it would mean many in the Jewish community won’t be able to defend Israel’s annexation, and will feel detached from Israel.”
Tel Aviv’s plan to formally annex parts of the Occupied Territories, proposed by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and agreed to by his coalition government partner Benny Gantz, has been condemned by many members of the international community, and has caused serious political backlash in the UK.
In May 130 politicians, including peers and former government ministers from across the political spectrum, signed a letter to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, urging him to impose economic sanctions on Israel if it pressed ahead with the annexation.