Senior British Jews condemn Israel’s ‘alarming’ West Bank annexation plan

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. (AFP/Reuters)
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Updated 06 June 2020

Senior British Jews condemn Israel’s ‘alarming’ West Bank annexation plan

  • Academics and Holocaust survivor among critical voices
  • Intervention hailed as Jewish community ‘game-changer’

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.


Biden’s transition gets green light as Trump at last relents

Updated 24 November 2020

Biden’s transition gets green light as Trump at last relents

  • Trump tweeted that he was directing his team to cooperate on the transition

WASHINGTON: The federal government recognized President-elect Joe Biden as the “apparent winner” of the Nov. 3 election on Monday, formally starting the transition of power after President Donald Trump spent weeks testing the boundaries of American democracy. He relented after suffering yet more legal and procedural defeats in his seemingly futile effort to overturn the election with baseless claims of fraud.
Trump still refused to concede and vowed to continue to fight in court after General Services Administrator Emily Murphy gave the green light for Biden to coordinate with federal agencies ahead of his Jan. 20 inauguration. But Trump did tweet that he was directing his team to cooperate on the transition.
Monday’s fast-moving series of events seemed to let much of the air out of Trump’s frantic efforts to undermine the will of the people in what has amounted to a weekslong stress test for American democracy. But Trump’s attempts to foment a crisis of confidence in the political system and the fairness of US elections haven’t ended and are likely to persist well beyond his lame-duck presidency.
Murphy, explaining her decision, cited “recent developments involving legal challenges and certifications of election results.”
She acted after Michigan on Monday certified Biden’s victory in the battleground state, and a federal judge in Pennsylvania tossed a Trump campaign lawsuit on Saturday seeking to prevent certification in that state.
It also comes as an increasing number of Republicans were publicly acknowledging Biden’s victory, after weeks of tolerating Trump’s baseless claims of fraud. The president had grown increasingly frustrated with the flailing tactics of his legal team.
“With Michigan’s certifying (its) results, Joe Biden has over 270 electoral college votes,” tweeted Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy. “President Trump’s legal team has not presented evidence of the massive fraud which would have had to be present to overturn the election. I voted for President Trump but Joe Biden won.”
Yohannes Abraham, executive director of the Biden transition, said in a statement that the decision “is a needed step to begin tackling the challenges facing our nation, including getting the pandemic under control and our economy back on track.”
He added: “In the days ahead, transition officials will begin meeting with federal officials to discuss the pandemic response, have a full accounting of our national security interests, and gain complete understanding of the Trump administration’s efforts to hollow out government agencies.”
Murphy, a Trump appointee, has faced bipartisan criticism for failing to begin the transition process sooner, preventing Biden’s team from working with career agency officials on plans for his administration. The delay denied Biden access to receive highly classified national security briefings and hindered his team’s ability to begin drawing up its own plans to respond to the raging coronavirus pandemic.
Murphy insisted she acted on her own.
“Please know that I came to my decision independently, based on the law and available facts. I was never directly or indirectly pressured by any Executive Branch official— including those who work at the White House or GSA— with regard to the substance or timing of my decision,” she wrote in a letter to Biden.
Trump tweeted moments after Murphy’s decision: “We will keep up the good fight and I believe we will prevail! Nevertheless, in the best interest of our Country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same.”
Max Stier, president and CEO of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, criticized the delay but said Biden’s team would be able to overcome it.
“Unfortunately, every day lost to the delayed ascertainment was a missed opportunity for the outgoing administration to help President-elect Joe Biden prepare to meet our country’s greatest challenges,” he said. “The good news is that the president-elect and his team are the most prepared and best equipped of any incoming administration in recent memory.”
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said the GSA action “is probably the closest thing to a concession that President Trump could issue.″ Noting that the nation “faces multiple crises that demand an orderly transition,″ Schumer urged Democrats and Republicans to “unite together for a smooth and peaceful transition that will benefit America.″
Murphy’s action came just 90 minutes after Michigan election officials certified Biden’s 154,000-vote victory in the state. The Board of State Canvassers, which has two Republicans and two Democrats, confirmed the results on a 3-0 vote with one GOP abstention. Trump and his allies had hoped to block the vote to allow time for an audit of ballots in Wayne County, where Trump has claimed without evidence that he was the victim of fraud. Biden crushed the president by more than 330,000 votes there.
Under Michigan law, Biden claims all 16 electoral votes. Biden won by 2.8 percentage points — a larger margin than in other states where Trump is contesting the results like Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Some Trump allies had expressed hope that state lawmakers could intervene in selecting Republican electors in states that do not certify. That long-shot bid is no longer possible in Michigan.
“The people of Michigan have spoken. President-elect Biden won the State of Michigan by more than 154,000 votes, and he will be our next president on January 20th,” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, said in a statement, saying it’s “time to put this election behind us.”
The Trump legal team dismissed the certification as “simply a procedural step” and insisted it would continue to mount legal challenges.
Trump’s efforts to stave off the inevitable — formal recognition of his defeat — have faced increasingly stiff resistance from the courts and fellow Republicans with just three weeks to go until the Electoral College meets to certify Biden’s victory. Time and again, Trump’s baseless allegations of widespread conspiracy and fraud have been met with rejection as states move forward with confirming their results.
Trump was increasingly frustrated by his legal team, led by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose erratic public performances drew bipartisan mockery in recent weeks. Still, the legal challenges were expected to continue, as Trump seeks to keep his supporters on his side and keep his options open for opportuntities post-presidency.
In Pennsylvania on Saturday, a conservative Republican judge shot down the Trump campaign’s biggest legal effort in the state with a scathing ruling that questioned why he was supposed to disenfranchise 7 million voters with no evidence to back their claims and an inept legal argument at best.
But the lawyers still hope to block the state’s certification, quickly appealing to the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, which ordered lawyers to file a brief Monday but did not agree to hear oral arguments.
The campaign, in its filings, asked for urgent consideration so it could challenge the state election results before they are certified next month. If not, they will seek to decertify them, the filings said.
Biden won Pennsylvania by more than 80,000 votes.
Pennsylvania county election boards were voting on Monday, the state deadline, about whether to certify election results to the Department of State. The boards in two populous counties split along party lines, with majority Democrats in both places voting to certify. After all counties have sent certified results to Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, she must then tabulate, compute and canvass votes for all races. The law requires her to perform that task quickly but does not set a specific deadline.
In Wisconsin, a recount in the state’s two largest liberal counties moved into its fourth day at a slow pace, with election officials in Milwaukee County complaining that Trump observers were hanging up the process with frequent challenges. Trump’s hope of reversing Biden’s victory there depends on disqualifying thousands of absentee ballots — — including the in-person absentee ballot cast by one of Trump’s own campaign attorneys in Dane County.
___
Associated Press writers Maryclaire Dale in Philadelphia, Jonathan Lemire in New York, Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Christina A. Cassidy in Atlanta and John Flesher in Traverse City, Michigan, contributed to this report.
Summary :
The federal government has recognized President-elect Joe Biden as the “apparent winner” of the Nov. 3 election. That formally starts the transition of power after President Donald Trump has spent weeks testing the boundaries of American democracy. The move came after Trump suffered yet more legal and procedural defeats in his seemingly futile effort to overturn the election with baseless claims of fraud. Trump still has refused to concede the election. But Monday’s fast-moving series of events seems to let much of the air out of Trump’s frantic efforts to undermine the will of the people.