Opinion

We Cannot Justify Israel’s West Bank Annexation

In an unprecedented letter to Israel’s UK ambassador, prominent British Jews warn that annexation ‘poses an existential threat to the traditions of Zionism in Britain, and to Israel as we know it’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presents annexation plans at a press conference ahead of the second round of Israel's elections, September 10, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

The following letter was sent by leading members of the UK Jewish community to Israel’s Ambassador to the Court of St James’s, Mark Regev:

Dear Mark,

We are writing to convey our concern and alarm at the policy proposal to unilaterally annex areas of the West Bank, as outlined in the coalition agreement of Israel’s new government.

Despite the decades we have invested in strengthening the relationships between Israel, the UK and British Jews and despite the leadership roles many of us have held or still hold, we are writing in a personal capacity. Our concerns are, however, shared by large numbers of the British Jewish community, including many in its current leadership, even if they choose not to express them. As such, we would ask you to convey frankly our unprecedented level of concern to the Government of Israel.

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. Instead, it would in our view be a pyrrhic victory intensifying Israel’s political, diplomatic and economic challenges without yielding any tangible benefit.

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. Numerous former Israeli military and security officials have unequivocally stated that they regard it as a reckless move that would have adverse consequences for Israel’s security and its future as a Jewish democracy. We have no reason to doubt their assessment. 

On the ground, it will be perceived as evidence of Israel’s rejection of negotiated peace and a two-state solution. This threatens to inflame tensions among the Palestinians – whose president has already announced the suspension of agreements with Israel and the U.S. – undermine the Palestinian Authority perhaps fatally, destabilise Israel’s strategically important peace with Jordan and Egypt and undermine the growing cooperation between Israel and the Sunni Arab states while emboldening Iran and its proxies. 

That is not to say we believe a two-state solution can be easily achieved in the short-term. We appreciate the crucial role Palestinian violence, abandonment of negotiations and rejections of offers made by previous Israeli leaders have played. We are not opposed to Israel taking unilateral steps if such steps were to enhance Israel’s security, advance peace and protect Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state. Annexation proposals meet none of those criteria. 

The damage to Israel’s international reputation, however, will be enormous. The British prime minister has, like many European leaders, written to his Israeli counterpart imploring him not to pursue annexation. The UK's Middle East Minister, James Cleverly, has stated that the UK government will oppose it. The British government will come under increasing pressure on this issue and similar reactions can be expected across the European Union, in particular from the governments of Germany and France. 

Annexation would be a shot in the arm for the BDS movement and the delegitimisation of Israel. It will take calls for sanctions against Israel away from the fringes of the far-left and catapult them into the mainstream of the political discourse. 

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, polarising 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.

On many occasions we have been asked to make Israel’s case in the UK. We have always endeavoured to use whatever tools we have at our disposal to nurture a more sympathetic environment for Israel in this country. If asked to make the case for West Bank annexations, however, we will not be able to do so.

Whether it starts with smaller pieces of land – which we will no doubt be asked to point out would likely be part of Israel under the terms of any deal – or large swathes of territory, and whether it is called "annexation" or "extending sovereignty," annexation will make a principled global defence of Israel a near-impossible task.

We therefore ask you to convey our opinion that it is a policy that not only lacks merit, but would pose an existential threat to the traditions of Zionism in Britain, and to Israel as we know it.

Yours sincerely,

Celia Atkin                                                                                           

Lord Jeremy Beecham 

Bill Benjamin                                                   

Luciana Berger                                                            

Laurence Brass

Sir Trevor Chinn                                              

Nicola Cobbold                                                           

David M. Cohen                                                           

Sir Ronald Cohen                                            

Smadar Karni Cohen

Sir Mick Davis                                                  

Sir Lloyd Dorfman

Dame Vivien Duffield                                      

Dr Arabella Duffield                                        

Lord Daniel Finkelstein                                               

Stephen Grabiner                                           

Richard Harrington

Sir Ben Helfgott MBE

Maurice Helfgott                                                        

Alan Jacobs     

Howard Jacobson                                                                               

Senior Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner               

Anthony Julius                                                

Isaac Kaye                                                       

Steven Kaye                                                    

Dr Edward Kessler                                          

Douglas Krikler                                                            

James Libson                                                   

Laura Marks OBE                                            

Lord Jon Mendelsohn                                     

Lord Parry Mitchell

Baroness Julia Neuberger                               

Martin Paisner CBE

Sir Malcolm Rifkind                                         

Sir Simon Schama                                           

Simon Sebag-Montefiore                               

Clive Sheldon QC                                            

Sir Harry Solomon                                           

Vivian Wineman

Lord Robert Winston                                                              

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg                            

Marc Worth