Letter from a Canadian Jewish friend to Gantz & Ashkenazi

More than a question of land
More than a question of Land. Photo by B. Rubin

Dear Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi,

I write this urgent letter as a Canadian Jewish friend, to explain and remind you that the annexation proposed by Bibi Netanyahu, arising out of President Trump’s “Deal of the Century” plan, would be a disaster from the point of view of North American Jews.

I am not qualified to comment on the costs and benefits of Annexation from the point of view of the half of the Jewish people who live in Israel – the impact on relations with the Palestinians, neighboring Arab countries, with Europe and the rest of the world – of which you are aware.

But what you may NOT be aware of, and what I, as a strongly Zionist Diaspora Jew AM qualified to warn you of, is the disastrous consequences Annexation would have on the other half of the Jewish people – those who live outside of Israel and a particular who live in Canada and USA.

I am typical of most North American Jews, being born here from parents and grandparents who arrived from Eastern Europe.  But I am in many ways far MORE committed and connected to Israel than most North American Jews. I lived in Israel for four years, my Canadian-born children have 20 first cousins living in Israel, I am fluent in Hebrew, I travel to Israel every year. And yet even I, a strongly supportive and committed Diaspora Jew, could not support Israel’s case for annexation in the face of what will be enormous negative reaction here in North America, among everyone who matters to me, including Jewish friends and family.

Annexation’s disastrous effect on Israel’s hasbara will further a dangerous process of division and alienation between North American Jews and their Israel cousins, which has already reached disturbing levels.

Many Israeli Jews see President Trump as a strong supporter of Israel, having recognized Jerusalem as its capital, accepted Israel’s annexation of the Golan, and being strongly opposed to Iran, and therefore are willing to overlook Trump’s personality, disastrous domestic administration of the USA and America’s decline.

By contrast, the overwhelming majority of American Jews are so horrified by Trump’s personality, disastrous domestic administration of the USA and America’s decline, that they are willing to overlook Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem and of the Golan, and his opposition to Iran (even if they might have been in favor of those “pro-Israel” policies if taken by a leader that they could support).

As Yossi Klein HaLevi of the Hartman Institute points out, this division arises from the two different aspects of the Jewish tradition that are adopted by Israeli Jews vs. Diaspora Jews.

Israeli Jews, for perfectly valid reasons, given the dangerous Middle Eastern environment in which they live, take a “Tribal” approach to their Jewish heritage, prioritizing national interests in the face of external threats.

By contrast, North American Jews, being a privileged minority living in a liberal multicultural society, downplay the nationalist aspect of their Jewish heritage and emphasize the “Universalist” aspects of the Jewish tradition – concern for the stranger and oppressed, “because we were once slaves in Egypt”, tikkun olam and a liberal world view common to the elite social strata in which most educated North American Jews live.

Given this, the overwhelming majority of Diaspora Jews will find it extremely difficult to support Israel’s annexation. This will accelerate a trend of Diaspora Jews turning away from Israel in general, both because it is so difficult for them on a personal political and social level, and also because they sincerely do not agree with the direction that Israel is taking.

The majority of North American Jews, whose loyal support of Israel has been critical, both for Jewish solidarity, and by lobbying the Canadian and US governments to support Israel on a consensus all-party basis, will be in a quandary.  Annexation may prove to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, furthering the dangerously growing divide between Israel and North American Jews.

Therefore, in addition to all the other reasons why you might take a decisive stand against annexation, I urge you to consider the dangerous impact such a step would have on the half of the Jewish people who live outside of Israel and whose support and connection is of strategic and long term national importance to the Jewish people.

About the Author
Benjamin Rubin, a Toronto lawyer, was Chair of Limmud Toronto 2018, elected to Zionist Congress, and VP of Canada-Israel Chamber of Commerce. Under his pen name eBenBrandeis, he composes YouTube poems, translated from Hebrew a pre-war Pinsk biography, edited and published a book of contemporary Jewish humour, and created NewHouseOfIsrael.net, a Zionist conceptual art project. Lived in Israel four years. Loves Israeli music and Spain’s Golden Age Hebrew poets. His play, Golden Age Travel, was performed in Toronto in January 2020.
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