Joe Roberts

The resignation of an ambassador and the politics of choice

It’s not often that the resignation of an ambassador makes headlines, but the public announcement at the close of Shabbat that Dr. Ronen Hoffman was resigning from his post as Israeli Ambassador to Canada has sent shockwaves through the Canadian Jewish community — and the halls of power in Ottawa. We should all take notice.

The announcement via Twitter the same night that Jewish Canadians took to the streets of Toronto in solidarity with hundreds of thousands of Israelis standing in defense of democracy in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa felt symbolic. His words, that his “personal and professional integrity” compelled him to make the decision to resign due to the new government and new policy, rang loud and clear.

Dr. Hoffman’s resignation is an act of true patriot love that should be celebrated.

Many Jewish Canadians have been troubled by the actions of Israel’s new governing coalition and the dangerous agenda it is hellbent on pursuing in the face of public outcry. We have watched with growing alarm as the government has taken steps to undermine democratic institutions and crossed red lines that just a year ago would have been unimaginable. We have witnessed the rise of extremist elements within the highest levels of government, and the growing influence of zealots who seek to impose a narrow worldview on all of Israeli society.

Dr. Hoffman has served his country with distinction during his tenure as Ambassador, and his dedication to the State of Israel is undeniable. His resignation was a choice, and one that cannot have been easy. The French philosopher Albert Camus said, “life is a sum of all our choices.” Dr. Hoffman’s choice is one of courage, of principle, and indeed, one of patriotism. Our Jewish institutions and the government that represents us have choices to make at this moment too — how they respond is critical.

Choices made in the face of incredible pressures on our beliefs are never easy to make, but they are often the most important. “Choice has been granted to every person… This concept is a fundamental principle and a pillar of the Torah and its commandments” (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance 5:1) And although G-d has granted us free choice, making the right one is often hard.

As red lines get crossed, new ones must be drawn. This is what this moment of crisis calls for. As Jewish Canadians, we must compel our institutions and government to embody the same integrity as Dr. Hoffman. We must do this, not out of disdain or to malign Israel, but precisely because we love it. Our belief in Zionism demands it.

Our Jewish institutions must face the dismantling of Israeli democracy with the same fierce urgency they had for the creation of it. Canadian Jewry played a vital role in building the Jewish State, now it is incumbent on us to stand in its defense. The nefesh of Israel is on the line — communal organizations must speak out with a clear voice and avoid the pitfalls of a “there are good people on both sides” perspective. It’s a losing position, and one that will deepen rifts in our community.

When faced with allies steering recklessly towards authoritarianism, clear lines in the sand must be drawn by our government. We may not get to pick the outcomes of elections, but we do get to choose who we engage with and how Canadian values are reflected in those engagements. Committing not to build bilateral relationships with extremist elements in Israel’s governing coalition, whose actions are antithetical to the shared beliefs between our two nations, is Canadian values made manifest. It is the right choice, even if it isn’t the easy one.

There are fears within the Jewish community that these actions could stoke the flames of antisemitism, and they are justifiable. The enemies of Israel will take any opportunity to exploit division. But if Zionists raising these concerns as an act of love is a hand grenade, silence in the face of convicted supporters of terrorism serving in the government is an atomic bomb. Not addressing it, and saying this isn’t what defines Israel, is more ammunition for antisemites than if all of global Jewry spoke out together.

The good news is, it is not too late. The choices we make now can change the course of history. We must follow Dr. Hoffman’s lead, inspired by his courage, and make the choice to stand for our personal integrity. It won’t be easy, and the voices in dissent will be loud — but it is the right choice to make.

About the Author
Joe Roberts is a foreign policy analyst with a focus on MENA, a veteran political strategist in both the US and Canada, Board Chair of JSpaceCanada—the pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy voice of Canadian Jewry, and Chair of Meretz Canada. Roberts spent 10 years in executive positions in the Jewish Federation system across North America. He has completed studies at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, London School of Economics and Political Science, and the Harvard Kennedy School.
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