In light of the upcoming Knesset vote on West Bank annexation on July 1, I have been writing for regional and international media outlets on the consequences of annexation in regards to peace and security. However, I believe it is also important to look inward and discuss how Israeli annexation may impact our community as American Jews as well.
In order to understand how annexation may affect our communities and our relationship with Israel, we must first understand what annexation is and what it means for Israel.
To put it simply, annexation means making territory that is not yet officially part of Israel officially part of Israel. Many of those advocating for annexation may refer to it as “declaring” or “extending Israel’s sovereignty”, but, either way, the outcomes are the same.
It is also important to note that there are different forms of annexation. For example, full annexation is where all the Palestinians in the West Bank would be placed under Israeli law, receive Israeli citizenship, and have all the same rights as Israeli Jews have, such as the ability to participate in national elections and access to healthcare. However, another form of annexation would be annexing only certain and large parts of the West Bank where the people residing in the non-annexed areas would not have access to Israeli citizenship or the rights that come with it. The latter option is the form of annexation many within the current Israeli government and the Trump Administration are hoping to implement.
For instance, in the Trump Plan, Israel would potentially annex the Jordan Valley and all the Israeli settlements, which make up roughly 30% of the West Bank. However, that would leave over 2 million Palestinians in disconnected cantons throughout the other 70% of the West Bank without access to Israeli citizenship, even though they would ultimately remain under Israeli sovereignty. This will not only mean the end of Israel’s democratic character, but would also mean the end of what many of us define as Zionism and put many Jews throughout the diaspora in a difficult situation.
Like many American Jews in my generation, I grew up in my local Jewish community in Boston exposed to the idea of Zionism and learned about how the State of Israel plays an important role in our communities. What I learned about Zionism, and greatly appreciated about it, was not just that it entitled us to a national homeland, but also its vision to uphold the values of democracy and equal rights for everyone living within the Jewish state.
It was because I believed Israel found that balance between being a Jewish state and a democracy that I felt compelled to advocate for it when I went off to college. For three years, I was an active participant in our Israel advocacy club at Clark University where I defended Israel against those who I felt were unfairly criticizing the Jewish state, disputed the apartheid analogy, and advocated against the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement. My participation in Israeli advocacy also included one summer where I was a Diamond Summer Intern at AIPAC’s regional branch in Boston.
Although I never agreed with all of Israel’s policies or actions, I still participated in pro-Israel activism because I genuinely believed Israel was pursuing peace with the Palestinians and its neighbors and wanted to preserve its identity as a Jewish and democratic state.
However, annexation fundamentally changes this. By unilaterally claiming significant parts of land outside of the scope of negotiations, Israel’s – and Zionism’s – values, narrative, and future will be shaken to its core. Benjamin Pogrund, who was an ally of Nelson Mandela, spent much of his career disputing the comparison between Israel and apartheid South Africa. However, in a recent interview with the Times of Israel, he emphasized that annexation will give the analogy greater validity:
“The consequences of (annexation) will obviously be extremely grave. Friends of ours in the world will not be able to defend us. Apartheid was the scourge word of the second half of the 20th century…And it was loathed, and the BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement] people have picked up on it, and they are misusing it up until now…They will now be wholly correct in using it as a weapon against us.”
Pogrund’s reflections highlight a new reality that annexation poses not just for the benefit of Israel’s detractors, but also at the demise of its most ardent supporters like myself. I will always have an affinity for Israel and the Jewish story, but it will become harder, if not nearly impossible, for millennial Zionists like myself to continue identifying with these shared values when they are no longer embodied. What this means is that whether on campus, in our communities, or in circles of decision-making, Zionist leaders will face a widening uphill battle to make friends for Israel.
Perhaps in the bigger picture, a focus on the impacts of annexation at our home pales in comparison to the on-the-ground security risks Israel itself faces with annexation.
For the past few years, Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS) – an organization comprising roughly 80% of Israel’s former military generals – have long warned about the security ramifications of annexation. Their latest report has become a must-read for Israel supporters in today’s difficult times.
Although annexation threatens Israeli security on multiple levels ranging from IDF deployments to its regional peace treaties with its neighbors, one security consequence CIS has put special emphasis on is how annexation may lead to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority. According to the Trump Plan, Israel may potentially annex 15 to 19 isolated Israeli settlements within the West Bank. However, by only annexing certain areas of the West Bank, Israel would effectively create hard borders around those isolated enclaves, which would disconnect and prevent the local Palestinian cantons from sustaining a viable economy. The likely result would be the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, which would then lead to an escalation in violence out of the ensuing power vacuums and will thus require drafting tens of thousands of extra IDF reserves to guard the isolated Israeli settlements.
As we can see, annexation would not only jeopardize Israel’s national security and the safety of its citizens, but also its identity and its relationship with American Jews. For me and so many in our community, these two priorities are often meshed into one and the same, empowering us to proudly defend and advocate for the State of Israel. Yet, as millennial Zionists looking to many more years involved in the Jewish experience and leadership, it is precisely because of these values that we must stand up and speak out against annexation in order to preserve the Zionist vision of a Jewish, democratic, and secure state, at peace with its neighbors and in the region.