Why I support the Board’s decision not to comment on annexation

A Board of Deputies plenary, with President Marie van der Zyl (second left)
A Board of Deputies plenary, with President Marie van der Zyl (second left)

Israeli PM Netanyahu has announced a plan to annex parts of the West Bank on July 1 as  fulfilment of a section of the Trump Middle East peace plan.

The move has been denounced by Commanders for Israel’s Security (Israeli former senior military members), some American Jewish leaders, some members of the US Congress and of the UK Parliament.

A number of British Jews including a few members of the Board of Deputies are calling on the Board of Deputies to follow suit.
The President, Marie van der Zyl, has decided not to speak out about it, which is in my view the correct stance.

So I wrote to her in support:

Dear President,

I write to support your decision that the Board should make no statement on the proposed territorial annexation by Israel, and to urge you strongly to stand by this sensible position.

I take no stand in favour of, or against annexation.

My experience in and out of Parliament with people who hate Israel and also with antisemites is that they are very willing to associate all Jews in the UK (and worldwide) with the actions of Israel. They talk of the “Israel lobby” with the implication that all Jews are part of it. If Israel carries out an action of which they disapprove, they call on UK Jews to dissociate themselves from it, and to urge the Israeli government to reverse it, with the implication that Jews here and elsewhere are not only responsible for Israel’s actions but have the power to make Israel change its policy. [But when Israel does something beneficial of significance, for example, a medical innovation, the Diaspora is not given credit for it!]  When recorded antisemitic incidents spike, as they tend to do when Israel is taking defensive action, some of those people explain it by saying that it is not surprising that there is hatred towards Jews because of what Israel is doing.  In their view, all Jews are considered “guilty” or responsible for Israel’s unpopular actions.

Those who urge the Board to make a statement against annexation are playing into the hands of people who hate Israel and who hate Jews. Calling for a statement, or worse still, making one, gives credence to the notion that all Jews are responsible for Israel’s unpopular actions and that all Jews can instruct the Israel government to change its policy. Those who call on the Board to make such a statement either do not realise this, or they are frightened for their own position in diaspora society because they will be held responsible for Israel.

By making no statement, the Board will make it clear that while Jews in the Diaspora generally support Israel, they are not responsible for her actions, they are not citizens with a vote, they do not have the right or the power to change her policies, and that antisemitism is, as it always has been, hatred of Jews, not a reaction to the existence or the policies of Israel.

I wish you every strength in these difficult days.

There is no consensus amongst world Jewry on how to advance peace in Israel at the current time.

My point is that we should not get involved in Israeli politics as if we were Israeli citizens – calls to take one stance or another are in reality calls to a domestic audience and unlikely to have any influence on the Israeli government, quite rightly.

About the Author
Baroness Ruth Deech DBE QC sits as a crossbench peer in the House of Lords. She is a former Principal of St Anne’s College, Oxford and a former Chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the Bar Standards Board. She is Patron of UK Lawyers for Israel. Baroness Deech has been an invited speaker at Limmud and at the Board of Deputies.
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