Liberal Zionists fear Bibi’s proposed “annexation” of the West Bank risks international support for Zionism

Many liberal Zionists in Canada (and the US) Jews have expressed concern over Israel’s aggressive plan to “annex” up to 30% of the West Bank, in defiance of international law and international opinion. They fear that Israel is overreaching, and by making it clear that it has no interest in giving the Palestinians a state, western support for the Zionist idea of a state for Jews might be at risk. Read more...

Fifty eight “eminent” Canadian Jews have written an open letter to Prime Minister Trudeau, urging “our government to speak out strongly against a unilateral annexation agenda that is unwise, unjust, and dangerous to peace in the Middle East.” The list of signatories includes:

  • Jon Allen, Former Canadian Ambassador to Israel
  • Bernie Farber, Former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Ottawa
  • Rabbi Steven Garten, of Ottawa
  • Gabriella Goliger, National President, Canadian Friends of Peace Now
  • Julius H. Grey, Montreal Human Rights lawyer
  • Stephen Lewis, Former Canadian Ambassador to the UN
  • Prof. Henry Mintzberg, Management Studies, McGill,
  • Professors Allan Moscovitch and Mira Sucharov, Carleton University
  • Arlene Perly Rae author and journalist (also married to Bob Rae)

The letter was coordinated by Canadian Friends of Peace Now in conjunction with two other liberal Zionist Canadian organizations, J-Space Canada and the New Israel Fund Canada.

Here is an excerpt from their letter (underlining added by CTIP):

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

We are a diverse group of Canadian Jews and long-time supporters of Israel who share a deep concern about the current Israeli government’s intention to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank. 

(…) Any form of West Bank annexation would signal that Israel is uninterested in a negotiated solution (…) unilateral annexation could provoke a new cycle of violence, lead to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, jeopardize peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt, undermine Israel’s security and further destabilize the region.”

The letter to Trudeau reflects many of the arguments put forward by the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis in an emergency resolution adopted a few days ago.

“As a proud Zionist movement we hold (…) love for the people, the Land, and the State of Israel – as core to who we are as Jews.”

– Text of Reform Judaism resolution

Their statement makes a few references the “deleterious impact of annexation on the Palestinian people”, but then continues to address their main concerns – the threat it poses to the dream of a Jewish State of Israel

  • Annexation is seen by Palestinians as Israeli repudiation of the two-state solution. (…) Calls will increase for a “one-state solution,” which will negate the continuation of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
  • Annexation risks making Israel a pariah in growing segments of the international community. Annexation also risks undercutting the improved relations between Israel and some of the Arab nations in the region (…)
  • Annexation would also provide fodder for those who advocate for Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) toward Israel. In North America, Zionist college students, (…) will find themselves besieged by BDS activists, having to defend what many will view as an indefensible policy.
  • Annexation jeopardizes Israel’s security. Throughout nearly three decades, cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian Authority security forces has thwarted hundreds of terrorist attacks and made life in Israel safer. (…) Annexation would significantly weaken the PA, reducing or even ending security cooperation and further stressing Israeli security forces.
  • Annexation jeopardizes North American strategic interests and political support for Israel. Over time, North American political support for Israel would likely be weakened. We are already seeing shifts toward greater sympathy for the Palestinians among pro-Israel supporters, including younger evangelicals.

Fear for the end of Israel?

Serious divisions have opened up among Jews in Canada (and the USA) over the annexation issue. A measure of how divisive it is, can be gleaned from the fact that as of July 1st, the Canadian Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, still has not come out to say whether or not it supports annexation.

Perhaps this is also a result of the fact that it is still not clear what Netanyahu will do. Will he take 30% of the West Bank, as he has promised (or threatened)? Or will he move cautiously taking “only” a couple of the major settlement blocs? This might give the European Union, the Palestinian Authority and liberal Zionists a window to cry “victory” that only a “small” annexation took place.

Whatever the immediate outcome, Israel is not about to disappear anytime soon. It is still very powerful, and it has the backing of the world’s only superpower. But there are good reasons to agree with the assessment in the letter signed by the 56 eminent Canadian Jews that: Any form of West Bank annexation would signal that Israel is uninterested in a negotiated solution“.

It seems likely that even limited annexation will in fact begin the process of undermining Western democratic support for the basic idea of a Jewish State which got UN support in 1947.

However, CTIP readers should be clear that the liberal Zionists who are calling for a stop to annexation, are motivated by a desire to protect Israel as a Jewish state, not by a concern for the historic rights of Palestinians which were lost in 1947 and which have been trampled on ever since.


Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) is the weekly newsletter of Peter Larson, Chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine (OFIP). It aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue. There is no need to use strong words. A focus on the truth, clear analysis and human rights is enough. Readers who have a different point of view are invited to make comment. 

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  1. imagine someone knocking on your door and saying ” My ancestors lived here 2,000 years ago so you have to give me your home now, SO GET OUT”

      1. You are right. They did not knock. They just kicked the door in. Just like the IDF (The most moral army in the world!) does now every night in the West my fellow Jews try to convince the Palestinians to move to Jordan as part of their policy of ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide

  2. Whatever the motivation, a Jewish democratic state or Palestinian rights in Palestine, this ketrer and appeal to stop annexation is very useful. It adds credible support to the international opposition that may have already caused Netanyahu to pause with his annexation enterprise. It should be followed up with the full recognition of Palestine. which would allow for a real 2 state solution based on the 67 lines with land swaps. With Trump fading and Biden likely to be elected the negotiations on the Obama Kerry initiative broken off in 2014 by Netanyahu could once again become a viable basis for a long term settlement supported internationally and now more urgent than ever given recent developments..

  3. What has amazed and worried me in this “theft of the century” is that Israel feels that it is justified because it has permission from the US and that the US has made it clear that it believes it has the right to approve such an act. What gives them that power? The US is a nation, not an international organization or an international court. It doesn’t even have the kind of “mandate” given to the UK by the league of nations. Not only is the decision objectionable, the idea that they are the authority to decide such things is more objectionable

  4. Hi Peter . Thanks for the post. Question? If significant annexation occurs, do you think that groups such as Canadian Friends of Peace Now will lose their raison d’etre, since the two state solution is one of its core objectives?

    1. Hey Stephen, That is a good question for which I do not have the answer. If Israel does go ahead with the “full” annexation of the WB, leaving only some isolated bantustans for the Palestinians, then the 2 State solution will be dead for everyone.

      Liberal Zionists like those who are currently members CFPN, I expect will be forced to choose between their “liberalism” and their “Zionism”. If they decide they are predominantly liberals, they will start to press for full equality for all, effectively ending Israel as a Jewish State.

      If they decide that they are Zionists above all, that being Jewish is more important than being democratic, and that they want a “Jewish State” no matter what – then they descend into the theories of racial superiority which mirror those that led to the Holocaust 80 or so years ago.

      1. Peter,
        Your definition of Zionism is wrong, Zionism doesn’t mean to be aligned with the government of Israel, Zionism is the idea that jews, like any other people, have the right for self determination.

        As a liberal zionist my choice is simple, liberalism above all.
        for liberal Zionists Israel must be a nation where all citizens regardless of their religion (or lack of) share the same basic rights, and above all suffrage.

        Contrary to what you often write, this is currently the de jure situation in Israel

        Annexation of the Jordan valley is unlikely to happen, if it will happen eventually it could happen in two models:
        1. the 1981 Golan model where all the inhabitants are offered citizenship
        2. the Apartheid model

        If the annexation will happen under the apartheid model liberal zionist will assert that Israel is an apartheid state and would resist the policies of its current government.

        Once liberal zionists are elected back into power they will undo it, either by giving everyone citizenship or by handing the land to the Palestinian future state.

      2. Hey Ahik,
        I don’t think you have been reading me very carefully. I restate my position here.

        My definition of Zionism is the belief (or ideology) that Jews need and deserve a state of their own in the region that for the last several centuries, has been known as Palestine.

        Of course I know that many Zionists don’t like the policies of the current State of Israel. My observation is that most North American Jews are, like you, “liberal” Zionists. They are often very critical (most privately, a few publicly) of the current government, but they all support the Zionist idea of a Jewish State.

        Do you agree?

      3. Thank you for asking for clarification. No, I am not backtracking at all.
        I am talking about Zionism as practiced in the one state in the world where it is law. The idea of a Jewish State is one in which Jews have rights that others do not have. That is the definition of Jewish supremacy. If everyone in Israel/Palestine had equal rights, it would not be a Jewish State. It would be a state for all its citizens.

      4. Therefore Canada is an indigenous supremacy state and not a state for all its citizens. Now I understand. I assume if it is good enough for the liberal Democrats of Canada, it is good enough for the Arabs of Israel.

      5. I’m sorry Mr. Sigman, I don’t like ad hominem arguments, but this seems silly. Do you have a serious point to make? If so, please do.
        Canada is a “state for all its citizens”. By law everyone is equal. (There is still de facto inequality, of course and that is to our shame.) However, in Israel neither law nor practice makes everyone equal. There are SOME laws which apply equally, but many OTHERS do not. If you have been to Israel and paid attention, you would know this.

      6. Canada appears to have laws giving the indigenous rights that do not apply to all Canadians. I am not attacking you, which would make it an ad hominem argument, I am merely accepting your theory regarding Israel being a Jewish supremacist’s state in light of the special Canadian Laws that elevate the indigenous of Canada above the non-indigenous citizen.

        There are certainly laws in Israel that favor Jews, especially the 1950 Law of return. But that is merely a reaction to states like Canada refusing to increase quotas to allow the Jews to escape the eventual Holocaust. That you find such laws objectionable is typical of those in your position.

      7. Mr. Sigman,

        You are vague about which “rights” you mean, but the rights promised to aboriginal people that I know about in Canada are best understood as property rights that were promised (but not always delivered) to people who had been using land that was no longer available to them. It was supposed to be compensation. That property could be inherited (like any other property in Canada) and so belong to the descendants of those who signed the treaties and renounced use of some land.

        That is very different from the rights that are given to Israeli Jews and not to others. They get those rights just for being Jewish not for giving up something.

        Further, non-Jewish natives of Palestine did not generally receive compensation for villages that were destroyed or real estate that they left behind when they temporarily fled to other areas hoping to avoid violence and were then not allowed to return. In short, the situation here is nothing like that in Israel..

      8. Hey Mr. Sigman, you continue to be silly. Nobody in their right mind thinks that Canada is an “indigenous supremacist” state, any more than they would think that the USA is a “black supremacist state” because US courts support affirmative action.

        In point of legal fact, the “extra rights” that indigenous Canadians get are not the result of unequal treatment, but are contractual or “treaty rights” that were given in exchange for loss of land. Few Canadians today would argue that it was a fair deal, but status Indians did get something.

      9. Ahik,

        The most fundamental principle of human rights is “My Rights end where yours begin.” The most difficult practical question about human rights is finding the line where one person’s rights end and another’s begin. Often “rights conflict or overlap.

        You mention the “right for self determination”. In the light of the above, that “right” seems very questionable. Not only is it vague but unless those claiming are is the exclusive occupants of a clearly demarcated area and is united in its views, it will be very difficult to resolve the conflicts that inevitably arise. That right, which you state belongs to “any other people” would also belong to the people who were living in Palestine before Zionism took hold. The obvious conflict gave birth to a struggle that is still going on. I think that is why every time I hear someone mention the right of self determination, it is someone who wants to defend Israeli actions.

        Your optimism about the future is nice but not convincing. I think it will take a political earthquake to bring about the day when “liberal zionists are elected back into power”.

  5. “Zionism is the belief (or ideology) that Jews need and deserve a state of their own in the region that for the last several centuries, has been known as Palestine.”
    I agree with your definition, but I would like to correct the historical assertion you made
    The region was known as Palestine only in the west, In the Ottoman Empire that controlled the region there were no administrative region called Palestine, The southern half Gaza, Jerusalem Jaffa was Kudus Vilayet the northern half Tiberias Zfat Hifa and the Galilee were part of Beirut Vilayet

    1. Hey Ahik, Yes that is the standard Israeli/Zionist answer, but it is only partly true.

      There may well never have been an “administrative” region with a defined border called “Palestine” until the british mandate.

      But the region roughly between the Jordan River and the sea has been called “Palestine” for a very long time. It was called Palestine by Thucidydes, and by Aristotle who apparently visited, or knew about the dead sea. It was also known as Palestine to the Venetian empire – in fact in the Palazzo degli doge in Venice, there is a a huge map of the Eastern Mediterranean on which “Palestina” is clearly mapped. (That is from 1300 or so, prior to the Ottoman Empire).

      The region has been known as “Palestine” in the Christian church for many, many years. The crusaders went from Europe to “Palestine” not to “Israel”, as you well know.

      And, of course, the people who lived there – Muslims, Christians and Jews were Palestinians. They were also Arabs.

      I don’t know what the Mamluks, or the Persians or the Mongols

  6. The only international law pertaining to Israel and Palestine is the UN partition resolution and all UN resolutions and international court judgements. All of the politics support a Jewish entity of Israel and an Arab state of Palestine based on democracy and human and minority rights. If Israel continues with an annexation occupation and settler apartheid enterprise applied to all of the area and refuses to allow the emergence of an equal state of,Palestine, then Israel will lose its claim and right to be called & to be a nation state of the Jews and will revert into a binational democratic state. This is why liberal zionists and indeed all Jewish Isrselis must oppose annexation and eternal occupation and control and recognize the state of Palestine at the UN.

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