Board President urges UK Jewry to 'stay together' on West Bank annexation issue

Marie van der Zyl rejects calls from left-wing deputies to openly criticise Benjamin Netanyahu


Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl has called for unity during the “divisive” debate in the UK over Israel’s plan for annexation in the West Bank.
Speaking at Sunday’s Board plenary meeting, Mrs van der Zyl rejected calls from left-wing deputies to openly criticise Benjamin Netanyahu over his intention to annex Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley.

She said: “There is such a huge diversity of opinion in the Jewish community, which is of course reflected in the Board as a democratic representative body.

“The Board has to be a place where opinions can be expressed without abuse and with tolerance to enable us to have these discussions.

“There isn’t going to be a consensus that is going to be reached and I am very concerned that the Jewish community stays together as a community at what is clearly a divisive time.”

Last week a Communal Youth Letter — supported by LJY-Netzer, the youth movement of Liberal Judaism, along with the Jewish Labour Movement — called on the Board to “speak up against the unilateral annexation of the West Bank, which will have far-reaching ramifications not only for the region and its inhabitants but also for us as Jews in the diaspora”.

On Sunday, Tal Ofer, the deputy for Chigwell and Hainault Synagogue, accused the Board of “dodging tough questions on the occupation and settlements for a long time’’ and added that they “had been paying lip service” to a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine issue.

He added that annexation of the West Bank represented the “last nail in the coffin of the two-state solution”, which was “in direct opposition” to the declared policy of the Board.

But the President said: “Almost all serious peace proposals had included the incorporation of the major settlement blocks in Israel to safeguard security in the Jordan Valley as part of the final agreement.”

She added that the Board wished to see the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators reach agreement on any final deal.

Mrs van der Zyl added that the UK Jewish community was “in the main Zionist” and “our interests with the Israeli government overlap”.

Mrs van der Zyl also revealed that another petition, this time supporting the actions of the Israeli government, was also being sent by deputies on the right of the political spectrum.

She claimed that it was ageist to suggest that young people in the community were now opposed to annexation plans, while the older generation was likely to be more supportive.

Mark Regev, Israel’s ambassador to the UK, also addressed the Sunday meeting and answered deputies’ questions during a meeting that was held on Zoom.
In response to a question from Noah Libson, Yachad’s under-35 representative, Mr Regev said he did not believe it was correct to talk about annexing the entire West Bank, but more specifically the strip that “runs along the west side” of the Jordan River.

He said that prime minister Yitzhak Rabin had also supported a similar move shortly before his assassination.

Irene Mansfield, the Deputy for Muswell Hill United Synagogue, added that there was “some resistance” to the Israeli government from Jews outside of Israel, but wondered if such views were taken into account.

Ambassador Regev said that he had found the UK Jewish community to be “a very strong and Zionist community — one of the most pro-Israeli communities on the planet.”

He also raised the recent letter, which was signed by 130 MPs, supporting a call by the Council for Arab-British Understanding (Caabu) for Boris Johnson to consider sanctions against Israel over the annexation plan. Ambassador Regev said Caabu had a history of making critical remarks on Israel, but never once had it offered any initiatives to secure peace in the region.

Vicki Harris, the Deputy for Hampstead Garden Suburb United Synagogue, criticised Sir Mick Davis, the former Conservative Party chief executive, over an article in which he claimed British Jewry believed Israel’s leaders are “violating our values”.

The ambassador said that he would agree with Deputy Harris’s claim that Sir Mick “does not represent the Jewish community at all — it has a mixture of views in it”.

In a further sign of opposition to developments in Israel, a letter from Yachad titled 'Communal Letter to BOD: Speak Up Against Annexation’ was sent to the Honorary Officers of the Board of Deputies this week.

It was intended to bolster opposition to the Israeli government’s planned actions from beyond just the "young members  of the community" who had signed last week’s letter.

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