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British rabbis warn senior minister about Israel’s ‘survival’ under Netanyahu government

September 11, 2023 at 2:09 pm

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly is seen during an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency at UN Headquarters in New York, United States on July 18, 2023 [Fatih Aktaş – Anadolu Agency]

Dozens of senior British rabbis and other leading Jewish figures have written to Foreign Secretary James Cleverly about the threat from the far-right government in Tel Aviv to Israel’s “survival”. In an unprecedented move, they also urged him not to treat his upcoming visit to the occupation state this week as “business as usual”.

The letter comes ahead of Cleverly’s proposed meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian premier Mohammad Shtayyeh. Reflecting the growing discontent within the UK Jewish community over Israel’s right-wing government and its attempts to overhaul the judiciary, the rabbis called on Cleverley to stress that London’s relationship with Israel is contingent on its adherence to democratic values.

Signatories to the letter include prominent rabbis Jonathan Wittenberg, Charley Baglinsky and Josh Levy from non-Orthodox Jewish denominations, as well as leaders of progressive Jewish organisations like the New Israel Fund and Habonim Dror.

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“We appeal to you not to treat this trip as business as usual,” they wrote to Cleverly. “We ask that you make it clear on your visit that Britain’s relationship with Israel is contingent on both countries’ adherence to democratic norms and also make it known that British Jews will not stand by as Israel’s future is imperilled.”

The judicial overhaul presented an existential threat, said the rabbis. They argued that, “Israel’s future as a country that can be both Jewish and democratic is not just threatened: its chances of survival are significantly diminishing with each passing day.”

Critics of Israel have stressed that the occupation state has long passed the point of no return, beyond which democratic principles are impossible to preserve. There is a growing international consensus that its entrenched occupation and discrimination amounts to the crime of apartheid, as documented by rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Even Israel’s own B’Tselem has said as much.

The foreign office has said that Cleverly’s visit will aim to boost security cooperation against shared threats from Iran. However, the letter urges him to confront Israeli leaders over policies that critics contend are eroding freedoms and democratic safeguards.

If Israel becomes less democratic, explain the signatories, the UK and other allies will be forced to deal with an Israeli government unrestrained by checks and balances. They warn that this would “fundamentally alter” geopolitical relationships in the region.

It’s not clear if Cleverley will use his visit to raise the issue of apartheid. Last week, an ex-head of Mossad joined countless other former Israeli officials and the global human rights community to declare that Israel is an apartheid state.

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