Opinion: ADL distorts the annexation debate

Prime Minister Netanyahu never called for the “annexation of the West Bank.” What he said was that he might propose extending Israeli law to Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

By Stephen M. Flatow, JNS

Some liberal American Jewish organizations are urging U.S. President Donald Trump to oppose Israeli annexation of any part of Judea and Samaria. Some conservative Jewish organizations are urging the opposite. Good. It’s time we had a full debate in the American Jewish community about this issue. Serious dialogue and a meaningful conversation are long overdue.

Unfortunately, the Anti-Defamation League has gotten the conversation off to a poor start by distorting and misrepresenting some of the key facts that need to be considered.

In an op-ed in The Forward, ADL spokesman Kenneth Jacobson began by noting that the ADL was one of the signatories on the letter denouncing “any steps by Israel to annex territory in the West Bank.”

But as the op-ed progressed, Jacobson’s language became more and more slippery. By the third paragraph, he had gone from “steps to annex territory in the West Bank” to talking about outright “annexation of the West Bank”—that is, the whole thing.

That’s a red herring because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu never called for “annexation of the West Bank.” What he actually said was that he might propose extending Israeli law to Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

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Not content with having altered Netanyahu’s words, the ADL spokesman then proceeded to argue against what Netanyahu didn’t say. Jacobson listed all sorts of frightening things that might ensue as a “result of annexing the West Bank.”

By paragraph nine, he was dramatically warning that “the greatest threat to the continuing fulfillment of [the Zionist] dream would be the annexation of the West Bank.” Scary stuff—except that the so-called threat is imaginary.

The reason the prime minister isn’t talking about “annexing the West Bank” is because 40 percent of Judea and Samaria is already occupied by the Palestinian Authority. And that’s where 98 percent of the Palestinian Arabs live. Netanyahu is not interested in having Israel return to the pre-1995 situation of governing all those Arabs. That’s why the P.A. was created in the first place.

All the talk about “annexation” leading to a “demographic time bomb” and an “apartheid state” is nonsense. The notion of Israel annexing the areas where the Palestinian Arabs live is not what Netanyahu was talking about.

What’s actually under discussion concerns the 60 percent of Judea and Samaria that Israel still rules. There are only a small number of Arabs living there. They do not pose a demographic threat to Israel. Within the Israeli-controlled regions, there are many miles of uninhabited land. There are also a number of Jewish communities. That’s the real issue—whether Israeli law should be extended to those communities.

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Which brings us to the key questions that the ADL and its allies have so far failed to address:

– In 1995, the Palestinian Authority extended its laws to the cities in which 98 percent of the Palestinian Arabs live. So why can’t Israeli law be implemented in the Jewish towns? Why do the Jews still have to be governed by the arbitrary and cumbersome system of the old Israeli military administration, while the Palestinian Arabs get to live under their own laws?

– There are large swaths of completely uninhabited land throughout Judea and Samaria. Anybody who has ever driven in those territories has seen the empty countryside with their own eyes. So even if you oppose extending Israeli law to Jewish communities, what’s wrong with extending Israeli law to the empty land? Who, exactly, would be harmed by that?

– By saying that Israel should never annex any part of Judea and Samaria, no matter what, Israel’s left-wing Jewish critics appear to be taking the position that the claim of the Palestinian Arabs to Judea and Samaria is superior to the Jewish claim. Where’s the proof of that? I would like to see just one shred of evidence—from international law or the historical record or the Torah—to back up that claim. And if there is no evidence to support that claim, then there should be no opposition to the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria becoming part of Israel.

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So please, Mr. ADL spokesman, go ahead and make your case, but do it honestly and responsibly. Quote your opponents accurately. Answer the real questions. Engage in a real debate. American Jewry and Israel deserve no less.

Stephen M. Flatow, an attorney in New Jersey, is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. His book, “A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror,” has just been published.