Ronen Hoffman—Israel’s ambassador to Canada—wants out amidst protests against Netanyahu government

Ronen Hoffman, Israeli Ambassador to Canada, with Governor General mary Simon
Her Excellency the Right Honourable Mary Simon, Governor General of Canada, welcomed Ronen Hoffman as Israel’s new Ambassador to Canada during a formal presentation ceremony at Rideau Hall, in Ottawa, Dec. 7, 2021. (Supplied photo)

Israel’s new Ambassador to Canada has become the latest Israeli diplomat to resign amidst growing protest against the policies of the newly installed, right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

Ronen Hoffman made the announcement via Twitter late Saturday, Jan. 21. He was in Austin, Texas attending an American-Israel conference, according to an embassy spokesperson—who also told The CJN that Hoffman was not giving exit interviews.

Nevertheless, the ambassador’s political broadside on social media speaks for itself.

“With the transition to the new government and to different policy in Israel, my personal and professional integrity has compelled me to request to shorten my post and return to Israel this summer,” Hoffman wrote in the tweet.

‘Personal and professional integrity’

Hoffman’s announcement came on the same day as large crowds of protesters gathered–including over 100,000 in Tel Aviv–to rally against the Netanyahu government.

Hoffman, 59, is a former Member of the Knesset for the centrist Yesh Atid party, founded by outgoing prime minister Yair Lapid. Hoffman first ran for office successfully under Lapid’s Yesh Atid banner in the 2013 election, then served with that party as part of the Netanyahu coalition government for two years.

When Yesh Atid withdrew its support for Netanyahu in the 2015 election and ran in opposition, Hoffman did not win a seat for a second term.

The Israeli-born son of a farmer was an assistant to Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin, and worked on peace negotiation efforts with Syria until Rabin’s assassination in 1995. After completing a PhD in war studies in the UK, Hoffman founded a think tank on counter-terrorism at Reichman University (formerly known as IDC) in Herzliya, Israel, where he has been a lecturer.

Yesh Atid came back into power as a key member of Israel’s short-lived left-centrist coalition government in 2021, under a power sharing agreement with Naftali Bennett taking his turn as prime minister first.

In his tweet, Hoffman thanked his former political boss for selecting him to his first-ever diplomatic post.

“I am honoured to have been appointed by previous Prime Minister @yairlapid to represent and serve the State of Israel as Ambassador to Canada over a year ago,” he wrote.

(Under the agreement with Bennett, Lapid would become Israel’s prime minister after the government coalition collapsed. Lapid held the job for six months until December 2022, ending with Netanyahu’s comeback victory in Israel’s 25th election.)

Hoffman’s resignation notice was sent to the new Foreign Affairs minister Eli Cohen, before he went public with his decision, according to reports.

Second diplomat to quit

Hoffman is the second opposition party diplomatic appointee to give his notice from Israel’s foreign service soon after the Netanyahu government swore in its cabinet in late December.

Israel’s ambassador to France, Yael German, handed in her notice three weeks ago, in a similar fashion.

She also released a letter addressed to Netanyahu, where she slammed some of the far-right ultra-Orthodox cabinet members in the new cabinet, although she didn’t name them directly.

“Sadly, the government you founded and lead—including representatives of parties whose extreme positions are expressed in the fundamental positions of the government, its policies and its statements on legislation—are invalid in my eyes,” she wrote.

Public security minister Itamar Ben Gvir has been previously convicted of inciting violence by threatening Arabs, while Aryeh Deri, Israel’s new interior and health minister, has served time in prison for financial crimes and breach of trust.

Media reports Sunday from Israel suggest Deri has been booted from cabinet, after a ruling by Israel’s High Court of Justice last week that his criminal background makes him ineligible to serve.

While Hoffman’s salvo didn’t specifically mention the policies which prompted his request for an early departure, the timing of his announcement comes as protests continued Saturday in Israel and Canada.

‘Vigil for democracy’ in Toronto

Some Jewish organizations, including in Canada, have expressed deep concerns about several campaign promises from Israel’s new government leaders that could signal, among other things: potential rollbacks for LGBTQ rights, expanded settlements and annexation in the West Bank, giving the public security minister Ben Gvir more say over the police’s rules of engagement with terrorists, and changes to Israel’s Law of Return which would make immigration slower and more difficult for non-Orthodox Jews.

However, it is the new legislation aimed at curbing the authority of the Israeli Supreme Court that has raised alarms about Israel’s evolution away from being a beacon of democracy in the Middle East.

A coalition of seven Canadian Jewish groups held what they called “a vigil for democracy” in Toronto on Jan. 21. An estimated 250 people turned out in-person outside the downtown building which houses the Israeli consulate. Another 125 participated virtually, according to Joe Roberts, chair of JSpace Canada, which helped organize the Saturday night vigil.

“This resignation [of Hoffman] should send a clear message across the Canadian Jewish community. If Israel’s ambassador to Canada cannot stand by while this government carries out its extreme anti-democratic agenda, how can we stand silently by?” Roberts wrote on Twitter.

Hoffman’s first year in Canada

Hoffman took up his new duties in Ottawa on Dec. 7, 2021 with a list of priorities that included expanding Israel’s business relationship with Canada, fighting terrorism and antisemitism, and forging research joint-ventures in the fields of food tech, health tech, environment, energy and climate security.

A personal priority has been to connect with Canada’s Indigenous leaders.

Hoffman told The CJN in January 2022 that he wore an orange ribbon on his lapel the day he presented his official credentials to the Governor General, to show solidarity with Canada’s First Nations.

The embassy has been negotiating with Saskatchewan reserves to bring Israeli expertise to help solve their clean drinking water problems, and arranging a pilot project to bring some Indigenous leaders to Israel.

Watch Ambassador Ronen Hoffman’s first interview with The CJN after arriving in Canada in late 2021.

Hoffman does not intend to pack up and leave Canada immediately, he said, although he wrote that he hopes to be recalled by the summer.

“I will continue serving the State of Israel here in Canada with the same passion and pleasure until a replacement is appointed later this year. I look forward to continue working with all my colleagues and friends until then.”

Hoffman moved to Ottawa with his partner, a professor at a university in Israel, and the couple’s then-four-year-old son. His two older children from his first marriage were attending university in the United States.

During his first year, he attended the Calgary Stampede, visited Jewish summer camps including Moshava and B’nai Brith of Ottawa, and held the first-ever Canadian Summit of Israeli-Jewish Affairs, a two-day conference in Ottawa in May 2022.

It is unclear whether Hoffman came to the decision to step down on his own, or whether he may have been told to resign as part of a wider political strategy directive from the Yesh Atid camp. He did not explain the timing of his announcement.

The resignation follows just weeks after an upbeat video message which he released for Canadians, ahead of the New Year. In it, Hoffman hinted that he would still be working as ambassador while Israel marks a milestone anniversary in April 2023.

“With 75 years of Israeli independence on the horizon in 2023, I have no doubt that the next year will provide many more opportunities to meet with passionate Canadians to showcase all that Israel has to offer, and to see more of this beautiful country,” he said.