BREXIT, ISRAEL AND THE JEWS
The outcome of the 23 June referendum on Brexit, i.e whether the United Kingdom should remain or leave the European Union, will have consequences for Israel, whether direct or indirect. Polls indicate that the result will be very close.1 If the majority of the British vote to remain, the EU will get a boost. It is unlikely that there will be a new British referendum on the subject for several years to come. Furthermore no other member country is likely to consult its citizens whether to stay in the EU or to leave.
Israel has a vested interest in the continued existence of the present EU membership, albeit greatly weakened internally. Like several other supranational bodies, the EU scandalously discriminates against Israel. It regularly incites against Israel and interferes in its internal affairs. The EU applies double standards in its relations with Israel, such as its requirement for labeling of products from the West Bank and the Golan. This is an anti-Semitic act according to the IHRA definition of this hatred which was accepted by many countries.2 No such demands are made of other countries dealing with a similar territorial reality. In its stance against Israel, the EU’s actions have more to do with imperialist law than with the precepts of international law which, it claims, govern its attitudes.
Yet if Britain exits the EU, the resulting instability in Europe could potentially bring disadvantages for Israel in its wake. A Brexit would also free the UK from commitments to act in line with overall EU policies. If, untrammeled by such commitments, a Labour party government would win British elections in the future, the resulting problems for Israel could increase greatly.
This would be even more likely if Jeremy Corbyn, the current party leader who calls Hamas and Hezbollah ‘his friends, would become Prime Minister. A situation could then be created where many Government positions would be filled with extreme Israel haters. If Labour came to power while the UK remained in the EU, the need to stay more or less in line with other countries would be a constraining force on its anti-Israelism. That is why I think that a victory for the Remain supporters, preferably by a very small majority, would be in Israel’s best interest.
Only a few people have publicly stated that their viewpoint on Brexit is determined by their Jewishness or by their attitude toward Israel. Times Columnist and author Melanie Phillips wrote “I am in favor of Britain leaving the EU so that it can become once again a democratic, self-governing nation. I also believe it would be in the interests of the US, Israel and Europe itself if the EU were to break up.” She added: “Uncontrolled migration, Islamization and the absence of any ability to hold EU rulers to account have caused mass alienation among the European public from the political mainstream. This has created rising support for ultra-nationalist and extremist parties.”3
Journalist Angela Epstein, also in favor of Brexit, referred to “the bloody history of pan-European fascism.”4 Academic Geoffrey Alderman concluded a lengthy analysis of the pros and cons of Brexit by writing “Brexit comes down to a question of sovereignty. As a religious Jew, I pray for the welfare of the nation. And that is why I shall be voting for Brexit on June 23.”5
Some well-known Jews have expressed personal opinions on Brexit which are not based on their being Jewish. For instance, Moshe Kantor, President of the European Jewish Congress, opposes Brexit. This Russian billionaire who lives in London, does so for economic reasons.6
There is one group of Jews living in the UK who have potentially much to fear from Brexit. This is the growing colony of French Jews, who in recent years have left France for Britain. Part did so because of the increasing anti-Semitism in France.7 They may have to go through bureaucratic processes to maintain the right to live and work in the UK. In an extreme development, some may even lose their British residency.
The British have many problems running their own country. Yet like several other European governments they claim wrongly that they know what is best for Israel, and regularly interfere in Israel’s affairs. The Israeli government, by contrast, has wisely kept out of the Brexit debate. However, an Israeli NGO Regavim, has teamed up with anonymous British expats living in Israel, setting up a campaign website in support of Brexit. The website features a clip of a fake Hamas press conference, praising the EU because of its – illegal — construction of housing in the Area C, its labeling of products on the West Bank and the Golan, and the EU aid funds made available to the Palestinians, part of which are used for Hamas’s terror tunnels and to support terrorists in Israeli prisons.8
There are other aspects of the Brexit debate, which have some relevance from an Israeli or Jewish point of view. As with almost any major issue, the Holocaust has featured in the rhetoric. British minister and former London Mayor Boris Johnson, among the leaders of the Brexit campaign, invoked Winston Churchill and told Brits to be “the heroes of Europe again.” Johnson said of European integration, “Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically.”9
Former Conservative Deputy Prime Minister Lord Heseltine wrote a strong-worded response to Johnson.10 However, Andrew Roberts, a leading British historian, came out in support, stating that “I think Boris Johnson is absolutely right from a historical perspective.” He added, “there is something inherently destabilizing about trying to get 30-odd states into one political entity. This one-size fits all doesn’t work historically speaking. The Remain campaign are screaming about something that Boris didn’t say and it’s a straw man argument to argue against something that somebody didn’t say in the first place.”11 Former chancellor Lord Lamont said there was ‘no doubt at all’ that the rise of [the fascist party] Golden Dawn in Greece was ‘directly linked to the sado-austerity’ imposed on the country by the European Union.12
About ten years ago I interviewed French sociologist Shmuel Trigano for my book Israel and Europe: An expanding Abyss. At that time, he already had a very negative perspective on the EU and said: “There have been three European empires before, under Charles the Great, Napoleon and Hitler, characterized respectively by evangelization, domination, and terror. That is not reassuring.” He added that the EU was at a disadvantage compared to the Napoleonic Empire, which had a charismatic leader and a political center. The EU however only has its “bureaucratic administrative headquarters in Brussels.”13
Finally, one more aspect of the Brexit debate is of some importance to Israel. There are still those in Israel who believe that Europe is a paradise of civilization compared to their own country. They should take a look at the multiple smears, lies, insults and accusations being traded off between protagonists in the Brexit campaign.
Labour is currently at a low in opinion polls, due to the ascendancy of extreme leftist Jeremy Corbyn as its leader. But the Brexit debate on occasion seems to be tearing the Conservative party apart. Prime Minister David Cameron, who is in favor of remaining in the EU accused the Brexit campaigners of six lies covering Britain’s economy, security and sovereignty.14 Conservative MP and Brexit supporter Nadine Dorries said that she and her colleagues no longer trusted Cameron or [the Chancellor of the Exchequer] Osborne because of their “repeated lies” during the Remain campaign.15 These two small examples are part of an ocean of foul language and scaremongering.
13 Manfred Gerstenfeld interview with Shmuel Trigano, “The European Union: Continuously Creating Problems for Israel and the Jews.” in Israel and Europe;An Expanding Abyss (Jerusalem: JCPA, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, 2005) 82.