Brexit – is there a Jewish angle?

The EU is a noble experiment which has made Europe more united despite the drawbacks of both the concept and its implementation.

June 15, 2016 19:53
3 minute read.
A WOMAN hands out leaflets last month, campaigning to stay in Europe for the Brexit vote, in London.

A WOMAN hands out leaflets last month, campaigning to stay in Europe for the Brexit vote, in London.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Though I lived in London for 15 years I’m not a British citizen, nor do I have a vote in the June 23 UK referendum on leaving the European Union.

Nevertheless, I am of the opinion that a British withdrawal is in the interest of neither the UK nor the Europeans.

The EU is a noble experiment which has made Europe more united despite the drawbacks of both the concept and its implementation.

After a long period of hostility between European states, the EU deserves credit for breaking down the barriers and fostering a feeling of cooperation, especially on economic issues. The perfect balance between economic integration and independence has not yet been found but an outsider can see signs of progress.

But one can also point to a Jewish angle in all of this.

Jews are understandably sensitive to the way they are viewed in Europe and cannot help thinking that in this respect the EU has become a nightmare. Experience with the United Nations should have made us wary of what happens when harmony is hijacked.

We now have the specter of a federated body using its combined voice and vote to threaten individual nations like Israel whom it determines to be rogues and renegades.

Britain remaining in the EU might help to keep the attitude to Jews and Israel more balanced, since the British have generally been decent and fair-minded. With a few exceptions Jews have been good for Britain and Britain has generally been good for Jews.

It’s interesting that Theodor Herzl said similar things about Britain (his exact words were, “England will understand”), and that Chaim Weizmann and others, while never quite understanding British perfidy toward Zionism, remained Anglophiles.

What drew me to Britain as a student was a feeling of cultural compatibility, even though I knew there were times when Britain had betrayed the Jews. In spite of occasional eruptions of racism, Britain has a good moral record. On the whole it has echoed the words of the novelist Phyllis Bottome in The Mortal Storm, published in 1938: “To be a Jew is to belong to an old race that has lived in every country in the world, and that has enriched every country it has lived in. It is to be strong with a strength that has outlived persecutions. It is to be wise against ignorance, honest against piracy, harmless against evil, industrious against idleness, kind against cruelty! It is to belong to a race that has given Europe its religion; its moral law; and much of its science – perhaps even more of its genius – in art, literature and music. I do not say that there are no bad Jews – usurers, cowards, corrupt and unjust persons – but such people are also to be found among Christians. I only say to you this is to be a good Jew.”

Indeed, without the Jews, the Jewish state and their contribution to European civilization, the European continent would be unrecognizable.

Concerning current events, if the EU dislikes elements of the Jewish state’s policy it has the right to say so. To be fair, however, it must balance the negativity with appreciation for the remarkably creative contribution Jews and Israel continue to make to its own identity and to world culture.

I for one am convinced that Britain in the EU will remain a voice for decency.

Jews know that their numbers are too small to make a real difference in the Brexit referendum, but on the whole it would be better for Jews and for Britain to stay in the EU and try to leaven its policies.

The author is emeritus rabbi of the Great Synagogue, Sydney.

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