What the Brexit Vote Means for Israel, the EU and Our Future
In the immediate wake of Great Britain’s decision to “Brexit” the European Union, President Obama (who lobbied unsuccessfully for “Bremain”) sought to reassure parties on both sides of the Atlantic that the special relationship between the UK and US would not change, and that the EU “will remain one of our indispensable partners.”
It’s hard to imagine that the belated reassurance by a lame duck president will do much to calm the political and economic firestorm in the UK (especially Scotland and Northern Ireland), where both Tories and Labour are in a state of disarray not experienced since the end of World War II.
Tempers are short and nerves are fraying among the EU elite in Brussels, and among politicians and pundits from Berlin and Paris, and Rome to Budapest. Despite the brave talk, no one knows if the British exit is a one-time blow, or the beginning of the end for the suddenly wounded EU behemoth.
On the economic side of the ledger, there are also many more questions than answers.
Meanwhile, one leader who is not waiting for the geopolitical dust to settle is Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Cheered on by Western Euroskeptics like France’s Marine Le Pen, Putin is grinning like a Cheshire cat at the prospect of the possible collapse of the sanctions regime imposed on Moscow following Russia’s “annexation” of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine.
What’s needed now is exactly what has been in short supply for years: real leadership. The current crisis was years if not decades in the making, with executive fiat masquerading as collective policy on such key issues as terrorism, social integration, and the tsunami of mass migration.
As a result of these festering crises, many voters across the Continent are flocking to “nationalist” parties. Israel is watching the situation warily. It joins many others who fear erupting centrifugal forces in Europe could tear that continent apart and empower xenophobic populist parties. Indeed, the global power of such hate was on deadly display in the UK just before the Brexit vote when MP Jo Cox was murdered by an anti-EU extremist who belonged to a Neo-Nazi group. The killer, Thomas Mair, was a long-time online supporter of America’s National Alliance, the notorious violent antsSemitic network founded by William Pierce, author of The Turner Diaries, which called for lynching American Jews during a future “day of the rope.”
Europe’s centrist future is in peril if the EU fails to find ways to balance the ideal of a cosmopolitan continent with demands to honor traditions of national identity and democratic self-government.
As for Israel, it may get some breathing space in the short term from the EU’s post-Brexit political disarray. Brussels’ international clout has suddenly been diminished, which is likely to reduce the power of Europe’s diplomatic establishment to impose France’s new dangerous “peace plan” that would force indefensible borders without negotiations on the Jewish state. On the other hand, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange has reminded everyone that Israel could be adversely affected by the post-Brexit woes of the EU, the Jewish state’s leading global trading partner.
No one in the Jewish world should be happy that a project that began with a vision of a cosmopolitan Europe where tolerance and diversity are protected could soon disintegrate. But over the years, Europe’s elite have failed to protect Jewish citizens against antisemitic hate crimes or to counter anti-Jewish invective spouted within the EU. That moral bankruptcy was on full display last week in Brussels.
As a shocked world reacted to the UK’s unexpected exit from the European Union, Palestinian President Abbas delivered a speech to the European Parliament. Abbas, now in the 11th year of his four-year term, accused Israel of becoming a fascist country. Then he updated a vicious medieval antisemitic canard by charging that (non-existent) rabbis are urging Jews to poison the Palestinian water supply before –belatedly — retracting the charge. The immediate response by representatives of the 28 European countries nations who know from their own histories the terrible consequences of such antisemitic blood libels? A thunderous 30 second standing ovation for Abbas.
Here is a suggestion to the new svelte EU: Before lecturing Israelis about tolerance, before issuing diktats on labeling Israeli goods and drawing illogical and dangerous maps for the Holy Land, clean up your own house and make sure it will still be standing in five years.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance. Dr. Harold Brackman, a historian is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.