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How Israelis See Brexit (17/06/2016)

With the Brexit referendum less than a week away, Israelis prefer "remain"

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The flag of the European Union and the Union flag sit on top of a sand castle on a beach on May 09, 2016 in Southport, United Kingdom. The United Kingdom will hold a referendum on June 23, 2016 to decide whether or not to remain a member of the European U

With the “Brexit” referendum looming only a week away, some political commentators are wondering how the separation might affect Israel.

Anshel Pfeffer of The Jewish Chronicle noted in March that there is little love lost between Israel and the European Union: “although not an EU member, Israelis see Brussels and its Eurocrats as interfering busybodies, forever trying to meddle in its internal politics and the conflict with the Palestinians”

The 2015 EU-imposed guidelines for labeling products made in Israeli settlements was a deeply unpopular decision in Israel, whose foreign ministry said was yet another example of Israel being held to a double-standard. There were also complaints that this would negatively affect the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians as approximately 20,000 Palestinians work on settlement farms.

The lead up to last week’s conference on the Israel/Palestine issue in France certainly fueled the impression that Israelis have of a meddling EU. Laurent Fabius, the former French foreign minister who is responsible for creating the conference, suggested that the EU should automatically recognize a Palestinian state if a peace initiative were to fail (this idea was rejected by Fabius’ successor, but it set the tone for the conference before it even started).

Prime Minister David Cameron addresses members of the No campaign on September 15, 2014 in Aberdeen,Scotland (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Still, dislike for the EU does not mean that Israel would want to see the biggest fighter against the rising tide of European anti-Semitism out of the ring. Britain, particularly Prime Minister David Cameron’s government, is seen as a much needed voice for Jews and Israeli business across the continent.

Others have seen the recent suspensions of multiple Labour leaders over accusations of anti-Semitism as a sign that Britain may not always have Israel’s back, but that a “Remain” victory would ensure that moderate voices on Israel prevail.

In the Arutz Sheva, Dr, Manfred Gerstenfeld wrote: “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.”

As emeritus rabbi Raymond Apple pointed out in the Jerusalem Post: “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.”

Recently, however, it is seems that Prime Minister Netanyahu has been repositioning Israel’s relationship with non-EU powers – especially Russia. A friendly visit to Russia after Putin’s government announced that they would be returning a Lebanon War-era Israeli tank seems to confirm the all-out “bromance” between the two right-wing leaders.

In this handout image supplied by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO), Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend a joint press conference at the Israeli leader´s Jerusalem residence on June 25, 2012

And even though Israel’s relationship with Turkey continues to sink to new lows, there have been rumors of a possible Saudi Arabian embassy in Tel Aviv, which would symbolize the strengthening ties between the two nations that see Iran as the bigger threat.

The point is that even though the EU is the still one of Israel’s strongest allies and biggest trading partner, Israel (or, more explicitly, Netanyahu) is exercising a less EU-focused diplomatic strategy than has been customary since the end of the Cold War. A British exit of the EU would be unpopular to most moderates in Israel, but there is a clear shift into a new global paradigm influenced by right-wing political leaders and movements, to which Netanyahu’s government certainly belongs.

Despite being ethnocentric nationalists to varying degrees, certain Brexiters, Trump, Putin, Marine La Pen and Netanyahu are united in their desire to shake up a twenty-six year old world order that the European Union represents.


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1. Melvyn Lipitch Author in 29/06/2016:
Far from a moderating effect on EU regarding its attitude to Israel it seems to me any UK influence has been ineffectual. The EU relentlessly plods on with its hostile attitude towards Israel which ironically is a much better example of democracy than the EU would ever contemplate. Your association of extreme right wing politicians with Brexitters is mistaken, instead they represent both sides of the political spectrum and I think most would be offended to be categorised in the manner you state.

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