In the historic referendum last week, the United Kingdom voted to leave the 28-nation European Union (EU), sending shockwaves throughout Europe and the international community. The results of the so-called “Brexit” vote – 52% in favor of exiting the EU and 48% opposed – spurred the resignation of U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and called into question the identity and strength of the EU, while leaving many nations, including Israel, wondering how the vote will affect policy and trade in the years ahead.
“It’s hard to know what is going to happen, and nothing is going to happen right away,” said Dr. Oded Eran, the former Israeli ambassador to the EU. “There is no doubt that Israel will be left to follow the agreements that will be made between the United Kingdom and the European Union, and to adjust its economic and trade relations with Britain accordingly.”
Opposition leaders in France and the Netherlands have hailed British voters’ decision, calling for similar referendums on EU membership in their countries. “This is the dilemma that the European Union will face,” Eran said. “If Britain was a singular case, then this would be a simpler situation.”
A major factor in the Brexit vote was the influx of Muslim immigration into Europe. Supporters of the Brexit suggested that Muslim immigration threatens the distinct character of European nations.
Opponents of leaving the EU cited growing xenophobia and anti-Islamic sentiment in British society, often coupled with antisemitic sentiments.
According to Fiamma Nirenstein – a former Italian parliamentarian who served as vice-president of the parliament’s committee on foreign affairs and as a member of the Italian delegation to the Council of Europe – there are opposing views within Europe’s Jewish communities on the causes and potential consequences of the Brexit vote.
Nirenstein noted that one school of thought views the Brexit vote “as a sort of punishment for Europe” for growing anti-Israel and antisemitic sentiment.
“Over the past century, Europe has been so bad to the Jews,” she said. “And, increasingly now, Europe is against Israeli actions, and Europe is seeing an explosion of antisemitism. So, in the view of one camp, there is something wrong with Europe and something needed to happen to demonstrate that, and the Brexit vote represents this.”
On the other side, Nirenstein suggested, is a second camp that views the Brexit vote negatively – “as an event that strengthens and empowers an illiberal right-wing sentiment throughout Europe,” a sentiment that is simultaneously antisemitic and anti-Islamic and, at its core, anti-immigration.
“As a people that have ourselves been strangers in many lands, Jews have always identified with the value of welcoming the other, so this camp of Jews is against the [Brexit] vote,” said Nirenstein, who also served as chairperson of the International Council of Jewish Parliamentarians.
Read more at jns.org.