Brexit: Now we must avoid narrow nationalism

Rabbi Danny Rich
24 June 2016
The Jewish Chronicle
Whether you were a Brexiter or part of the large minority who voted Remain, you participated in an historic moment – certainly in the story of the United Kingdom, and possibly of greater significance for the future structure of Europe.
In a democracy, a referendum reflecting the will of the people is implicitly sovereign and any person in public life now has a responsibility to support the implementation of that expression… albeit not critically.
Decisions have consequences and the warnings of experts and others that, at least in the short term, there would be instability in the currency markets and other economic indicators appears to have been confirmed. It is vital that the ensuing costs are met by the more fortunate, in an economic sense, of us.
Judaism demands protection for the weakest and most vulnerable in our society. The United Kingdom has a proud history of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers – and indeed those who arrive here for economic reasons – and it will be important to maintain this reputation both in theory and in practice.
Residents of European continental origins, and others from further afield, play a vital part in the public services and business of the country and they may well need reassurance of the Levitical Jewish principle of the love of one’s fellow citizen and of the stranger regardless of origin.
There are two major fears. First, that laudable patriotism and demands for independence can lead to a narrow nationalism and a mood of selfishness.
In truth, the challenges of Europe and our globe including the movement of refugees, climate change and the equitable sharing of the earth’s resources require co-operation and a sense of internationalism. Just as in a society each person is dependent on the next so in a global context one nation’s future is tied up with that of the neighbouring one.
It was, after all, the Hebrew Prophet, Malachi who asked ‘Have we not all one Divine Parent? Has not one God created us?’
The second worry is about the vocabulary of political debate and the connected attitude to people who occupy public office.
Despite the passion and resources which have been expended in the campaign, it is possible that the vote was not about the principles and consequence of membership of European Union but more about undignified headlines and cynicism about the motives of public servants, both elected and unelected.
If the United Kingdom is to fulfil the role demanded of it by Judaism – a mission of messianism whereby good will triumph over evil through partnership of God and humanity – then the rhetoric of, and approach to, politics needs to undergo a rapid and radical transformation.
Then may we fulfil the Midrash so it may it be said of each one of us and of the United Kingdom as a whole: “I have rejoiced and caused others to rejoice.”
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