Jews and the EU referendum

13 June 2016 – 7 Sivan 5776

Dr Ilan Zvi Baron
13 June 2016

On June 23rd, we will be voting on the future of the United Kingdom and its relationship not just with Europe but with the rest of the world. As Jews we have some special reasons why we should vote to remain in the EU.
The first of these reasons is about Jewish peoplehood. The Jewish people are a diaspora people. We live in countries across the globe. Many of us are immigrants (myself, my mother, 3 of my grandparents, and at least 4 of my great-grandparents included). Most of us feel connected in some way to Jews in other countries. The history of the Jewish people has been about encountering, traveling and settling throughout the world. We wandered the desert for 40 years, were dispersed and spread across the globe, wrote the Talmud in Persia, shaped the history of Western religion, influenced Western philosophy, and in Europe created the Kabbalah. We pioneered internationalist commitments by supporting Jewish communities in far away countries, such as the 19th Century efforts led by French and British Jews, including Moses Montefiore, to help Jews in Damascus. If we are to learn anything from our 19th Century brethren who developed the Jewish trans-nationalist tradition in Europe, it is to value our neighbours, to work with them, and remain connected with them. We are an international people. The world may not have always been kind to us, but we have never shied away from our duty of Tikkun Olam to remain connected to the world. A vote to leave the EU is the reject this history and to turn inwards. We, Jews in the Reform and Liberal movements, are progressive Jews. We do not yearn for the ghetto. We live in the world.
Second, a vote to leave will significantly weaken the UK’s government’s ability to support Israel. There are only two political blocks in the world that Israel will listen to: the United States and the EU. The EU’s significance is because of the aid it provides to the Palestinians, aid that the Israeli government would otherwise need to provide according to the international law of military occupation. Israel needs the EU.
The EU is propping up the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Palestinian economy. Regardless of what we may think of the PA, it is vital to Israel’s interests that the Palestinian Territories do not implode. Keeping the Palestinian economy afloat and maintaining at least a modicum of governance structures in the Palestinian territories are vital to Israel’s interests. Indeed, even the Israeli government acknowledges the importance of sustaining the bare minimum of a Palestinian economy, as it has been sending resources into Gaza to assist in the reconstruction efforts after the last war, knowing full well that some of the aid has been used to rebuild the tunnels into Israel used for smuggling and violence.
Israel’s trade with the EU was worth €30 billion in 2014 and Israel’s Universities are eligible for EU research funding. Other than the United States, Israel’s main trading partners include the UK, Belgium and Germany, and Israel is part of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership. The UK would lose its ability to support Israel internationally through Europe if we leave the EU. The UK would be relegated to the benches, able to watch, but unable to lead, and unlikely to play. The UK has Europe’s second largest Jewish population, but when compared to the United States it is a small population that Israel barely notices. If we leave, only France will have the Jewish population to support sustained international efforts within the EU in support of Israel. By ourselves the UK voice won’t be heard, but as part of Europe it can be. In 2017, the UK is set to take up the presidency of the European Council. The opportunity to lead as president will be lost if we leave.
In the 1840s, it was with France, not alone, that British Jews went to the aid of Jews in Damascus. Together we can achieve great things. As Jews, we should vote to remain in the EU. We should learn from our trans-national heritage, respect the power of being a diaspora people by remaining a part of the world by keeping our connection with Europe. As Jews we should vote to remain in the UK so we can retain a seat at a very important table in foreign relations, so we stand a chance to make a difference when it counts. As Jews who gave Torah to the world, we ought to follow in our moral duty to repair the world. We can only achieve this by remaining a part of the world.

Dr Ilan Zvi Baron is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Government and International Affairs and Co-Director, Centre for the Study of Jewish Culture, Society and Politics at Durham University.


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