Brexit: So is it 'good for the Jews'?
by Rabbi Abraham Cooper and Dr. Harold Brackman
As a shocked world reacted to England'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 anti-Semitic canard by charging that (non-existent) rabbis are urging Jews to poison the Palestinian water supply.
The response by representatives of the 28 European nations whose own histories are littered with the terrible consequences of such anti-Semitic blood libels? A thunderous 30-second standing ovation.
So forgive us if while everyone else analyzes the economic impact of the UK exit, and pundits parse the generational and social divide of British voters, we dare to ask a parochial question: is a weakened EU good or bad for the Jews? First, there is the geopolitical calculus of a triple pincer movement to consider: Russian President Vladimir Putin's troublemaking from the East, the massive migrant-refugee influx into Europe from the South, and now the UK's secession from the West with unforeseen implications for global economies and politics.
For Israel, the EU's global dilemma is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it could, at least temporarily, derail the EU's intense pressuring of Israel to accept – even sans direct negotiations with the Palestinians – a one-sided French peace initiative, imposing indefensible borders on the Jewish state. On the other hand, as leading Israeli corporations and Israel's stock market are already recognizing, new problems for the EU economic engine are also a threat to the Jewish state's economic ties with its leading trading partner.
But the scope of the current crisis is also very much the result of the internal moral and political failure of the EU's own transnational elites and political leadership to confront its homegrown problems. These problems have also impacted on many of Europe's 1.4 million Jews.
It's been 25 years since the Berlin Wall came down. This means the EU had an entire generation to deliver on the promises of creating a new Europe that would continue and extend the progress made since World War II by instituting a common currency and encouraging economic integration, free movement between member countries, while promoting mutual respect among the free citizens of the new United States of Europe.
Instead, European elites over-centralized power in Brussels by practicing what amounts to "taxation without representation," and – after instituting open borders across the continent – failed to come up with coherent strategies to deal with burgeoning terrorism and wave after wave of Middle East migrants. Suddenly, calls by (mostly) far-right voices to "take back control of their country," "restore national sovereignty" and "reestablish national borders" began to resonate in the mainstream of not only the UK, but also Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and France. With Germany's Chancellor Angel Merkel as the prime example, EU political leaders have so far failed to deal with legitimate citizen concerns that democracy itself is threatened by the uncontrolled influx of people from the Middle East and Africa who are not being assimilated into the basic values and institutions of Western societies.
To date, the primary beneficiaries of this political failure are the extreme nationalist parties – Le Pen's National Front in France, Geert Wilders' Dutch Party for Freedom, Austria's Freedom Party, and Fidesz and Jobbik in Hungary among them – that are now mainstream political and social actors on their nations' social power grids. Many are the proud bearers of xenophobic, populist platforms that include whitewashing or minimizing the crimes of the Nazi era. Jews rightfully fearful of the anti-Semitism among old and new Muslim neighbors in Europe can take little solace in the specter of a fragmented continent led by movements whose member rail against Muslims but also despise Jews.
We began with President Abbas' morning-after-Brexit blood libel speech before a perfidious European Parliament. His libel and the applause it received still reverberate despite Abbas' subsequent retraction.
For the episode highlights the lack of moral accountability infecting EU elites ensconced in the ivory towers of Brussels' bureaucratic headquarters.
We can only hope and pray that European captains of industry, politicians, media and NGOs take the UK vote as a wake-up call for them all. For if they fail to actually address the economic and social crises with real solutions, it won't only be the Jews of Europe who will be searching for the nearest exit.
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.
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