A big win for the Brexit Party would be bad for Britain's Jews

Ahead of Sunday's European election results, Blaise Baquiche reflects on what the March of the Living taught him about Europe

May 24, 2019 10:00

“Look at what we’re walking on! What has Europe ever done for us?!”

My marching companion has a point. As we hop, almost childlike, from one wooden sleeper of the tracks to another, we look up and see the hair-raising facade of the infamous Auschwitz entrance gate.

I recently completed the annual March of the Living, a six-day educational journey where students and adults of all ages learn about 1,000 years of Jewish life in Poland as well as the devastation of the Holocaust. The trip culminated in over 12,000 participants, retracing the steps of the original March of Death, the route by which countless victims of the Nazi regime were forced to make their way to the gas chambers at Birkenau. An international crowd of all faiths attended, including Romana Aly of the Guardian and the controversial Tory mayoral candidate for London, Shaun Bailey.

Auschwitz, of all places, was probably not the right spot to be discussing parliamentary sovereignty, bendy bananas and WTO regulations. Perhaps because I’m obsessed like most politically-minded Brits, or because I worked in Brussels for two years, I simply couldn’t avoid Brexit as a topic of conversation.

“The EU is a failing project. Thank God we’re getting out!”

In 1939, Europe had genuinely failed, and as a consequence, humanity had failed too. The complete breakdown of trust and diplomacy between ‘nation-states’, had resulted in the mass murder of societies on an industrial scale.

The transportation of Jews from all over Europe to death camps was a continent-wide failure. An educator of the camp site professes that in a deeply dark and blood-curdling way, Auschwitz was a precursor of Israel and the Zionist ideal. A conference of Jews from all over Europe, finally getting a chance to live and interact with each other, Greeks meeting Poles, Russians alongside the French.

“How dare the Europeans tell us how to run our own affairs?”

Even though the conversation shifts to the Palestinian struggle, this sounds painfully familiar re: Brexit. The EU has recently had some bad PR in the eyes of Israelis, most notably with the former president of the European Parliament, Martin Shultz. He rocked up in the Knesset, seemingly oblivious to the notion that Israelis may carry some baggage regarding a German telling them what to do.

Thankfully, ‘anarcho-liberalist to the extent of doing of nothing’ Dan Hannan MEP was ever-present in the referendum campaign to proclaim that the British Jews should vote to leave because the EU doesn’t like ‘nation states’, and Israel is a ‘nation-state’.

Anti-Israeli sentiment has dramatically risen in each and every EU member state since the latest instalment of full-scale war in 2014. This has been polished off with a debilitating and party-splitting row of antisemitism in the Labour party last summer.

In a world in which the EU, the epitome of the international rules-based order, breaks down, it’s not too outlandish to predict that the first ones to get it in the neck are the Jews. The coarsening of public discourse, the increase in threats made to Jewish MPs, and the steady rise in antisemitic attacks since the Brexit vote make for equally depressing reading.

Whether it’s the tropes used by Nigel Farage, or the actions of the Netanyahu administration in stoking specifically anti-Israeli sentiment, the threat towards Jewish life in Europe has not gone away.

This is not even to mention what the EU institutions actively do to protect the status of ethnic and cultural minorities on a European scale. This includes the funding and restoration of all the Nazi concentration and death camps, as well as Holocaust remembrance centres and Jewish museums across Europe.

Of course, these views will differ greatly form the current Brexit Party MEP candidates for London, Lance Forman and Simon Marcus, who are Jewish and face their own antisemitic attacks, as well as the leave-voting editor of the JC, Stephen Pollard.

Ultimately want pains me most are the classless accusations made by social media influencers who are supported by a wealth of literature, that the EU is a reincarnation of the Nazis’ Third Reich. For a supranational project designed so that we would never again repeat the horrors of the Holocaust, British Jews should not forget that their future lies in a strong and united Europe.

I understand the frustration among voters who have lost faith in the two major parties. They may even feel glad that Farage has blown apart the political class. But a high turnout yesterday for the Brexit Party would be bad news for British Jews.

Blaise Baquiche is a strategic communications specialist and a former a transport policy adviser to the Conservative Party in the European Parliament

May 24, 2019 10:00

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive