No surprise we're playing safe on Brexit

May 12, 2016 11:07

Is it really a surprise that Jews are more likely to vote for Britain to remain in the EU next month?

On an issue of this magnitude, the community will surely always support the security provided by the status quo than a leap into the unknown.

The results of our exclusive poll show a 17-point gap between Remain and Leave (49-32), far wider than the national average (45-38). Compared to the general population, our result is emphatic.

As the Remain camp leads the charge to stay in the EU, the so-called "Project Fear" would appear to have found natural allies among Jewish voters - as if we, of all people, need lessons in how to worry.

While some in the Leave campaign liken refugees to snakes and promote footage of social unrest across Europe, Jewish voters in the suburbs of Edgware, Prestwich and Borehamwood have unsurprisingly said, "thanks, but we'll stick with what we've got".

Do the 17 per cent of Jewish voters who are still undecided six weeks before polling day suggest a higher degree of ambivalence within our community than generally? Not necessarily. The national number of "don't know" responses is declining, but has been between 15-20 per cent for over a year.

The bigger curiosity, perhaps, is that the number is as low as 17 per cent, given that there is no stand-out Jewish answer to the referendum question.

Those working to influence both British and European legislators admit that either result on June 23 would bring certainties and uncertainties for Jews, including over the future of shechita and circumcision, as well as the EU's approach to Israel.

So how to decide?

The EU provides something of a security blanket for European Jews. States with a history of hostility - Germany is the most obvious - tend to over-compensate for their pasts by generally being kinder towards us and working to protect us. Keeping them, and us, within the European Union is seen as sensible; a "collective responsibility" approach.

It also brings tangible benefits both for our continental cousins and for British Jews. Convincing all 27 EU member states to vote in a particular way - say on banning shechita - is fraught with difficulties.

The counter-argument says going it alone would be the more effective way to minimise the impact of negative forces within EU states. Should the tide turn and Jews on the continent find themselves increasingly challenged, this country would stand free to defend its Jews in whatever ways it wished, unencumbered by the Europeans.

But it is the endless uncertainties of Brexit that have surely led to this poll result. For example, what would become of the thousands of French Jews who have moved here for religious, security and financial reasons? Would they in due course be forced to return to a country facing a rise in antisemitism? Are British Jews prepared to take that risk?

All of this comes without even touching on the many non-Jewish factors which will almost undoubtedly have even greater influence over our decisions. The propensity for Jews to run their own businesses, and the economic uncertainty and impact on their livelihoods that leaving, or remaining, might bring is one issue that is likely to play big in our community.

Stick or twist? When it comes to safety, maintaining a supply of kosher meat, and continuing our religious practices, for British Jews it will almost always be a case of "better the Europe we know" than the risk of one we do not.

May 12, 2016 11:07

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