As editor of the JC, I kept my views on the EU referendum off its pages. In so important a vote, I didn’t think it appropriate for the paper – let alone the editor - to take sides. But now that it’s over, it’s time to deal with some of the bizarre myths that are being created about what Brexit will mean for Israel and British Jews.
As PM, David Cameron has grown into one of Israel’s staunchest allies, defending her when there was no political gain. That has been wonderful to observe. Whoever takes over, one hopes, will have a similar view. But whatever their view of Israel, they will form it irrespective of EU membership. In Mr Cameron’s case, it was seeing the terror threat against British citizens that woke him up to the threat faced daily by Israelis. Our membership of the EU was irrelevant.
Irrelevant up to a point – because one could argue that, away from the Brussels bartering and negotiations that lie behind the EU’s foreign policy, Britain will be free to carve out an even more supportive stance, should we wish to.
And that is the crucial point: should we wish to. At root, it’s all about democracy. The Friends of Israel groups will have exactly the same job to do post-Brexit as they do now. No more, and no less. And if we ever ended up with Jeremy Corbyn in No 10, it would be domestic politics – and his own prejudices – that formed his policy towards Israel, not the fact that we are no longer members of the EU.
As for our place in British society as Jews and the threat of extremism: I have rarely read more rubbish than the idea we as Jews will suffer from Brexit.
While it’s important not to overstate it, antisemitism is a problem now – today, as EU members. I don’t argue that it’s the EU’s fault. But it’s ludicrous to pretend that it doesn’t exist, and that extremism will be a product of Brexit.
It’s certainly a truism that when times are troubled, the Jews are often the first target. But the referendum demand from voters that we regain control over immigration isn’t an attack on immigrants, on foreigners – or on Jews. It’s an attack on people being denied any say on a core issue of politics.
Indeed, far from Brexit hurting minorities, the real problem for minorities comes when politics ignores such concerns - when the mainstream loses touch with people and the only vehicles left to make a point are extremists. Marine Le Pen is surging in France not because all the French are fascists but because the French governing class – Eurofanatical to the core - treats its voters with contempt.
That has been the EU’s fundamental flaw. It regards voters as uncouths who need to have what’s good for them imposed on them. Just look at Greece. That’s how and when extremists prosper – and that’s when the Jews suffer.
Our freedom from the EU will make extremism less, not more, likely, as the pressure cooker is released.
Whether you think, as I do, that today is a wonderful day, when our country has decided to return to self-government, or you think it a political and economic disaster, as many others do – the fact of our religion is entirely irrelevant.