Tuesday, July 5, 2016
I spent last week in the UK on a speaking tour. I met people and addressed audiences in England, Scotland and Wales and enjoyed every minute of it (except the cold rainy weather of course!) But arriving in Great Britain just 2 days after the dramatic results of the Brexit Referendum, I was swept by the aftermath that was felt in every conversation, every news broadcast and every talk show. I found a country stunned by a result that neither proponents nor opponents really expected. There were many who expressed fear or anxiety regarding the economic impact of the decision to leave the European Union but most of the people that I personally met were excited at the prospect for change. They did not like the European Union and were glad to separate from it.
As an outsider, and being the political animal I am, I was intrigued by the developments and particularly interested in understanding the underlying reasoning of those who voted in favor of leaving the EU. And I had plenty of opportunity for conversation.
I met British citizens who were fed up with the control wielded by a distant government in Brussels, totally unresponsive to the wishes of the citizens of Britain. I can only assume that citizens of other countries in the EU feel the same and, indeed, I have heard similar complaints over the years from German and Dutch citizens.
The people I met were all very supportive of Israel and were therefore incensed with the way the EU has handled the Israel—Palestinian conflict, with its clear bias toward Palestinian claims. Recent guidelines which call for an effective boycott of all goods produced in Judea and Samaria and calls for boycott against academic cooperation with
anyone connected in any way with Judea and Samaria are just some examples of the anti-Israel bent of the EU. The EU has also provided financial support for illegal Palestinian building in Area C, an area under total Israeli control, while condemning Israel for building homes legally in this very same area. For Christian Zionists, therefore, leaving the EU provided hope that Great Britain would prove a more supportive ally of Israel that it had been as part of the EU. That, of course, remains to be seen.
Britain’s exit from the European Union may well lay the foundation for a changed relationship between Israel and Europe. The EU’s massive bureaucratic center has become so powerful that individual governments have minimal control over their actions — witness the EU guidelines regarding Judea and Samaria.
I believe that Britain’s exit from the EU has created a shake-up of long-held assumptions regarding Europe that will only be felt in the coming months and years. Britain is a strong economy and a well-developed country. I am confident that it will find the way to trade beneficially with Europe while recovering the independence it lost when it joined the EU. And it is quite possible that other strong economies will begin a process of separation from the EU. And once that happens, the entire structure will collapse.
I am reminded of the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the 1970’s and 80’s. I was particularly concerned with the oppression of Soviet Jews and the refusal of the Soviet government to allow Jews to emigrate to Israel, to learn Hebrew and to practice their faith. Natan Sharansky languished in a Soviet prison on trumped-up charges of treason and his young wife Avital traveled the globe seeking assistance in obtaining his freedom. But in the end, he was freed when communism collapsed and the iron curtain came down. Just one year earlier, in the height of the Cold War, no one could have imagined such a scenario. And then it happened. And as a direct result of the demise of the Soviet Union, more than 1 million Jews left the former Soviet Union and came to Israel. And Natan Sharansky became an Israeli government minister and later the head of the Jewish Agency.
It is too early to say what the ramifications of Brexit will be for Israel. But I wonder if we are not on the cusp of another cataclysmic change that no one could have predicted just a few years ago. If the EU goes, Israel will be able to establish independent relationships with European countries. There will be some countries that seek this relationship and others that don’t. But gone will be the massive giant that could strangle Israel with economic boycott. If there ever was a united Europe, it will unravel at the seams. Even today, as Europe and the US exert untenable pressure on Israel, Israel has strengthened economic and diplomatic relations with China, India and other Asian and African countries. With a weakened Europe, that trend will be reinforced.
From a spiritual standpoint, though, I believe that as we view rapid and unexpected changes in geopolitical realities, we are reminded that man is but a speck in the realm of the universe. We look at realities around us that seem immutable and then, overnight one little event can cause everything to change. Just a few years before the State of Israel was established, 6 million Jews were murdered in Europe. In 1944, no one could have
imagined a time when Jews would not be helpless and totally dependent on the will of nations. Just a few years later, all that changed and today, Israel can defend itself against its many enemies and her advice is sought by other far more powerful nations on ways to combat terrorism. Who would have believed such a thing possible?
Twenty years ago, a few lone voices called for the annexation of Judea and Samaria to Israel. Even most advocates of the Jewish right to the land believed that such a move was totally unrealistic. Today, more and more politicians are voicing this position. And with the disintegration of so much of the Middle East, more and more understand that a two-State solution is not viable.
With G-d in charge, anything is possible. What may once have seemed impossible can become totally possible, even probable, almost overnight. We would all do well to keep these lessons in mind, and to recognize the arrogance that so often accompanies reasoned analyses and sophisticated predictions. I have no idea what will happen. I have only raised a few questions and sketched a few possibilities. Let us watch and see and hope and pray that the results of what began last week will bring blessing to Israel