Was the Brexit Vote “Good for the Jews”?

by James M. Wall

A Jewish mother hears her family cheering. She cries out, “what happened?” One of the men gathered around the radio, shouts back, “Mel Ott just hit a home run!”

She responds, “Is it good for the Jews”?

That is the version of the story I first heard in my sports writing days. Ott was not Jewish, but he played for, and managed, the New York Giants, which had a large Jewish fan base.

Stanley Fish explained the importance of the question of what is good for Jews, when he wrote in the New York Times, March 4, 2007:

When I was growing up in the ’40s and ’50s, a single question was asked in my neighborhood of every piece of news, large or small, local or national: “Is it good for the Jews?” We have now learned to identify this question in all of its versions – Is it good for the Catholics? Is it good for the Latinos?

Is it good for the gays? and on and on – as the paradigmatic question of identity politics, the politics that is derived not from some general, even universal, assertion of what is good, but from a particularized concern with insular interests. Is it good for us, for those of our kind, for our tribe?

It is no surprise that on both sides of the Atlantic, tribal media from all persuasions responded to the surprising Brexit vote with the Jewish mother’s question, “is it good for us?”

In the picture above, from Jerusalem’s Ha’aretz, Mark Regev, Israel’s new ambassador to England, meets Queen Elizabeth for a private audience at Buckingham Palace, London, June 24, the day after the Brexit vote.

It is to be assumed the rejection of the European Union by the majority of the Queen’s subjects, was a major topic of their conversation.

In a story from Britain’s Independent, Regev is described as a staunch defender of Israel’s “security”. He is the former official spokesman for Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu:

The new ambassador will be one of the most high-profile members of the London diplomatic circuit, especially following the media exposure he received in his previous job [as media spokesman]. 

He will also bring with him a reputation for great tenacity in putting forward his country’s case during times of crisis, and infuriating critics while doing so. 

From the U.S. progressive left, Robert Parry writes in Consortium, that the June 23 Brexit vote to exit the EU by the margin of 52% to 48%, could be good news for the powerless.

In the quotation below, Parry concludes with a nice turn inspired by Reinhold Niebuhr:

The United Kingdom’s “Brexit” vote may cause short-term economic pain and present long-term geopolitical risks, but it is a splash of ice water in the face of the West’s Establishment, which has grown more and more insular, elitist and unaccountable over recent decades.

The West’s powers-that-be, in both the United States and the European Union, too often display contempt for real democracy, maintaining only the façade of respecting the popular will, manipulating voters at election time with red-meat politics and empty promises – before getting back to the business of comforting the comfortable and letting the comfortable afflict the afflicted.

From Nazareth, British-born Jonathan Cook, wrote in his blog (reposted by Mondoweiss) on the Leave victory. He issues dire warnings to Israel and the established order:

The conventional wisdom, following Britain’s referendum result announced on Friday [June 24], holds that the narrow vote in favor of leaving the European Union – so-called Brexit – is evidence of a troubling resurgence of nationalism and isolationism across much of Europe.

That wisdom is wrong, or at least far too simplistic.

The outcome, which surprised many observers, attested to the deeply flawed nature of the referendum campaign. That, in turn, reflects a key failing of modern politics, not only in Britain but in most of the developed world: the re-emergence of an unaccountable political class.

The most distinctive feature of the campaign was the lack of an identifiable ideological battlefield. This was not about a clash of worldviews, values or even arguments. Rather, it was a contest in who could fearmonger most effectively.

Later in his posting, Cook focused specifically on Israel’s shaky world status:

The trends underpinning the Brexit vote should disturb Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, just as they already are troubling the political class in Europe and the US.

Like the EU, Israel too, is a pillar of the old global order. A ‘Jewish homeland. emerged under British protection while Britain still ran an empire and saw the Middle East as its playground.

After the European colonial powers went into abeyance following the Second World War, the role of patron shifted to the new global hegemon in Washington. The US has endlessly indulged Israel, guarded its back at the United Nations, and heavily subsidised Israel’s powerful military industries.

Whereas the US has propped up Israel diplomatically and militarily, the EU has underwritten Israel’s economic success. It has violated its own constitution to give Israel special trading status and thereby turned Europe into Israel’s largest export market.

It has taken decades for Europe to even acknowledge – let alone remedy – the problem that it is also trading with illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

If the EU starts to unravel, and US neoliberal hegemony weakens, Israel will be in trouble. It will be in desperate need of a new guarantor, one prepared to support a country that polls repeatedly show is mistrusted around the world.

Forward writer Mik Moore connects the Brexit vote to both Israel and the U.S.:

“Is it good for the Jews?” is as much a punchline as a question. And yet, whether the question is asked explicitly or not, there remains a corner of our community that brings a “good for the Jews” mentality to every concern. , , ,

In the immediate shadow of the Holocaust or pogroms, Jews were understandably guided by a sense of their own precariousness. That’s what should happen when governments are committed to your annihilation.

But 60 years later, particularly in the United States, it is wrong to pretend that Jews, as a community, are similarly vulnerable. Jews are the wealthiest religious group in the United States, and with the exception of Hindus, the most educated.  .  .  .

Distrust of the political class is growing by the day, and Israel is an issue on which US politicians are supremely vulnerable. It is increasingly hard to defend Congress’ historic rock-solid support for Israel as truly in American interests.

In his blog, written from Canada, Philip Lee, a native of Great Britain, expands the impact of the vote to the increasing right wing movement in Europe, under the headline: “Europe is coming apart at the seams”.:

A catastrophe looms post-Brexit and the United Kingdom has chosen to lose its voice.

European politics are in turmoil. In Austria, Norbert Hofer has narrowly failed to become Austria’s first far-right head of state. In France, Marine Le Pen has a good chance of winning next year’s presidential election. And in Poland, conservative president Andrzej Duda is intent on seizing control of the country’s media, judicial system, and constitutional tribunal (Poland’s highest court).

Government actions in Hungary were recently described by the president of the European Parliament as having the “characteristics of a coup”, and in Bulgaria the government has allocated $19 million to erect more razor-wire fences to prevent migrants from entering and has called out the army to secure its borders.

There are aggressive nationalist parties in Germany, Macedonia, Slovakia, Lithuania, Finland, Belgium, and on the “sceptred isle” itself, where extremist Britain First is trying to provoke what it calls a revolution in the streets through “militant direct action”, invading mosques, and targeting Muslim officials such as the new Mayor of London.

Philip Lee points further to Natalie Nougayrède’s article in the British Guardian which describes the vote as a wake-up call “to save Europe”.

Nougayrède writes that the vote has put “the cohesion and strength of western liberal democracies at stake in a global environment plagued with uncertainties. Now populist, far-right and anti-western forces will push forward in the belief that a precedent has been set for other ‘exits’.”

To quote Bob Dylan, the “times they are changing”, but unexpected events have a way of producing change in dramatic form. This could be one of those times.

The picture at top of Queen Elizabeth and Ambassador Regev is by Dominic Lipinsk,  for Reuters.

The picture of ballot counting is from a voting place in England. It was taken by Neil Hall for Reuters. 

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall writings.me, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years.
This entry was posted in Israel, Jewish faith and tradition, Judiasm, Palestinians, Politics and Elections. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Was the Brexit Vote “Good for the Jews”?

  1. oldkahuna says:

    When I spent a year in the UK I was often chastised and corrected for referring to the UK as a part of Europe. “We most certainly ARE NOT EUROPEANS!” Whatever else Brexit may be, it is a proclamation, “WE ARE NOT EUROPEANS.”

  2. Jack Graham says:

    The Brexit vote was not between the left and the right, or between free enterprise and socialism, but between a traditional world order based on national states and a new world order based on multinational currency, banks, unions, and corporations run behind the scenes by powers of high finance and global business. Brexit is only the beginning of a rebellion against the European Union now flourishing, and the North American Union now planned. The British are part of Europe as much as France or Germany, but the question is whether Europe will be run by sovereign nations with constitutional governments, or powers of big money and big business, governing us behind the scenes and manipulating public opinion through newspapers they own. The Bilderberg Group has been running things since the middle of the 20th century, but finally people see that they exist and are dangerous to Western civilization. The Soviet Union collapsed into many republics, and now we see the collapse of the EU and NATO into nation states. My hope is that this trend continues, that nation states regain their authority, and that a more satisfactory form of international cooperation is developed along lines recommended by the Baron de Montesquieu in 1748, — and by Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist No. 9 which is easily accessible by internet

  3. AWAD PAUL SIFRI says:

    Brilliantly said, Jim. Thank you for your outstanding article.
    Yes, Israel was attempting to gradually join EU, starting by removing custom duty barriers from Israeli goods, as you briefly noted.
    Changing continents, what we need in the Middle East is an IsraelExit, or ISREXIT.
    The European-Zionist occupiers, who invaded Palestine, with vital British assistance, need to learn an ancient Biblical term: EXODUS.
    What is, in fact, urgently needed is an Israeli Exodus, or ISREXODUS from Palestine, starting with East Jerusalem, our Palestinian Capital, and on to the West Bank, while ending Israeli strangulation and waterboarding of Gaza.
    Ironically, BREXIT reminds me of, yet another dramatic moment in modern history:
    Great Britain’s BREXIT from Palestine.
    It started when Colonial Great Britain fabricated the rollercoaster Jewish immigration into Palestine. This led to resistance and rebellion by the native Palestinian people against this massive invasion. Jewish terrorism was rampant and led to the destruction of over 500 Palestinian towns, and villages, and there was warfare.
    That’s when Great Britain came up with a strategic BREXIT form Palestine, in 1948, in order to facilitate the creation of Israel. In the following two decades, Arab rebellions against British Colonial hegemony in the Middle East, led to Great Britain’s “Colonial Brexit” from the region.
    I wonder what a 21st Century philosopher will make of all this? I wish the 20th Century’s greatest historian (“A Study of History”), Arnold Toynbee, was still alive.

  4. Jim, thank you for a succinct and informative report.

    Paul, your comment is a pleasure to read; all your words and their historical and impending relevance are set forth with the same brilliance you ascribe to Jim. Bravo!

    Viva Palestine!

    Israel: BEGONE! ISREXIT! Faster, please….

  5. Robert says:

    Interesting. And thanks Jack Graham. Trump seems to fit perfectly into this rising tide of nationalism and by his own unabashed claim, “against globalism” and the Clintonian plutocrats.

    What is to be made of all this?

  6. Sam khalil says:

    Thank you Jim for this explicit article
    and thank you Awad for all these terms
    To help Israeli exedus,Brexit,Isrexit what ever
    It takes as long they … E X I T Palestine.
    Britain colonial mentality that ruled ,
    destroyed and committed atrocities in Palestine
    and around the world always CREAT its
    own weather for comfort
    But once it becomes uncomfortable it relieves
    Itself from all responsibilities and obligations
    pull out and leave all hell behind and shrug
    their shoulders like a mafia would do….kill and
    attend funerals .I hope this Brexist is the last
    nail in the coffin for this colonial power which
    is responsible for more than half of the world
    atrocities and open the doors to bring England
    to justice for the crimes and tragedies
    committed against humanity.
    There are enough countries around the world
    That can file law suites against this colonial
    Criminal Power.

  7. MGM says:

    It is this old croon and her government that gave our land to the invading Jewish hagana and stern gangs who terrorized our people 68 years ago, and took over our Palestine. Europian Jews do not belong in Palestine and this old hag and her prime minister MR Balfour, promised our land to invaders. What a shame on the British Empire

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