Israel’s Stake in the Brexit Referendum

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron leaves after voting in the EU referendum, at a polling station in central London, Thursday. He said a Brexit would hurt Israel. (Reuters/Stefan Wermuth)
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron leaves after voting in the EU referendum, at a polling station in central London, Thursday. He said a Brexit would hurt Israel. (Reuters/Stefan Wermuth)

With the future of Britain and the European Union hung on the U.K. referendum on Thursday, the question was raised whether the outcome will affect Israel, as well.

Israeli officials have avoided commenting on the subject, so as not to seem to interfere with a decision for British citizens to make.

However, former senior diplomat Yigal Palmor was prompted to speak out by Prime Minister David Cameron’s argument that Brexit, a departure from the EU, would be bad not only for Britain but for Israel too.

“Do you want Britain, Israel’s greatest friend, in there opposing boycotts, opposing the campaign for divestment and sanctions, or do you want us outside the room, powerless to affect the discussion that takes place?” Cameron asked.

Palmor rejected the idea that an EU without the U.K. would harm Israeli interests.

Britain, he told The Jerusalem Post, is not Israel’s “go-to guy” inside the EU. Rather, countries such as the Czech Republic and Germany who have stood up for Israel in recent years, said Palmor, currently the Jewish Agency’s director of communications, and a Foreign Ministry spokesman from 2008 to 2014.

“Britain is generally a voice inside the EU that understands us,” Palmor said. “It is not like the Czech Republic, Italy or Germany, but also not like Ireland, Sweden and Spain,” which are the most critical of Israel inside the EU. “The British are relatively more open to our arguments, but they are not the game changer; not the go-to guy.”

On the other hand, if Brexit does happen, Britain can continue to be friendly to Israel and have a voice outside the corridors of the EU. In particular, as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council it would retain a key position in international diplomacy.

Regarding military and security cooperation with Israel, they would not be seriously affected, he says, because they are chiefly bilateral in nature, not EU-bound.

Oded Eran, former Israeli ambassador to the EU and now a senior analyst at the Institute for National Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv, did not concur.

”It is preferable for Israel that Britain remain in the EU, where it is a voice of moderation” in favor of Israel, Eran told The Media Line.

As the EU is Israel’s largest trading partner, and a Brexit could weaken it economically, Israel would feel the effect, he said.

In the security sphere, Britain is one of the most active members of the EU and NATO, he notes. “We prefer to see a stronger Europe in its battle against terror and other threats,” he says.

Efraim Inbar, head of the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, contends that just the opposite is true: “If Britain leaves and the EU becomes weaker, it will impact positively on Israel,” he said. “The EU as a whole is much more anti-Israel than its individual countries so if it is weakened that will be good.”

Inbar also suggested that a British exit, which would reflect a trend toward nationalist feelings in Europe, could also contribute to a better understanding of Israel.

“The EU is basically a post nationalist phenomenon while Israel is a nationalist phenomenon, so with each country being nationalist there will be a greater understanding of Israeli behavior,” he says.