Britain's voice on Israel and Palestine will not be missed in the EU
By: Vyara Gylsen
In the wake of a post Brexit Britain, the recent marriage break up between the UK and the EU has far reaching implications. Although Israel and Palestine rightfully were not part of the debate, the ripples of this seismic decision will no doubt be strongly felt there.
In the blink of an eye, Israel have lost one of their most important allies in the EU arena. The UK's staunch support for Israel will no longer be a voice that will be heard in EU debates on what policies to adapt towards Israel, such as recognising a Palestinian State or the BDS movement spread across Europe. The UK economically and politically carries a lot of weight and was a major and important member of the EU. Israel are losing pro Israel MEPs, British staff and policy makers who fervently push for a pro Israel agenda. More often than not, they voted against policies that supported Palestinian rights.
In a last minute desperate plea to win over votes, David Cameron made a passionate speech to Israel supporters at the charity "Jewish Care"
"“When Europe is discussing its attitude towards Israel, 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 along with the Conservative party have been a staunch ally to Israel. According to a report on the Israel Lobby in Europe, British Conservative party members created the European Friends of Israel (EFI) in 2006, arguably one of the most influential Israel lobby groups in Brussels. EFI is modelled on the UK’s Israel lobby, where there are powerful ‘friends’ of Israel organised in the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI), Labour Friends of Israel, Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel and UKIP friends of Israel. As a pressure group within Westminster, CFI is perhaps unparalleled in terms of its influence. CFI claims that 80 per cent of Tory MPs are members of the organisation, including cabinet ministers.
However, he resigned and cleared the path for the more neo conservative and self proclaimed Zionist Michael Gove to step into power. A man who referred to BDS as a a crime worse than apartheid. Luckily, he was out of the race quicker than you can say Brexit.
The opposition leader on the other side is Jeremy Corbyn, a long term Palestian rights activist. For his views, Corbyn's party has been smeared with antisemitism claims, a move that Asa Winstansly describes as a manufacture crisis by the Israel Lobby in the UK. Not only directed at the new Labour Leader, Winstanley argues that the "witch hunt" has been aimed to conflate antizionism with anti-semitism, but fails to stand up to sensible scrutiny. It's also an act of shifting public opinion to a newer description of antisemitism which aims to relate any criticism of the state of israel as antisemitism. Immediately after the result, a Labour friend of Israel launched a coup against Corbyn. Some argue that this is due to Corbyn ( who is a avid support for Palestinian rights and BDS as a tactic), is now likely to have an opportunity to come into power in light of the possibility of an early general election.
However, it's not all bad news for Israel. The Director of EIPA (Europe Israel Public Affairs) Alex Benjamin in his immediate response to Brexit stated spoke not only of the losses but Israel's opportunities too, in light of Brexit.
"Balkan states, the Visegrad group of countries and the Baltic states will undoubtedly feel emboldened after Brexit. They will feel their voices have become louder in the European Council, Parliament and Commission... As these countries enjoy a by and large excellent relationship with Israel, their rise can only be good news for us, and we anticipate a deeper and more cooperative relationship with them at Permanent Representative and EU institutional level."
Some far right Israel groups even campaigned for Brexit. Professor Ramzy Baroud in his response to Brexit spoke of Regavim, a right-wing NGO that advocates on behalf of the illegal Jewish settlements in the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. During their campaigns for Brexit, they used propaganda using "scare tactics by pushing a Palestinian bogeyman into the midst of Britain’s historical debate" to scare UK citizens to remain in the European Union because it "supports" the Palestinians. Easy Mekelberg argued that " for the Right in Israel it is in the country’s best interest to see a divided and weak European Union with little impact on the future of the occupied territories, in terms of financial aid to the Palestinians and especially a final status agreement." In fact, Seth Lipsky argued that no friend of Israel should part of the EU in the first place.
These are just some of the many cracks in Israel's relationship with the EU. Israel have been critical of the EU's decision to label illegal settlements goods as such and being a cosignatury of the Iran deal. The EU in theory does not recognise any unilateral changes to the pre 1967 borders and insists on the illegality of settlements. Israeli criticism of EU policies and support of Palestinians manifests in physical acts of rebellion by the demolitions of EU funded projects and EU funding for human rights. However, on the most part, Israel enjoys a good relationship with the EU and are hardly held accountable to the EU's own policies. It has had a special relationship with the EU, particularly since its an affiliate state and has enjoyed impunity and preferential treatment. Israel has not been exposed to the sanctions installed on Russia by the EU for it's annexation of Crimea, even though Israel has continued it's settlement expansion and increased it's control over the OPT. The association agreement did not even include a territorial clause and it's very difficult to implement the EU's policy of the labelling of settlement goods which largely relies on Israel to label it's own good.
Ultimately, it is clearly that Israel supporters are just as divided as the British public when it comes to Brexit and its implications. Although it is too early to tell, the implication post Brexit lead to a weaker UK, particularly in the face of a Scottish referendum and a united Ireland, in order to remain in the EU. However, it is not only the United Kingdom that could be facing a break up but the European Union project itself, as a number of countries are already deemed likely to follow the UK's example. Ultimately, Prof. Yossi Mekelberg argues, that "Israeli attitudes towards Brexit depend on whether one thinks its a good idea for the country to have a strong EU with Britain at the heart of it, or a weak one without it."
Nonetheless, Israel will surely miss their good "friend" and undoubtedly, Britain's absence from decision making processes in the EU can only mean less pressure and lobbying in Israel's fabour. Professor Ilan Pappe said "More often than not, Britain blocked initiatives backing Palestinian rights and helped shield Israel from accountability. Its voice in those institutions will not be missed."
Certainly, Britain's voice in regards to Israel and Palestine will not be missed.