Robert Halfon, MP, Cabinet Minister without portfolio
It was Golda Meir who once said “pessimism is a luxury that no Jew can allow him or herself”. I wish I could adhere to her maxim to the full: although I am optimistic about Great Britain as a force for good, I am pessimistic about what is going on in the world. The rise of Islamist terror threatens us all. As the former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, wrote only recently: “There have been ages of terror before but never on this grand scale.”
What Israel has had to deal with for decades has now spread from the Middle East and the African continent to the heart of Europe. Paris, Brussels…
Meanwhile, Iran, albeit curtailing its nuclear capabilities – at least for the time being – still finances Hamas and Hezbollah. Civil war in Syria has forced thousands of migrants to flee, seeking refuge in safe countries. A resurgent nationalist Russia seeks a colonial outpost in the region.
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As a Briton, I am frightened. As a Jew, I feel real fear. At a time when extreme Islamism presents the biggest threat to the free world, perhaps since the time of Nazi Germany, I would rather that Britain remains part of the alliance of democracies that is the EU – however imperfect that alliance may be.
So often in our history, when Europe has been weak in the face of dictatorship and conflict, it is the presence of our country that has made the difference. Not only is the EU alliance of democracies made stronger by Britain’s presence, it also means that we have at least a chance of ensuring that our democratic friends in Europe go in the right direction.
To those who worry about the stance of some European countries on Israel or issues such as shechita and circumcision, ask yourself this question: Is it not better for Britain to be part of this alliance, having some influence and say over such decisions? We know that our country is a beacon of tolerance for Jews and – when it counts – a friend of Israel. Surely, then, it is better for Britain to be in – as a positive influence – rather than be outside, simply shouting from the sidelines? The blacklisting, in 2013, of the military wing of Hezbollah stemmed from a long campaign led by the British government and is an example of the fundamental role the UK plays in supporting Israel’s fight against terrorism.
With many supporting the anti-Israel boycott and divestment campaign, the strong opposition of the British government to this movement will play an important role in the EU as well. The UK is already setting the example, with Israel-UK trade at its highest level and more and more flights between the two nations being established through the 2013 Open Skies agreement between the EU and Israel.
There are others who worry about free movement. It is worth remembering that it was free movement of peoples that allowed many of our recent forefathers in this country. Besides, Norway has more immigration per head and is not even a member of the EU. Independent statistics show that in the year up to September last year, more than half of the 332,000 immigrants came from outside the EU. The problem is not necessarily free movement, but security – which is why we are outside the Schengen Agreement and can control who comes to the UK.
Some argue that Nato is sufficient for our security. My response is simple. We need both: Nato for military action, and the EU for collaboration to deal with cyber attacks, terrorism and organised crime. It is not the case that such co-operation would exist even if Britain were not in the EU – on that line of argument, we would never join alliances of any kind.
The truth is that alliances embed co-operation and trust and commit to certain agreements. Every alliance involves a loss of sovereignty of some kind. In Nato, for example, Britain is compelled to go to war if another Nato member faces military attack.
I don’t make the case for Britain remaining in the European Union out of some misty-eyed love of all things Brussels. I also think time will tell how the Prime Minister’s renegotiation deal will play out. At the very least, it will stop the direction of federalist travel.
But whether the deal is brilliant or not, it makes no difference to my decision.
When I do vote on the EU question, I will be thinking of the ever-increasing threats to our security in the UK, the continued existential threat to Israel and whether the free world will be strong enough to combat extremist Islam. Did Great Britain have the authority and power to influence events?
Did we do everything to strengthen alliances of democracies or did we weaken them? That is why I will be voting to remain.
One final thought. Some Jewish News readers will sympathise with my position, others will disagree. My view is just one of millions of voters. Nothing is being imposed on us. Because the Prime Minister kept his pledge to hold an in-out EU referendum, the British people are sovereign, and will make that decision. I am optimistic they will make the right one.