The Board of Deputies and the wider Jewish community were this week given a briefing on the pros and cons of staying or leaving the European Union.
Brexiter Danial Hannan, the Tory MEP for south east England, went head-to-head with Remainian, Labour MP for Ilford North Wes Streeting.
Hannan said that it had been put to him that “Israel does not get a fair hearing at the European Union and its institutions”.
He said that “having watched the EU at close range for 17 years, it’s based on the idea that nation state is transient, arbitrary. So the insistence of a Jewish state is an affront to the model of the EU. Israelis will always struggle to get fair hearing.
“Jews, after all, have been saying ‘Next Year in Jerusalem’ for a long time”.
Hannan added that leaving was the best way to protect religious practices such as shechita, and Brit milah.
He said: “It must be safer to make our own decisions especially when it comes to protecting our religious freedoms.”
This was, he noted, because “we would be in charge of our own laws making”.
He added that his “problem with the EU is that it has become remote and cut off from people it purports to represent. It’s obsolete.
“There is a democratic deficit in the EU – laws are passed by people whom we didn’t elect.”
It was, he said, a throwback “to the 1950s, to a world that has been left behind by technological advances”.
Hannan cited the economic argument for leaving. “our exports to the rest of world are growing, exports to EU are falling. Europe and Antarctica only continents not growing. It’s time for this country to raise its eyes and rediscover more distant places”, such as Australia and Canada, “where they speak the same language as us and have similar laws”.
Former National Union of Students president Streeting, on the other hand, argued that “we are stronger, safer and better off in the EU. It has been striking looking at economic implications of membership.”
He noted that due to membership of the EU, there was cross-border co-operation on terror, crime and other security issues. The EU, “took democracy and human rights to rest of continent following fall of the Iron Curtain”.
On the economic argument, he said, “the Leave campaign cannot point to a single alternative to the single market which supports millions of UK jobs.”
Why on earth, he asked, would we leave economic arrangement which works well” and which “costs account for around one per cent of the budget”?
We should “be listening to our friends “the World Bank, NATO, IMF and others about being better off in the European Union”.
At the start of the debate, debate chair Board chief executive Gillian Merron asked the audience whether they were for or against – or were undecided – about remaining in the EU.
Before the debate started, the hall was evenly split between Brexiters and Remainians, with a smattering of don’t knows. After the debate, a few of the don’t knows shifted to Remain while the Brexiters’ number remained static.
As one participant, speaking on condition of anonymity, put it: “The single commodity that is definitely missing is fact. Loads of figures that can be interpreted one way or the other… But no one on either side can say what will happen post-23 June.”