The Relevance of Israel for Brexit

editor - 24 April 2019

Brexit has stirred up strong emotions throughout the UK. As we watch and pray, we can take lessons from Israel’s ancient history and legal principles recorded in Scripture, from Jewish minorities in Britain, and the example of the modern State of Israel.

Government and National Unity
Brexit has exposed deep divisions in the UK and highlighted the importance of Scotland and Northern Ireland particularly. Israel’s ancient history as recorded in the Bible has important lessons to teach modern states also, about how to preserve internal national unity between regions divided by geography, culture, history, ethnicity or language. The most pertinent example is the competition between the northern and southern tribes, represented by Ephraim and Judah respectively, which endured throughout the monarchic period. The relevant stories can be found in the books of Judges, Samuel, Kings and Chronicles. King David went to great lengths to unite his divided nation by means of politics, religion, infrastructure, military and economy. Although his son Solomon followed David’s example to an extent, his imposition of unfair burdens on the northern tribes led to their rebellion and subsequent independence (1Kings 11–12). Solomon’s failure is also connected to his personal accumulation of economic, military and diplomatic power (1 Kings 10:11-25, 25-29; 12:1-4). These are warned against by the Law of Moses, lest leaders lose touch with both their countrymen and their common spiritual heritage (Deut 17:16-20).

Britain’s law is underpinned by Israel’s law

Legal Foundations
The foundation of British common law, which sets apart the legal system of the UK and related nations from other legal systems in the rest of Europe, can be traced back to King Alfred the Great’s Doom Book in the late ninth century AD. This English legal code was prefaced with Alfred’s own translation from Latin into English of the Ten Commandments and Exodus 21–23, the core of the ancient Jewish law code of Moses. Britain’s law is underpinned by Israel’s law. The current widespread British resistance to unelected EU lawmakers can also be understood as a direct consequence of the distinctive legacy of Magna Carta, signed by King John in 1216. One of its most influential principles, that even kings are subject to the law of the land, was inspired by explicit statements to this effect in the Law of Moses (Deut 17:14-20). Yet equally, the concept of universal human rights, established partly in response to the horrific anti-Jewish events of the Second World War, is also ultimately based on the principle from Genesis 1:26-28 and 9:6 that mankind and individual humans are created ‘in the image of God’. Jewish biblical texts have contributed much to the values of justice and accountable government that underpin the British legal system.

The Jewish people are the most longstanding and emblematic minority group in the British Isles

Ethnic Minorities
The Jewish people are the most longstanding and emblematic minority group in the British Isles, and it is to our shame that we were the first European nation to expel them officially in 1290, welcoming them back only after the civil war under Cromwell in 1655. It is therefore vital that we recognise their huge contribution to the flourishing of this nation past and present. Not only that, but they are a model of thorough integration into their host country (‘Seek the welfare of the city’ – Jer 29:7) while at the same time maintaining their distinctive and precious traditions in a thoroughly respectful way towards others. We have a duty to resist strongly all racist and xenophobic behaviour in the wake of Brexit, and this must begin above all with the Labour Party, whose struggles with widespread antisemitism even at the highest levels have repeatedly hit the headlines over the past few months and years.

Managing Immigration
The modern state of Israel offers a very valuable example of a nation that has been inundated with vast waves of immigrants at different times in its recent history, and yet has managed to create a remarkably cohesive and resilient society and infrastructure, especially through mandatory national service. At the same time, it has preserved and gone to great lengths to integrate the ethnic and religious minority groups that make up more than one-fifth of its total population and does so under more intense scrutiny than any other country on earth. It faces continuous pressure from citizens who advocate terrorism and from vocally disloyal minority members of parliament, as well as from some of the majority population with strong personal prejudices or religious aversion to unity. Yet Israel’s determination to integrate both immigrants and minorities within its own recognised territory, and its methods of creating a surprisingly homogeneous society from such diverse elements, have much to teach the UK.

As the UK strives to define a vision of hope for its future, it would be well advised to look to Israel and the Jewish people for instruction

International Relations
In terms of international trade, Israel offers an instructive illustration of a nation in a decidedly marginal situation within its own geographical region, which has consequently been able to establish trade deals independently with nations and common markets all across the world. Its emphasis on start-up companies, innovation, and research makes it an influential player in the global markets far out of proportion to its size and population. Like the UK, it too has connections of history and culture with people in many other nations widely separated by geography, and it ensures that these connections are strengthened and celebrated in every way possible. In the current period of uncertainty, as the UK strives to define a vision of hope for its future, it would be well advised to look to Israel and the Jewish people for instruction.

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