Theresa May, Brexit and the Jews



Jewish scholars love to write learned articles on what has been referred to as “The Jewish Problem.”  Scholars in Great Britain were once encouraged to write articles about the elephant, which was a favorite feature topic in the media there. One clever essayist brought the two concepts together in a parody essay titled “The Elephant and the Jewish Problem.”

Yes, we Jews have a way of finding a “Jewish concern” about virtually any topic, even if a Jewish impact may be unclear. A prime candidate for such a topic is how embattled British Prime Minister Theresa May has been struggling to gain approval of both Parliament and the European Union on Brexit, withdrawal from the 29-nation coalition on culture, finances and trade that was approved in a close vote two years ago.

May has looked feckless as her proposed exit deals have  been rejected by Parliament time after time and she has been unable to obtain enough votes even from her own Conservative Party to get the proposed terms of separation through the nation’s legislative body. Most recently, May has offered to resign if her deal is approved and has even met with British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has been widely assailed by British Jewry as being both anti-Israel and anti-Semitic. 

Aha! So there is our Jewish angle. If May’s government falls and she is succeeded by Corbyn, a deep sense of insecurity among British Jews will increase. Indeed, recent news reports have discussed a sharp uptick among British Jews, including Holocaust survivors, to obtain reinstatement of their German citizenship out of fear of being trapped in a nation that has no open borders with its European partners.


But there are more reasons, many of them quite positive, that the 250,000-member British Jewish community would not like to see May forced out of office.

An article by Cnaan Liphshiz for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency is headlined: “Despite Brexit woes, Theresa May is a hero to many British Jews.”  He writes: 

“As the United Kingdom’s political establishment continues its tailspin over Brexit, little can be said with certainty about either’s future. … 

“But for many British Jews, one thing is certain. If May goes, her departure will mean goodbye to one of the friendliest prime ministers that the Jewish community has had in the kingdom’s history.”

Liphshiz’s piece includes several points that have a direct bearing on the concerns of British Jews:

• Under May, the U.K. has taken unprecedented positions in favor of the Jewish people and Israel.

• May’s Cabinet led the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Agency’s definition of anti-Semitism, which some anti-Israel activists reject.  

• May’s Cabinet also blacklisted the entire Hezbollah group rather than just its military wing. In addition, Liphshiz notes, the U.K. said in 2017 “that it would vote against a permanent article against Israel on the United Nations Human Rights Council,” setting an example for the rest of Europe that followed in British footsteps in this area.

• May has gone so far as to clash with her government’s Foreign Office, successfully “diluting its institutional hostility toward Israel.”

Jonathan Arkush, immediate past president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said, “Prime Minister May followed a line of what you might consider leaders who are attentive and friendly to the Jewish community, as well as to Israel,” adding that she has distinguished herself even against that background.

Whatever final form the Brexit issue takes — ranging from a narrow approval of a deal with Labour Party support to a new referendum to remain in the European Union — Jews in Britain and even around the world owe Theresa May a debt of gratitude and admiration for the way she has supported them and good relations with Israel.