Protesters rally against the Brexit referendum.

Jew Vs. Jew, Brit Vs. Brit, No One Agrees on Brexit

As Britain’s referendum on whether to leave the European Union crept closer over the past few weeks, it became more and more clearly a question upon which the country — as well as its Jewish community — was sharply divided.

“I’m honestly can’t stop crying,” Rebecca Filer, a Jewish student at the University of Bristol, said on Twitter Friday.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews said in a statement Friday that although it had not taken a position on the EU referendum, it recognized that the U.K.’s decision to withdraw would “undoubtedly” change the organization’s relationships with the EU.

However, it said it will continue to work to promote Jewish issues internationally, as well as continue its “strong bonds of friendship and support” with European Jewish communities.

“The referendum campaign has at times been divisive and bruising, but we hope that the country will now come together, address the causes of disenchantment and remain committed to being an inclusive and affirmative place for all parts of our society,” Richard Verber, the senior vice president of the board, said.

One reason many Jewish institutions elected not to take a position on the issue was because a significant number of British Jews fell within each camp. Though it is unclear how Jews ended up voting, a poll by the Jewish Chronicle last month revealed that 49 percent supported remaining within the European Union, 34 percent supported Brexit, and the rest were undecided.

British Member of European Parliament Daniel Hannan, who is Jewish, strongly supported leaving the EU, writing on Twitter that he “felt proud to be British this morning.”

Jeremy Newmark, a member of the executive of the Jewish Labor Movement, told the Times of Israel that the Leave vote “gives British Jewry and European Jewry huge cause for concern.”

Newmark said the move is likely to lead to a surge in support for racist and nationalist parties.

“The collapse of the EU itself is a real possibility on the table,” he said.

On Friday morning, the editor of the Jewish Chronicle announced his support for the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU.

“Our freedom from the EU will make extremism less, not more, likely, as the pressure cooker is released,” Stephen Pollard wrote in the newspaper.

Nearly 52 percent of the United Kingdom voted for “Brexit” in the referendum on Thursday. The U.K. will negotiate its exit from the EU over the next two years, and Prime Minister David Cameron has resigned from office effective in October. However, a petition to the British Parliament demanding a second referendum has already garnered the necessary 100,000 signatures in order to be reviewed, arguing the margin was too close in a vote with more than 70 percent of registered voters participating.

Pollard argued that Britain’s decision reflects a desire by Britons to regain control of their politics, not a statement against immigrants, or the Jews.

Rampant nationalism and anti-immigrant rhetoric inside the Brexit camp inspired fear in many in the British Jewish community. The United Kingdom Independence Party, which has had its reputation blemished by accusations of racism and xenophobia, was one of the leaders of the movement.

But Pollard argues extremism in Britain is the result of “Eurofanatical” leaders throughout an EU that “treats its voters with contempt.” An independent Britain will be more able to protect Jewish interests, he said.

Due to the uncertainty brought by the results of the referendum, the British currency dropped to its lowest value in 31 years and the Financial Times Stock Exchange lost over 100 billion pounds in value in the worst day for the market since the financial crisis in 2008, according to British newspaper The Independent.

In the hours following the results of the referendum, government officials in Scotland announced there would likely be another attempt at Scottish independence, and Northern Ireland plans to schedule a vote on reuniting with Ireland. Both countries voted to remain within the EU.

Additionally, right-wing politicians in the Netherlands and France have called for their own nations to vote on whether to continue their EU memberships.

In the end, Britain’s Jews — and their fellow countrymen — are riven by the same explosive feelings of uncertainty and pride.

“Whether you think, as I do, that today is a wonderful day, when our country has decided to return to self-government, or you think it a political and economic disaster, as many others do – the fact of our religion is entirely irrelevant,” Pollard said.

Contact Drew Gerber at gerber@forward.com or on Twitter, @dagerber

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