Brexit vote sends Britain over the edge and leaves world reeling
Rarely has a single weekend yielded such unexpected havoc without so much as a bomb exploding.
Does the name Viernheim ring a bell? No?
That was quick.
If you watched television on Thursday, news was breaking that a heavily armed, masked gunman had staged an invasion of a small-town German Cineplex and up to 50 members of the audience were injured.
German police sent in a SWAT team and shut down the overexcited media operation.
A tense silence ensued, with journalists obsessively checking their smartphones into the night.
A few hours later, a terse police chief announced that the unnamed gunman was German, had been killed, and was found only to be carrying plaything weaponry. Event over.
Except that by Friday, the unexpected oddity of a terror attack that was not one melted away into a moment of cavalier political showmanship that had turned, seemingly without warning, into an explosion, entirely self-inflicted.
The bomb blew up in London. On Friday, British citizens went to the polls to vote, all too lightly as it turned out, on an unprecedented referendum: to remain in Europe or to turn its island back on the continent.
Fifty years after Britain and its allies liberated Europe from the yolk of fascism, and set up the great experiment of a loosely united Europe, a smaller, apathetic England fearful of throngs of refugees and a shrinking economy slammed the door shut. It is called Brexit: the British exit.
“I didn’t expect to feel as dejected as I do by an election result,” Justin Cohen, the news editor for London’s Jewish News told The Media Line.
The New York Times estimated that “David Cameron, the British prime minister, has no one to blame but himself.”
Three years ago, stressed by a loud anti-Europe faction in his own Conservative Party and with elections looming, Cameron promised that if re-elected he would order a referendum on continued British membership in the European Union (EU.)
Cameron was handily re-elected a year ago. With his opposition, the Labour Party, in disarray following an unexpectedly bruising loss, the party elected a new and untested leader, Jeremy Corbyn, a long-time socialist activist with no executive experience.
Within 24 hours after the British vote, Cameron had announced his resignation after six years as Prime Minister, Corbyn, who also, if reluctantly, supported the “Remain in Europe” campaign, was confronted with the outraged resignations of almost his entire bench of senior legislators and the leaders of the EU, fearful of copycat referenda, demanded quick British action to extract itself from the bloc, no matter the consequences for Britain.
The British pound hit a 31-year low against the US dollar and international companies accustomed to the comfort of EU free trade agreements announced plans to decamp to Paris or Frankfurt.
Rattled by a spate of hate crimes, the Polish embassy in London issued sternly worded condemnation of street attacks against its own citizens.
“Many including the Jewish community are also looking on with concern at cases of verbal abuse and graffiti aimed at the Poles and other foreign nationals this weekend,” Cohen said, as incidents of hate crimes piled up in the initial days after the vote, and many Brexit proponents appeared to believe they had voted to kick all immigrants out of Britain. “We all know that Jews are often among the first targets when there is an economic slump and so our community have additional reasons to be fearful.”
Orlando Radice, the Foreign Editor of London’s Jewish Chronicle, told The Media Line that “the Leave campaign promised that Britain would ‘take back control’ but right now the country is staring into an abyss of political and economic chaos.”
With concern, he mentioned “a survey showing that one in five company heads were considering moving parts of the business out of the UK, the billions wiped off UK bank shares today and the likelihood that UK will lose its trillion-pound clearing house business to the EU.”
“Who thought Britain would fragment before Syria did?” became a recurrent social media meme as Scotland and Northern Ireland, whose populations had voted heavily in favor of remaining in the EU, publicly announced the possibility they would separate from England.
Karl Sharro, a London-based Mideast commentator and satirist noted that “it took the UK a couple of days to achieve a level of political dysfunction that took Lebanon decades to perfect.”
Bitingly, he posted “I’m not used to being in a country split down the middle with an emotionally charged atmosphere between two camps. Might go back to Lebanon,” before adding “I’m not sure but I think Roy Hodgson is the de facto leader of the country now.” Hodgson is the manager of England’s national soccer team, and a figure of national consensus.
“Clearly in this I’m a Lawrence of Arabia figure,” Sharro ventured to say, when facing an online backlash. “I lived with the English for a long time and learned their ways.”
And finally, noticing that US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Europe, where, among other tasks, he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about various proposals for renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, he posted “Kerry is in the region for talks, this is taking the Middle East analogy up a notch.”
Netanyahu was in a buoyant mood. “The world and the Middle East are in turmoil, and my policy is to create centers of stability in this unstable and stormy region,” he said.
It was, in fact, a very good weekend for Israel. As the United Kingdom seemed to come apart at the seams and as the EU, with which Israel has had a contentious diplomatic relationship, appeared on the verge of imploding, Netanyahu genially met with Kerry and with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Rome.
The Israeli leader was in Europe to try to put a damper on the French peace initiative, that Netanyahu views as meddling in its bilateral conflict with the Palestinian Authority. On Sunday, without saying a word, Netanyahu had the opportunity to let United States and Europe know he thought they had enough problems of their own and should leave Israel alone.
Then, on Monday, Netanyahu announced Israel’s resumption of ties with Turley after a six year breach, a signal diplomatic achievement that had long been sought by US President Barack Obama, who views both nations as key regional allies.
Also Monday, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin hosted United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at his official residence in Jerusalem.
And later in the week Netanyahu is scheduled to embark on an African tour.
It was, on the other hand, a bad weekend indeed for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who, coincidentally, was also in Europe.
Abbas squandered a speech he gave to the European Parliament with the accusation that Israeli rabbis had called on their government to poison the water used by Palestinians. The false charge echoed ancient anti-Semitic slurs that led to the mass murder of European Jews in medieval times, and by Saturday, when it was clear that Abbas’ ‘pivot-to EU’ policy was far from any European priority, he was forced to issue a full retraction.
So who remembers Viernheim?