The decision of the British people to leave the European Union (EU) reflects their perception that the EU has a negative impact on the United Kingdom (UK). Few if any will have given any thought to the implications of that decision for Israel, but that it will have implications for Israel is certain; it is these that will be of most interest to students of prophecy.
It has long been recognised that the UK and Germany are Israel’s strongest supporters in Europe. For that reason, Oded Eran, Israel’s former ambassador to the EU, said that from Israel’s perspective it would have been preferable for the UK to remain in the EU.
Mr Eran was not alone in this view. Just a few days prior to the referendum, former UK Prime Minister David Cameron addressed a Jewish audience and urged them to vote to stay. He asked them to consider the implications for Israel: “Do you want Britain, Israel’s greatest friend, in there opposing boycotts, opposing the campaign for divestment and sanctions, or do you want us outside the room, powerless to affect the discussion that takes place?” That Jewish audience might have agreed with Mr Eran and Mr Cameron, but the majority of the electorate voted to leave. The UK’s ability to support Israel from within the EU will come to end when she formally leaves the EU, which is expected to be in 2019.
Having lost the referendum, Mr Cameron resigned and was replaced as Prime Minister by Theresa May, but that does not mean that UK support for Israel has been weakened. Mrs May, the daughter of Anglican vicar and a devout Christian, has visited Israel on several occasions, taking a particular interest in Israel’s high-tech industries. As Home Secretary she was noted for her very strong stand against antisemitism. Following the 2015 terrorist attack on a Jewish supermarket in Paris, Mrs May wore a sign declaring “Je Suis Juif” (I am a Jew).
Israel may expect the UK to remain a close friend in coming years, but the UK’s ability to temper anti-Israel sentiment in the EU will come to an end. This will be seen as a mixed blessing by Israel. A few days after the referendum, the UK’s ambassador in Israel, David Quarrey, reassured Israel that the UK would remain a friend and partner of the Jewish state. He noted that the UK had been a friend of Israel before it joined the EU and would remain so after it left.
The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy and a significant trading power. Its exit from the EU is likely to see the UK focusing more on markets elsewhere in the world. This would include trade with other members of the Commonwealth but also with nations in the Middle East. In that context, Israel already is the UK’s single-largest trading partner in the region. Trade between the two nations, largely is in Israel’s favour, is predicted to exceed US$10 billion this year and is expected to keep growing. It has been suggested that Brexit might enhance this trading relationship if Israel and the UK can put together a bilateral free-trade agreement relatively swiftly.
The positive and negative implications of Brexit for Israel mesh very well with long-standing interpretations of Bible prophecy which present the UK as a trading power offering support for Israel at the time of the end when she is threatened by Gog and his allies, which include European nations. The use of the word “merchants” in Ezekiel 38:13 suggests it may well be bilateral commercial interests which influence the UK to express support for Israel at that time. In all these things we can detect the hand of the angels manipulating world events in accordance with God’s plan and purpose. Let us have the wisdom to heed the signs of the time and prepare for our Lord’s return.