What does Brexit mean for Israel? Certainly, it will have some effect on Israel's economic and political relations with Britain and Europe, especially as much of Israel-U.K. trade worth roughly 20 billion shekels (approximately US$5.9 billion) is governed by Israel-European Union (EU) trade agreements. However, the effect on Israel will not be direct. If the U.K. eventually leaves with a deal, existing arrangements will be maintained. If it leaves without a deal, a new bilateral U.K.-Israel agreement, already agreed in February 2019, will replace Israel-EU trade agreements.
Beyond economics, Brexit will impact internal dynamics shaping EU foreign policy, including toward Israel. Israeli politicians generally perceive EU diplomacy as biased toward the Palestinians. Britain has typically resisted French-led efforts to impose the EU into the peace process, and favored a balanced approach supporting U.S.-led diplomacy. Israel may therefore find cause to rue the weakening of Britain as mediator between the U.S. and Europe.
Britain's international influence has already been deeply harmed by its Brexit concerns, as demonstrated by its limited response to crises in the Gulf and Syria. Therefore, even if U.K.-Israel ties strengthen as Britain invests in relationships outside the EU, the value of British support will be less, because Britain is likely to remain a diminished player for the foreseeable future.
Brexit is a symbol of a wide trend of notable significance: the rise of populist nationalism (broadly defined as a political ideology that combines right-wing politics and populist rhetoric and themes), the turning inward of major Western powers, most importantly the United States' renewed dedication to isolationism creating a vacuum to be filled by more dangerous actors, including Turkey, Russia and Iran and the weakening of Western alliances, bonded partly by the values of liberal democracy. Some Israeli policy makers, particularly those around Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, may approve of what they see as a blow to the EU, with its sympathy for the Palestinian cause. Netanyahu has increasingly aligned with populist leaders, who insist on national sovereignty, and resist attempts by international institutions to interfere in their affairs by promoting universal liberal values.
The values of liberal democracy, which the EU generally supports, have been part of the bond attaching the Jewish state to a Western alliance (including Britain and the U.S.) that has broadly supported Israel and its interests. Those liberal values have also guaranteed the welfare of Jews in Western countries. It is these trends, of which Brexit is a part, that in the broader perspective, will be most significant for Israel and the Jewish people in a world of increasing disorder. Wary of a populist national wave, Israeli policies must be designed to maneuver in this new world, which Brexit symbolizes. This suggests adopting policies that enable a broad base of support for Israel within and between Western powers as they will be newly formulated.