יהונתן גפן
Yehonatan Geffen
Photo: Courtesy
Ukrainian refugees arrive in Israel

Israel's chosen people shouldn't choose which refugees to let in

Opinion: Many Israelis have relatives in Ukraine, some of whom are not Jews, and they can freely come to Israel as refugees; but what about those who are seeking refuge but don't have the luxury of having family ties in Israel?

Yehonatan Geffen |
Published: 03.26.22, 23:35
Many of us have neither too much information about the war in Ukraine, nor a firm opinion on it. We are primarily exposed to the horrific images shown in the media of the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the war-torn country.
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  • More than three million of them have already fled, and many others are still waiting in long lines in the unbearable cold to make it across the border.
    4 View gallery
    עולים חדשים במתחם משרד העלייה והקליטה בנתב"ג
    עולים חדשים במתחם משרד העלייה והקליטה בנתב"ג
    Ukrainian refugees arrive in Israel
    (Photo: Motti Kimchi)
    Most Ukrainian men stayed behind to protect the country and the refugee population consists mostly of the elderly as well as women and children. Those who had the means made the grim journey to the border on their vehicles, but the poor were left stuck in the cold, shivering in fear and hungry in their tents.
    The American media, surprisingly both CNN and Fox News, have been broadcasting the same images of the war-ravaged country and those fleeing it. In Israel, between the daunting reality shows, we see similar images. Most of us just stare at these images, feeling pity for the Ukrainians, before switching channels to watch something more festive to soothe our Jewish souls.
    English poet John Donne n his piece "No Man Is An Island," wrote: "every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main... Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee".
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    פליטים אוקראינים במולדובה, לפני טיסה לישראל
    פליטים אוקראינים במולדובה, לפני טיסה לישראל
    Ukrainian refugees in Moldova await their rescue flight to Israel
    (Photo: AFP)
    So, here we are - the chosen people - are forced to choose which refugees to save and which not. Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, a Jewish merciful, said two weeks ago that 90% of Ukrainians who arrived in Israel since the start of the war are not eligible to stay under the Law of Return. This means only Jews can come and live in Israel, and all the rest should not even think about joining the chosen people!
    But then, even Shaked realized how inhumane that policy was, vastly improving it. Now, any Ukrainian refugee who has relatives in Israel can come and stay with them until it is safe to go back. Thank you, Ayelet, but how do you actually define family?
    I feel, metaphysically, that every Ukrainian might be a relative of mine. My grandfather, Shmuel Dayan, was born in Zhashkiv, and my grandmother, Deborah Dayan, was born in the village of Prokhorovka. They're both from Ukraine, and who knows who they considered their family there. That's why I feel that every Ukrainian can potentially be a relative of mine. Therefore, no man is an island.
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    פליטים מאוקראינה בוורשה פולין
    פליטים מאוקראינה בוורשה פולין
    Ukrainian refugees cross the border into Poland
    (Photo: EPA)
    In the face of the horrors of the war and the long lines of refugees, once again the term "Holocaust" is being thrown around with relative ease and with no shame. The Holocaust, by the way, was only exposed to the public after the death camps had been liberated, and very few tried to prevent it from happening.
    In 1943, Israeli poet Nathan Alterman wrote in his "The Seventh Column" section of the Davar daily newspaper under the title "The Swedish tongue":
    "Few know the Swedish tongue
    Who speaks it? Perhaps only the Swedes themselves.
    Because their land is lost in mountains and fjords,
    and small and modest is their nation.
    And when Sweden said: 'I hereby admit
    from the Danish border all the exile Jews',
    all the peoples of the earth realized and saw
    how poor is Swedish in lexical cues."
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    Students and teachers of Bar Ilan School visit an authentic German train, that transported Jews to extermination camps, on the Holocaust Remembrance Day in the Israeli city of Netanya
    Students and teachers of Bar Ilan School visit an authentic German train, that transported Jews to extermination camps, on the Holocaust Remembrance Day in the Israeli city of Netanya
    Students and teachers of Bar Ilan School visit an authentic German train, that transported Jews to extermination camps, on the Holocaust Remembrance Day in the Israeli city of Netanya
    (Photo: AFP)
    Long after this song, Sweden remains a country with quite a bit of anti-Semitism, but in many countries in Europe, the gates have already been opened to refugees without almost no restrictions.
    It is also time for us - the good Jews - to invite Ukrainians to stay with us without preconditions and without questions, and I'm ready to be the first to open the doors of my home.

    Yehonatan Geffen is an Israeli author, poet, songwriter, journalist, and playwright.
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