Syrian refugees: The moral imperative and existential necessity
Op-ed: As Jews, how should we respond to the human tragedy of Syria's mass exodus? As Europe agonizes over the phenomenon, we have our own point of view. We cannot be indifferent to human suffering, but Israel cannot realistically absorb thousands of refugees.
In September 2015, the body of a Syrian child, Aylan Kurdi, was swept out to sea. It was a turning point. Thousands of Europeans took to the streets to show solidarity, compassion and a willingness to absorb more refugees. The painful scenes only grow. Tens of thousands have been fleeing the city of Aleppo in recent days. There is only one avenue of escape towards Turkey, and soon it will be closed. Assad has nothing to fear.
Omar al-Bashir, who committed the extermination in Darfur, is a guest of honor at the Arab League conference, or what remains of it, and at almost every Muslim country’s capital. When Assad wins, all will be forgotten and forgiven.
And what are we doing? What do Jewish ethics and human conscience demand that we do? What is the meaning of "never again"? Israel treats the wounded that arrive at the border. There are hundreds. If some people think that expanding these treatments will help Israel’s image in the global or regional consciousness and reduce hatred for Israel, they are deluded. Palestinians, thanks to Israel's health services, have a lower infant mortality and a longer life expectancy. Has it reduced the level of hatred?
The enemies of Israel in the wider world are presenting an opposite story. Jose Saramago, a Nobel laureate, called the Palestinian territories "Auschwitz", and the comparison between Israel and Nazi Germany has become a matter of routine. We need to help for humanitarian reasons, without expecting any gains from it.
This story is complicated because Europe, in country after country, keeps reaching the conclusion that it does not want more refugees. The gates are closed. Even Sweden has closed the Oresund Bridge and announced that tens of thousands of asylum seekers will be deported. Events of mass harassment, as in Cologne, also occurred in Sweden, but the media concealed these events. Political correctness has become a self-deception.
The murder of a female worker at a refugee center added fuel to the fire. It did not start with the last wave of refugees. This situation has been going on for years.
So what do we do as Jews? We cannot forget the Evian Conference, in which countries explained why they could not accept Jewish refugees, and we cannot forget what happened to the occupants of the refugee ship St. Louis. Does this human tragedy require Israel to open its gates and set up refugee camps? That's what Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon are doing. So why don’t we? Why settle for just a few hundred of the wounded?
But there is a difference. First, when refugees come to Jordan and Lebanon, they come from the same culture and tradition, the same language and religion. They are not strangers and enemies. Second, even these days, when the poor are at war, screams of "Death to Israel" still emanate from Aleppo.
These are the screams of all the parties involved. Sometimes they just join the choir. Sometimes they are not part of it. But this is the spirit that is in vogue amongst them. They suckle hatred. This is not because of the occupation or the barriers or other excuses. The bitter hatred of Israel and Jews also exists in Pakistan.
In addition, the nature of the refugees is such that they stay where they arrive. Angela Merkel says that she would return them to their country with the coming of peace. Sweden now wants to deport close to a 100,000 of them. Let’s see them actually do it. For Israel, hundreds of thousands of refugees are a death sentence.
Nevertheless, Israel can not be indifferent to the human suffering. It must continue humanitarian aid, and if there is a real danger of mass destruction, there will be a place for the establishment of refugee camps on the border.
But Israel itself has no room to absorb thousands of refugees. And the Middle East, as is well-known, has produced millions of them over the past decade. The high moral imperative, Jewish and universal, requires assistance. It does not mandate self-destruction.