For the next time Israelis talk about the world having closed its gates
There is a lively and emotional debate on the “question of Ukrainian refugees”, for and against. • It is somewhat ironic that the 1951 Refugee Convention was an initiative of the young state of Israel, a few years after it expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes and did not allow them to return.
Never again, the world stood aside, like a sheep to the slaughter, the world closed its gates to Jewish refugees; these and other heart-string-tagging slogans will be the lot of the citizens of Israel even on this Holocaust Remembrance and Heroism Day. Politicians, public figures and intellectuals will mean what they say and put aside the disgraceful behaviour of their country on these very days.
Already now there is a lively and emotional debate on the “question of Ukrainian refugees”, for and against. The citizens of Israel as well as the decision makers are facing a moral and paradoxical issue.
On the one hand, during the Holocaust, the world did close its gates to Jewish refugees, so the Jewish state must not do anything similar now. On the other hand, with all due respect to solidarity and humanity, the state cannot admit hundreds of thousands of non-Jews. After all, we established the State of Israel as a refuge for Jews, and if we allow all these Ukrainians to enter its gates, what will be left of us? A people like any other people? A country like all other countries? Haven’t the Jewish people suffered enough?
In short, it is just not possible to accept refugees, but there is some guilt because of what happened then, so here’s the solution: medications and a field hospital. What’s wrong with that? One way or the other our conscience must be absolved, otherwise it will not be possible to call the world a hypocritical and antisemitic world. So write down: a field hospital, plus work for refugees in Blue-and-White [Israeli-tr] high-tech companies. But only from a distance, yes? From Germany or Poland. Well, here too everyone works from home. So what’s the problem?
One of the arguments I heard from the anti-refugee camp is that it is not a question of racism or, God forbid, demographics, but the simple fact that Ukraine is in Europe, it has land borders with European countries, so it makes sense for these countries to absorb culturally and religiously similar Ukrainian refugees. And despite the reservations and excuses, Israel will not completely turn its back on the Ukrainian people, it will agree to accept 100,000 Jewish immigrant refugees with a Jewish affinity. Affinity, the key word.
Interestingly, the parameters chosen are proximity, affinity and common borders. I cannot help but remember that Israel was deliberately responsible for some 800,000 Palestinian refugees not all that long ago. But why be stuck in the past, if you can move forward into the future. For the past decade, neighbouring Syria, which shares a border with Israel and even an occupied territory, has been in a bloody war. If the argument is that neighbouring countries should be the first to absorb refugees — why didn’t Israel absorb Syrian refugees? After all, there is a land border, and they are culturally and genetically similar to many Israelis. And in this case too it was Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France and even Canada, who absorbed Syrian citizens fleeing from the horrors of war.
And if affinity is the criterion, let’s put aside the Syrian refugees, they have 22 countries to go to. But the Yarmouk camp in Syria is a Palestinian refugee camp containing people who were expelled in 1948 and who have a direct, close and distinct affinity, and even relatives in the Galilee. Or is that the wrong affinity?
It is somewhat ironic that the 1951 Refugee Convention was an initiative of the young state of Israel, a few years after it expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes and did not allow them to return.
So the next time Israelis speak with a trembling voice and tears in their eyes about the world that closed its gates to Jews during the Holocaust, I hope the heart will be a little ashamed of the double standard.