When thousands of Sudanese refugees entered Israel through her porous border in the south, there was much talk throughout the country about how to deal with them. Should they be returned to the country from whence they came or should they be permitted to settle in Israel?
The usual arguments were put forth both for and against their absorption into Israel. On the one hand, remember the Holocaust and remember that Jews too once tried to flee persecution. On the other hand, the absorption of so many refugees could damage the Jewish character of the Jewish state. Ultimately, thousands were temporarily detained and released earlier than required on humanitarian grounds and permitted to dwell in certain areas.
Once again, Daniel Birnbaum, has adumbrated the first argument by suggesting that we, as Jews and Israelis, owe it to ourselves to receive a number of Syrian refugees into Israel. The tenets of his article are noble and they are distinctive for their desire to demonstrate that the Jewish state can serves as an example to the nations.
However, there are several points made which need to be addressed. While it should not be said that any mention of the Holocaust in the same reference to the plight as others is always inappropriate, it is certainly important to ensure that the parallels drawn are valid. Indeed, any human flight en masse does not always justify comparisons to the Holocaust.
Take, for example, Mr. Birnbaum’s reference to the Evian Conference which leads him to ask, “How then can we stand today…and just watch refugees escape for their life and disregard them with the same degree of cruelty that my family and my people were treated within memory?”
Firstly, it is high time that Jews cease to dangle the Holocaust over the Jewish state’s head as if the onus were on us to prove that it was an injustice. It is no coincidence that Germany has agreed to take hundreds of thousands
Moreover, it is time to stop evoking the Holocaust as a tragedy which befell individuals and single families and thus justifies personal and emotionally-motivated decisions which affect the entire state of Israel. Most of us can relate to Mr. Birnbaum’s story. We all lost those dear to us during the Holocaust. We all have a stake in the Jewish state.
Secondly, when the nations represented at the Evian Conference discussed the plight of the Jews, they were weighing up the fate of a defenseless and entirely innocent group with no country of natural refuge. The circumstances surrounding the flight of the Syrian refugees are far more complex. Notwithstanding the genuine concerns of terrorist infiltration under the veil of victimhood, the crisis is not entirely attributable to fears of persecution at the hands of ISIS. Some are also reluctant to join Assad’s army and fight against the terror group.
If this latter point raises the question of who can blame them for not wanting to draft into Assad’s murderous army, then we still need to consider the options available. There are 22 Arab states on this planet and it is nothing short of shocking that they have not all delivered a public statement inviting their Arab brethren to seek refuge there. It is perhaps more telling that the refugees have not sought refuge in these Arab countries, but in the West.
By contrast, when anti-Semitism manifests itself in Europe, where do the vast majority of the concomitant emigrants go? It is not Germany. It is not Hungary. It is not Britain. And it certainly is not an Arab state. No, it is the tiny and single Jewish state.
When in the summer of 2014, Irish soldiers needed Israeli help to rescue UN troops from Syrian Jihadist fighters was this not an act worthy of “admiration and gratitude?” When Israeli teams arrived at the scenes of all the disasters listed by Mr. Birnbaum, did we not earn the “respect of the whole civilized world?” Most recently, when the Israeli people donated baby slings to the exhausted Syrian parents with unknown journeys ahead, did this not demonstrate “Jewish values?” Did Netanyahu’s release of 1,027 terrorists for a Gilad Shalit not constitute an unprecedented value for life?
Not allowing refugees to enter Israel is not an act of revenge against the Syrian people. It also has nothing to do with hatred of Arabs. Rather, it is a necessary decision of caution. Europe faces a very real possibility of inadvertently allowing some terrorists hell bent on killing its citizens into its countries as its leaders undertake their rescue efforts. It happens to be that these refugees, in this case, come from a country notorious for its hatred of Israel.
Why should Israeli citizens be expected to take the risk of losing even a single life? As we learned from the Shalit deal, no amount of surveillance can guarantee that an individual will not harm an Israeli life.
Lending a compassionate hand does not require risking its sacrifice. This is particularly true in light of the many unconditional deeds which Israel has undertaken.
Mr. Birnbaum’s willingness to offer employment and housing to 200 families is truly an incredible gesture. Yet the motivation should not emanate from feelings of guilt for crimes we did not commit. It should also not be about showing the world anything. As mentioned, we already have done this and will continue to do so as and when required.
Note, however, that not only are no words of gratitude forthcoming (nor should they be expected), but the diplomatic assaults at the highest international bodies do not subside. Mr. Birnbam will recall, after all, the tragic consequences of such assaults which eventually compelled SodaStream to relocate its factory from Judea and Samaria leaving hundreds of Arabs without an income.
Did the world, (not merely a few individuals), ever recognize your wonderful example, Mr. Birnbaum? Did not the BDS movement celebrate the relocation as a victory despite the crippling effects on the livelihood of hundreds of Arabs? Would somebody be justified to argue that SodaStream’s relocation, despite having employed hundreds of Arabs, was the result of your own inferior public relations efforts?
Ultimately, it comes down to one fact alone. As you yourself said, “It’s propaganda. It’s politics. It’s hate. It’s anti-Semitism.”
Mr. Birnbaum, I say with all sincerity that you are a shining example to the world and hundreds of Arabs will remember that. Without wishing to be presumptuous, I imagine that you have surpassed your parents’ dreams of raising a “mensch.” I ask you, however, and all those who hold similar views, not to base your gesture on the misguided premise that we Jews must rectify the wrongs committed against us. Nor that we owe the world a demonstration of our goodwill even while placing our own people in jeopardy.
The Jewish concept of Tikun Olam, fixing the world, came about not because we had broken it but because we set ourselves an entirely altruistic mission to fix it. Nor did it come about because we decided that we bear the unreasonable burden of proving ourselves to an overly critical world. As I have stated before, we can be a light unto the nations, as long that light does not blur our own vision.
Lead by example, we shall. Yet to fix the world, our first responsibility must be to ensure that our own country’s foundations, already rocking above the tremors of the Middle East, remain secure.