Critical of how the Israeli government is handling the African refugee problem and critical of the residents of south Tel Aviv who do not want them living there, it is easy for refugees and their supporters to draw on Jewish history and to use our own easily aroused guilt complex against us by asking: Is this the way to treat refugees when we, ourselves, were once refugees who were barely welcome anywhere in the world? The tragic stories the asylum seekers tell pull on our heart strings and we cry out for justice and safety for all. But this situation, rather than making me more critical of my government, has made me consider all the more what Israel is for us Jews.

Israel’s difficulties in knowing how to cope with the approximately 40,000 African refugees here are echoed across Europe as the EU is collapsing under the weight of the unceasing tide of asylum seekers crawling out of dilapidated boats that land at various points along the Mediterranean Sea coast. Even well-meaning and ethical nations must decide how much of their social and economic resources they can devote to this cause before giving help to refugees from the world’s trouble spots turns into sacrificing one’s own citizens. I am reminded here of the Hair song “Easy to be Hard”:

How can people be so heartless?
How can people be so cruel?

 

And especially people who care about strangers
Who say they care about social injustice
Do you only care about the bleeding crowd?
How about a needing friend? I need a friend

In our case, the “needing friend” is our fellow citizens who also have heart-rending stories to tell, but their stories are ignored when they clash with the needs identified by those who rally in support of the refugees. This does not mean that we should behave inhumanely toward those who seek refuge in Israel. It does mean that we have the right to sort out the true asylum seekers from the economic migrants and to deport the latter. It means that we cannot keep our borders open to the extent that we endanger the sustainability of our own country and as a JEWISH country, for a Jewish country it must remain. It does mean that we need to find a way to provide a decent way of life for those who deserve asylum here while making it clear that they cannot stay forever. They need to know that as soon as they will no longer be in danger in their native countries, they will be sent back home.

Home. Back home. See the difference? The Africans (and Syrians and others) are running away from their homes and are waiting for them to become safe again before they can go back. Jewish refugees were persecuted in places far away from home and many of us wanted to run back like a child runs to mother’s open arms. We wouldn’t have had to beg for other doors to open had the way back home not been blocked from us as our most legitimate option, our right.

Our homeland, our ancient homeland, is Israel. Not all Jews want to live here and that is fine. However, since 1948, there is a FREE CHOICE. Israel has to remain a strong, independent Jewish state because there is nowhere else we can truly call home. Home is where the door is always open for you when you want, or need, to walk through it. That is what I think about when I see the masses of refugees fleeing their homes and looking for shelter elsewhere.