Herzog Calls on Government to Allow Syrian Refugees Into Israel

The opposition leader says that 'Jews cannot be indifferent while hundreds of thousands of refugees are looking for safe haven.'

AFP

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog on Saturday called on the government to allow Syrian refugees into Israel.

During a panel discussion in Tel Aviv, Herzog said that on Friday night he spoke with Kamal Al-Labwani, a senior leader in the exiled Syrian opposition government in Europe.

"The Syrian opposition has grave complaints against the nations of the world," Herzog said. 

"I call on the government of Israel to act toward receiving refugees from the war in Syria, in addition to the humanitarian efforts it is already making," Herzog said. "Jews cannot be indifferent while hundreds of thousands of refugees are looking for safe haven."  

Calls for efforts to aid Syrians fleeing the civil war have intensified after the publicaion of a photo showing the body of Syrian toddler who drowned as his family tried to cross from Turkey to the Greek island of Kos this week. The body of the boy, Aylan Kurdi, washed up on the beach near the Turkish resort town of Bodrum after the boat carrying him and his family capsized. His brother, 5, his mother and nine others also died in the incident.

Herzog posted the photo on his Facebook page on Thursday. "For years I have been warning about the terrible massacre that is taking place in Syria, and the grave situation faced by the refugees. But the world is silent," Herzog wrote. "...Our nation knows the lessons of history well. We cannot remain indifferent to this great suffering."

In his own response to the photo on Wednesday, Knesset Member Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid) also called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to grant asylum to "a limited number of Syrian refugees." The call was also backed by Meretz Chairwoman Zahava Galon.

But the proposal was criticized by Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid, who said that it would open a "back door for a discussion of the Palestinian right of return."

"Israel, unfortunately, cannot allow itself into the refugee crisis issue. It's a European issue and there's no reason we should be part of it," Lapid said at a cultural event in Be'er Sheva.

"There are refugees in Israel already. Out of 50,000 infiltrators there are several thousands who came from Darfur, people who fled something I don't want to term as a Holocaust, but is like the Holocaust, and it's them that the State of Israel should assimilate," Lapid said.

The security establishment has already begun preparing in case refugees from Syria would seek shelter in Israel. After the fighting that took place in June across the border in the Druze village of Khader, the Israeli army said that it would let refugees enter Israeli territory, but only on the Syrian side of the border fence. IDF commanders however said they see a low probability of that happening.

"We will carry out whatever the decision-makers say," an IDF officer serving on the Golan Heights said a few months ago. "Whatever happens, we have no intension to get involved in the fighting in Syria." The officer said that the military will hear out any refugee that reaches that border, but added that "Syrians should stay in Syria and Israelis in Israel. We are not just letting people in, only humanitarian cases."

More than 1,700 wounded Syrians have received medical treatment in Israeli hospitals since the conflict begun. Israel also provides blankets, baby food and water to Syria villages near the border.