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Stranger Danger: How Israel Smashed Hungary to Win the World’s Anti-refugee Crown

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Viktor Orban and Benjamin Netanyahu in Budapest, July 2017.
Viktor Orban and Benjamin Netanyahu in Budapest, July 2017.Credit: Haim Zach / GPO

There is nothing particularly funny about having the moral high ground. That is why I find it fortunate, as an Israeli comedian, that my country only seldom finds itself in such a position. 

We're still behind radical Islamist trolls such as Hamas, the lackadaisical ISIS and fearsome peek-a-boo artist Hassan Nasrallah in the race to the ethical bottom. But in the foreigner-fearing discipline of the Racist Olympics™, Israel is putting up stiff competition for cube-fondling Hungary and its leader, Viktor Orban Decay.

A volunteer holds up a baby as others help migrants and refugees to disembark from a dinghy after their arrival to Lesbos, Greece, November 25, 2015.Credit: Santi Palacios, AP

A recent survey by Pew (not to be confused with pew-pew, the sound made by Israeli guns used by social services in Myanmar) finds that among 18 countries polled, Israel has the second lowest percentage of support for accepting refugees ousted by conflict. It is second, of course, to Hungary - home to the delicious goulash and Syrian children tangled in barbed wire. 

Not all is lost. Israel puts up a fight, leading the survey’s chart with a formidable 57 percent of participants saying they are against granting asylum to those fleeing the fun of war, torture and rape.

Do not be quick to ululate. This data, otherwise delightful, is overcast by a stark contradiction. One so conspicuous, it might as well be a tallith-clad giraffe stomping through a synagogue, screaming at the top of its towering throat: "I am a light unto the nations, motherfuckers! Now, piss off." 

As you may know, in July Israel came out of the closet as a Jewish state.  Most of the world met this with consternation, while a choice few fawned over the belated legislation like inclusive parents. "We always knew," they said. "What with all the flamboyant Judaism and the Declaration of Independence. But we wanted to wait until you were ready to say it yourself." 

This is fine if you’re a fan of the current Israeli government, which most Israelis are. But as a card-carrying Jew myself, I cannot help but fuss over for small details.

It is impossible to ignore the battering of rams which occurs between these Pew poll results and the tropical tent holiday that is upon us: Sukkot. A standout festival like no other, in which we gather with loved ones to feast and remember the time God got us out of a jam. 

As a casual consumer of sea insects and animals bathed in dairy, I hold no pretensions of halakhic expertise. I am, however, an asshole with a memory who read some Torah in school.

African migrants demonstrate outside the Rwandan Embassy in Herzliya, Israel against Israeli government policy to forcibly deport African refugees and asylum seekers to Rwanda and Uganda. Feb. 7, 2018Credit: JACK GUEZ/AFP

I recall Deuteronomy, chapter 16, verses 13-14, where it says: "Make yourself a Sukkot holiday, seven days: Gather - from your granary, and your vineyard. Rejoice, in your holiday. You and thy son and thy daughter, and thy male slave and thy female slave, and the Levy [most likely Gideon] and the immigrant and the orphan and the widow, which are at your gates."

This presents a problem. It appears that contrary to the Israeli zeitgeist, the Bible - the monolithic foundation of Jewish belief - likes shacking up with destitute, dirty foreigners on Sukkot. How could we, the nation-state of the Jewish people™, possibly reconcile this discrepancy? By God, it’s an ethics Rubik’s Cube!

Fret not. Unlike the Hungarian riddle contraption, the answer, as Sherlock Holmes never actually said, is elementary. 

Back to Deuteronomy, this time chapter 22, verse 21, which calls for newly-wed women who misplaced their virginity to be pelted repeatedly with stones. Needless to say, many weddings I recently attended would’ve had a dramatically different conclusion if such practice had been commonplace in Judaism. Therefore it is safe to assume we’re permitted some degree of picking and choosing.

This is not only comforting for countless Jewish brides worldwide, but is also a balm for Jews and Israelis who relish a little racism and don’t want anything to mar quality festive time. 

Through the Good Book, I have uncovered the ultimate loophole for our people: We can decide which parts of our tradition hold deep, profound meaning - such as cars not moving on Shabbat - and which ones are worthless heaps of shit, like the life of an unfortunate stranger.

Now, let’s all go shake a lulav at something. 

Daniel Gouri de Lima is a news editor at Haaretz and a comedian. Twitter: @GouriLima

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