Opinion |

Facing Atrocities in Neighboring Syria, Where Is Israel's Raoul Wallenberg?

The memory of the Holocaust and the silent world didn’t prick the consciences of Israelis when mass killings were reported in faraway lands. Syria is different.

Aluf Benn
Aluf Benn
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An evacuee from a rebel-held area of Aleppo, waits on a wheelchair upon his arrival with others at insurgent-held al-Rashideen, Syria December 19, 2016.
An evacuee from a rebel-held area of Aleppo, waits on a wheelchair upon his arrival with others at insurgent-held al-Rashideen, Syria December 19, 2016. Israel must help them.Credit: Reuters
Aluf Benn
Aluf Benn

While reading and thinking about the Holocaust, I often wonder about those who stood by and continued living their normal lives while the Jews of Europe were being led to the crematoria. About the Western countries that refused to take in Jews before World War II and didn’t bomb Auschwitz during the war. About Winston Churchill, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hero, who shut the doors of Palestine in the spirit of the White Paper. And about the prestate Yishuv here – while the Jews of Hungary were being transported to Auschwitz, the Jews here were busy squabbling about the Mapai party vs. the Siya Bet faction, or about the Haganah vs. Irgun militia, or just went to Frishman Beach like the teenager my father was.

The memory of the Holocaust and the world that was silent didn’t prick the consciences of Israelis when mass killings were reported in faraway lands like Biafra, Cambodia or Rwanda. It’s easy to ignore events taking place in remote corners of the Third World, far from our borders and having no direct impact on Israeli interests.

But the war in Syria is different. It’s taking place here in the neighborhood, right across the fence. Yet despite hundreds of thousands of victims and millions who have been displaced, it attracts only minor attention. At best it strengthens the positions of those who oppose withdrawing from the Golan Heights and the West Bank. Every atrocity video from Aleppo or the Islamic State group only reinforces the fear that if this is what Arabs can do to each other, they will act far worse toward us should they ever defeat us in war. The public watched, internalized and simply erased the peace process, two-state solution and the Syrian track from their agenda.

That’s how people can go about their routines when bodies are piling up across the borders. Once some Israelis grumbled here when United States President Barack Obama didn’t intervene to stop the slaughter in Syria, and even ridiculed his aversion to war compared to that real man, Russian President Vladimir Putin. Since the Russian invasion of Syria at the end of last year’s summer, even such talk has stopped.

Our prime minister, one of the great preachers against “international hypocrisy” in every Facebook post, remains silent as Aleppo falls amid reports of children being murdered, just as he remained silent when hospitals were being bombed and refugees were drowning in the Mediterranean.

One can understand why Netanyahu hasn’t sent out the Israel Air Force, with or without the new F-35s, to save those besieged in Aleppo and other places in Syria. But Netanyahu hasn’t offered to ease the Syrian suffering in other ways, aside from medical care to those wounded near the Golan Heights. Israel hasn’t taken in any Syrian refugees, hasn’t offered them temporary asylum, didn’t send out boats to rescue the drowning and hasn’t even offered any assistance to its friendly neighbor, Jordan, which has taken in hundreds of thousands of Syrians.

Netanyahu is not alone. All of Israel’s public figures and politicians are complicit in the deafening silence in response to the atrocities in Syria. Naftali Bennett, Yaakov Litzman, Moshe Kahlon, Yair Lapid, Avigdor Lieberman, Isaac Herzog, Zehava Galon and Ayman Odeh are no better. Yes, even Odeh and Ahmad Tibi and Jamal Zahalka.

The Joint Arab List hasn’t conducted a public campaign to take in refugees and offer broad humanitarian aid to Syria. Israeli Arab society is split between opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad and his supporters, and hasn’t launched a campaign of compassion for the suffering neighbors, some of whom are Palestinians. Its leaders know how to attract public attention in Israel even as a minority, as we saw when they stayed away from Shimon Peres’ funeral. They have failed the Syrian test.

The Syrian civil war will soon mark its sixth anniversary, and nowhere in Israel is there even one Raoul Wallenberg to be found who will move mountains to save victims or ease the suffering of the lucky ones who were able to escape the inferno. The courageous Swedish diplomat couldn’t stop the killing machine of Adolf Eichmann and his henchmen in Budapest, and risked his life so that tens of thousands of Jews could live. Too bad there’s no such righteous person among us.

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