Opinion |

Next Time Israelis Talk About a World That Closed Its Gates to Refugees

חנין מג׳אדלי - צרובה
Hanin Majadli
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Ukrainian Jewish refugees are pictured in a plane headed to Israel from Kishinev airport in the Moldovan capital on Thursday.
Jewish Ukrainian refugees on a plane headed to Israel from Kishinev airport in the Moldovan capital on Thursday.Credit: Menahem Kahana/AFP
חנין מג׳אדלי - צרובה
Hanin Majadli

Never again. The world stood idly by. Like sheep to the slaughter. The world closed its gates to Jewish refugees. These and other emotion-evoking slogans will again feature in the next Holocaust Remembrance Day. Politicians, public figures and intellectuals will focus on that part of history, ignoring the disgraceful conduct of their country during these very days.

There is already a lively and emotional discussion underway regarding the “Ukrainian refugee question,” with people taking opposing sides, for and against welcoming them here. Israel’s citizens and decision makers are facing a paradoxical moral issue.

On the one hand, the world closed its gates to Jewish refugees during the Holocaust, which is why Israel cannot do something similar now.

On the other hand, with all due respect to solidarity and humane values, the state cannot absorb hundreds of thousands of non-Jews. After all, we established this country as a haven for Jews, and if we let all these Ukrainians in, what will become of us? A nation like any other nation? A state like all other states? Haven’t the Jewish people suffered enough?

In short, we can’t take in refugees, but there is some sense of guilt because of the past, so here’s the solution: Send medicine and field hospitals. What’s wrong with that? After all, we have to cleanse our conscience, otherwise we won’t be able to call the world hypocritical or antisemitic. So, take note: a field hospital plus work for refugees in blue-and-white high-tech companies. But only from a distance, okay? From Germany or Poland. Look, here everyone works from home as well. What’s the problem?

One of the arguments I’ve heard from the camp of those who oppose accepting refugees is that it has nothing to do with racism or, God forbid, demographics. It’s simply the fact that Ukraine is in Europe, it has borders with other European countries, so it’s logical that those countries take in Ukrainian refugees, who are similar to them in religion and culture. Despite the reservations and excuses, Israel will not completely turn its back on the Ukrainian people, and will agree to take in 100,000 refugee immigrants who are Jewish or who have some Jewish affinity. Affinity is the key word here.

It’s interesting to note that proximity, affinity and common borders are the determining parameters. I can’t help recalling that Israel was responsible for 800,000 Palestinian refugees not so long ago. But why be stuck in the past if one can move on to the future?

For the last decade, our neighbor Syria, which shares a border with Israel and even some occupied territory, has been embroiled in a bloody civil war. If the argument is that neighboring countries should be the first to take in refugees, why didn’t Israel take in any Syrians? After all, there is a land border, and they are absolutely culturally and genetically similar to many Israelis. And yet, in this case too it was Germany, Holland, Belgium, France and even Canada that took in Syrian citizens fleeing for their lives from the terrors of war.

And if it’s about affinity, never mind the Syrians – they have 22 countries they could go to. But the Yarmouk camp in Syria is a Palestinian refugee camp. They were expelled in 1948 and have a direct affinity, patent proximity, and even relatives in the Galilee. Perhaps it’s the wrong kind of affinity?

It’s somewhat ironic that the 1951 Refugee Convention was instigated by the young state of Israel a few years after it expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes, without allowing them to return.

So next time Israelis cry about a world that closed its gates to Jews during the Holocaust, I hope that people feel some shame from the double standard.

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