Opinion

No Refugees in Our Sukkah, Please!

Israelis don't want to take in foreigners fleeing from war and violence, and the government exploits the misery of the neighborhoods hit hardest by the influx of asylum seekers to justify its own intolerant policy

Iris Leal
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Syrian refugees gather in their vehicles getting ready to cross into Syria from the eastern Lebanese border town of Arsal, Lebanon, June 28, 2018.
Syrian refugees gather in their vehicles getting ready to cross into Syria from the eastern Lebanese border town of Arsal, Lebanon, June 28, 2018. Credit: Bilal Hussein/AP
Iris Leal

If anything attests to the moral decline of Israeli society, it’s the new poll by the Pew Research Center that found that the percentage of Israelis who said they opposed taking in refugees of war and violence (57 percent) was the highest of the 18 Western countries surveyed. Not work migrants or infiltrators: war refugees. Israel, the deepest moral basis for whose establishment was the project for the extermination of the Jews, built on European soil; Israel, which, tragically, the moment it was born as a country that shelters war refugees, gave birth to the Palestinian refugee problem; that same Israel outstrips even Viktor Orban’s Hungary in terms of opposition to taking in refugees.

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This of course comes as no surprise to anyone who has lived here in recent years, but it still smarts: The people that wandered in the desert and which every year builds temporary dwellings and lives in them for seven days to remember their homeless ancestors who lived in such dwellings during their journey to a safe haven. This people, which invites to its sukkah many and varied guests, is the same people whose leaders attended demonstrations calling for the deportation of asylum seekers and terming them a “cancer.” This is the same people whose prime minister has a stable relationship with Sheffi Paz, the activist leading the pro-deportation campaign, who learned her persecutory rhetoric from the masters.

It’s not complicated. The poll data reveal a clear correlation between the positions of residents and the declared policy of their country’s governments. The highest percentages of support for taking in refugees were in Spain, Germany and Sweden. In the latter’s case, the 17 percent who said they were opposed to taking in refugees was identical to the percentage of voters for the far-right Sweden Democrats party.

>> Read more: Clear Majority of Israelis Oppose Accepting Refugees, Poll Says

The link between the public’s degree of tolerance and government policy on refugees is clear. So is the link between supporters of the far right and opponents to refugees and supporters of deportation in those countries — and in Israel. “Residents of south Tel Aviv have been living for many years in hellish conditions,” Education Minister Naftali Bennett tweeted in response to the burning of a picture of Interior Minister Arye Dery at a rally supporting the deportation of refugees in late August. “Try to live for 10 years under the conditions Sheffi Paz lives and then we’ll talk,” he said. From his mansion in Ra’anana, the millionaire Bennett talks like a working-class hero and praises Paz.

I am intimately familiar with people who live in the same conditions as Paz and who oppose her struggle. They point out who is really responsible for their situation. In contrast, Paz is the most effective collaborator there is in helping the government hide a simple fact: The residents of south Tel Aviv have been neglected and suffered from crime, prostitution and drugs long before the refugees came. Bennett champions her because she provides the perfect cover for the government he belongs to and she helps people forget the criminal negligence toward the residents of south Tel Aviv by means of the ultimate scapegoat — the stranger, the invader, the other.

The persecution of unfortunates is not a pleasant sight even for the hard-hearted, but if these unfortunates and downtrodden people are transformed into threatening and dangerous people, it’s easier to sell the merchandise. You’ll certainly want to know that one of the supporters of Paz’s campaign is the right-wing group Im Tirtzu, which is close to Bennett’s heart. Only if this evening, and every evening of the Sukkot holiday, many Israelis were to invite refugees to their sukkahs and remember together the symbolic significance of the temporary dwelling in which they sit, will the results of the next poll be slightly different.

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