Nicholas Kristof’s championing the cause of Syrian refugees in a series of NY Times columns over the past few weeks is admirable. Among them: Anne Frank is a Syrian Girl, . Especially in the face of the U.S. refusal to do our fair share to help with the massive outflow of refugees caused by war; a conflict exacerbated by us and other outside meddlers.
So aside from the unfortunate title, which makes it sound like a gritty new reality show, I take issue with nothing in today’s column. However, there is a savage irony the Times columnist neglects in asking this question: despite having one of the largest populations of remaining living Holocaust survivors, Israel has rejected the 60,000 African refugees who’ve made their way to Israel over the past decade or more. Men, women and children fleeing tribal conflict, starvation, forced conscription and political persecution in Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea, have trekked hundreds of miles across desert and other hostile elements seeking a haven. Only to find doors slammed in their faces, riots, mass arrests, detention camps and miles of barbed wire fences. In fact, the Israeli company which built the Sinai fence has offered to build Donald Trump’s border fence should he be elected president.
Israel has accepted virtually no refugees during this period. It has mostly refused to even process them. It has tricked hundreds into leaving by giving them $3,500 and shipping them out on flights to countries like Uganda and Rwanda. As they have no passports or other identifying papers, the refugees are even more vulnerable than they were in Israel. Not to mention that all of this is a blatant contravention of international humanitarian law. The Netanyahu government persuades these African dictatorships to accept these human “cast-offs” through bribes like weapons and other blandishments. The weapons enable them to conduct wars within their own countries or against neighbors.
So to the question: “would you save the life of a Jew from the Nazis,” if the “Jew” was an African refugee, Israelis would answer, No. Of course, some will point out that Israel did take in hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors after WWII. This is, of course, true. But there are numerous reasons for this only peripherally related to moral considerations. First, Yishuv leader David Ben Gurion, desperately needed Jewish bodies to counteract the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian residents of pre-state Palestine against whom he contemplated fighting a fierce conflict. The more new immigrants Israel accepted, the better its chances of pushing out the unwanted Palestinians. Second, the survivors often had family already living in Palestine, so Israel couldn’t very well turn them away. Third, these survivors were, like other residents of Mandatory Palestine, Jewish. It is much easier to help one’s own kind than to help an outsider. This is the very same phenomenon Kristof is combatting in his columns: rejection of the Other.
Israel’s rejection of both African and all other refugees, including Syrians, runs counter to Biblical invocations like “remember the stranger for you too were strangers in the land of Egypt;” and the Book of Ruth, in which the Moabite heroine refuses to abandon her Israelite mother in law, Naomi, even though it means leaving her homeland to be with Naomi in the land of Israel:
“Entreat me not to leave you…for wherever you go, I will go; and where you live, I will live: your people [shall be] my people, and your God my God: Where you die, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more if anything but death parts you and me.” (Ruth 1:16–17)
It seems that Israelis, including Orthodox Jews, who one would expect to feel more bound by such precepts, honor their religion only in the breach or when it is most convenient.