Beliefs

Israel ‘too small’ to accept Syrian refugees, says Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday rejected a call by Israel’s opposition leader to provide refuge to Syrian refugees, saying the country is too small to take them in.

Images in recent days of thousands of refugees herded on and off trains in Europe as they sought a safe haven from Middle East conflict struck a chord in Israel, a state created three years after the Nazi Holocaust which killed six million Jews.

Isaac Herzog, head of the main opposition Zionist Union party, appealed to Israeli leaders to “absorb refugees from the fighting in Syria”, a northern neighbour that Israel considers an enemy state.

In public remarks at a cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said Israel was “not indifferent to the human tragedy” of refugees from Syria and noted that Israeli hospitals have been treating wounded from its civil war.

“However, Israel is a very small state. It has no geographic depth or demographic depth,” the right-wing premier said, suggesting that taking in Arab refugees would upset the demographic balance in a predominantly Jewish state where about a fifth of the 8.3 million population are Arab citizens.

Though there have been no international calls on Israel to open its borders to Syrians, Herzog said Netanyahu had a moral duty to accept refugees.

Syrian refugees in Za’atari camp in Jordan. The camp currently houses more than 80,000 refugees who have been forced to flee their homes due to the Syria conflict.

RNS photo courtesy World Vision

Syrian refugees in Za’atari camp in Jordan. The camp currently houses more than 80,000 refugees who have been forced to flee their homes due to the Syria conflict.

“The prime minister of the Jewish people would not shut his heart and the gates when people are fleeing for their lives, with babies in their arms, from persecutors,” Herzog said.

Citing dangers faced by Palestinian refugees who have long lived in camps in Syria, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said they should be allowed into the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where he exercises limited self-rule.

Israel has said the overall issue of a right of return for Palestinian refugees would be settled only as part of a final peace accord. Israeli-Palestinian talks broke off in 2014.

At the cabinet session, Netanyahu coupled his remarks on Syrian refugees by saying that Israel must further secure its borders against African migrants and Islamist militants.

He announced the start of construction of a new 30-km (18-mile) stretch of fence along the frontier with Jordan, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994.

Israel completed a 230-km (143-mile) barrier along the Egyptian border in 2013. Israel and Egypt made peace in 1979.

Israel has fences on the Lebanon border and along the line between the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Syria.

Much of the West Bank is also divided by an Israeli-built barrier, while the Islamist Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip is closed off behind high fences and walls.

 

About the author

Reuters

17 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • Too small? Really? Or maybe the wrong religion/ ethnic group?
    I am sure a few thousand could easily be absorbed.

  • It is very un-Jewish. This past Saturday we read the Torah portion Ki Tavo, which includes commands of welcoming the stranger. It also reminds Jews that they were strangers in Egypt.

    I don’t see the US offering to take in any Syrian refugees.

  • “You were once strangers in the land of Egypt, ” as Susan notes. Israel should welcome as many refugees as possible.

    Show the world the mercy that was not shown to the Jewish people!

  • Lebanon, a country half the size of Israel and with a population about half the size of Israel’s, has taken in 1.1 million Syrian refugees. It would be very kind of Israel to emulate Lebanon.

  • The Jews were never in Egypt as the Torah says. Even Israeli archaeologists have discounted the Biblical story.

    Israel should remember some very “small countries” gave refuge to Jews during the Nazi years. Apparently N-yahoo can’t even take a few families of Syrians – even as a token? Yet Israel begs for more Jews to move there to keep the demographics favorable?

    As someone who strongly supports Israel I find all this appalling. Israel is looking less like a democratic state and more like an exclusive club under N-yahoo.

  • Taking in Muslims by Jewish Israelis (or any non-Muslims person or people groups) would be like Jewish sympathizers of WWII taking in Gestapo agents and their families. As soon as they gain back power and control these helpless refugees will turn on their benefactors and kill them.

    History is a very demanding teacher. And Muslims have been utterly hostile to non-Muslims age after age.

  • Max, I know that there is no archeological proof that the exodus ever happened. There was an Egyptian occupation of Canaan at some point in history. The story could have developed from that. However, that does not lessen the power of the story as moral guidance.

  • Be Brave, do you know the history of Muslim Spain? Jews and Muslims lived together peacefully. Jewish culture thrived and experienced a golden age. This was a tolerant branch of Islam that was eventually overthrown by a fanatic group of Moroccan tribesmen who overran parts of Spain.

    But the persecution of Jews didn’t really begin until the Christians conquered Spain. You need to look at the history of Christian treatment of Jews over the centuries.

  • @BB,

    “Muslims…are Gestapo”

    Astounding.
    You complain about ‘bigotry against religionists’ yet you engage in exactly that…. and without irony!

    There is nothing wrong with “Muslims” and it is bigoted and ignorant to say there is. Islam, like Christianity, is a horrible theory – but that is not to judge its victims. To hate a prison is not to hate its prisoners.

  • Funny, isn’t it, how Jews support massive racial and ethnic integration in every predominately white country on Earth, yet are busy creating a massively segregated, apartheid state for themselves.

  • @Susan,

    “that does not lessen the power of the story as moral guidance.”

    If you are going to pick stories for moral guidance might I suggest Schindler’s List? Or Catcher in the Rye? There are much better books than the Exodus story with its “virtuous rapes, slaveries & genocides”. The victor of Exodus is a destructive, perverse, fictional tyrant. I see no morality in that.

    “Religion is a facade. We need something else…Goodness, kindness, love, honesty.”
    – Nicholas Winton

    Known as the British Oscar Shindler, Winton (also like Schindler) was an Atheist who saved hundreds of Jews from the Holocaust.

  • Yep. Israel’s behavior during Syria’s civil war and the ISIS invasion of Iraq has been terrible.

    They are standing idly while their neighbors deal with refugees. This is the same country which airlifted people from Ethiopia and even Muslim from Bosnia. This is just shameful. If you are going to hurl defamatory accusations that Israel is an apartheid state, this is more fuel for the fire.

  • @Jack,

    “Jews…they are busy creating..”

    Bigoted nonsense!
    When you claim an entire group you are being a bigot. All Jews do not support this policy – you are bigoted to claim they all do.

  • “moral guidance” is a bit of a stretch – especially considering how many Egyptians who had nothing to do with the Pharaoh’s intransigence lost their first-born or died in the Red Sea – or both. Pretty putrid moral guidance if you ask me.

  • Daniel Berry, there are no settlers left in Gaza. Israel pulled out of Gaza and forced the settlers out. Then Hamas kicked the Fatah forces out and took over.

    Jack, you can’t even tell the difference between Jews and Arabs in Israel. About half of all Israeli Jews are from Arab countries. There is also a lot of disagreement and argument over the present government policies. Israel is not a perfect country, but it is not an apartheid state.

2019 NewsMatch Campaign: This Story Can't Wait! Donate.

ADVERTISEMENTs