Statement on Syrian Refugees

Partners for Progressive Israel reproves in the strongest terms Prime Minister Netanyahu’s preemptory dismissal of the call by Opposition leaders Isaac Herzog and Zehava Galon that Israel act in accordance with its heritage and accept Syrian refugees.  PPI commends Israeli Opposition leaders Herzog and Galon for their initiative.  The Israeli government’s refusal to take new refugees and its mistreatment of those refugees already in the country is part of an increasing resort to repressive legislation and undemocratic politics, and a shift toward a reactionary form of nationalism, a development that has been opposed most clearly and consistently by Galon and by the Meretz Party generally.  We applaud Galon’s courageous support of the Iran deal and her principled opposition to Israel’s newest assault on democratic practice in the form of so-called anti-terror legislation.  We note with sadness Herzog’s complicity in the passage of the so-called anti-terror legislation and his opposition to the Iran deal, which vitiate his stand on the refugees and go far toward depriving Israel of the opposition party that is desperately needed if Israeli democracy is to be sustained.

We have had occasion in the past to condemn Israel’s apparent march toward authoritarianism in which the anti-terror legislation is another big step. In the same statement we deplored Israel’s shameful treatment of the African refugees in its midst, many of whom remain in detention in the Negev in a prison camp in violation of court orders for their release.  Addressing the Syrian refugee problem should not in any way lessen the urgency of resolving, humanely, the issue of these African refugees who live currently in Israel’s midst.

Need we now be reminded of the Holocaust, and that the current United Nations convention on the treatment of refugees was formulated with the plight of postwar Jewish refugees specifically in mind?  Mr. Netanyahu repudiates the heritage of the first Likud Prime Minister Menachem Begin who, mindful of the Jewish past, admitted Vietnamese boat people to Israel in 1977.  He associates himself instead with the nationalist hysteria exhibited by the contemporary Hungarian regime which tries in vain to block the tide of refugees now entering Europe and in which anti-Islamic and anti-Semitic parties and groups like Jobbik hold sway.

Israel has good reason to admit Syrian refugees.  It is, like Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, a border state of Syria.  There are many Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war residing in Syria who are now threatened by the civil war and the Islamic State.  Some of these should be allowed to migrate to the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank.  Israel also occupies Syrian territory in the Golan Heights that it claims by annexation but which remains inhabited by many Druze Arabs who retain Syrian nationality and remain loyal to the Assad regime.  Druze in Syria, some of whom fled or were expelled by Israel from the Golan in 1967 face persecution and extinction by the Islamic State to the distress of their brethren in the Golan and in Israel proper.

Israel cannot seal itself off from the chaos in the Middle East that surrounds it.  In fact it does not do so, and rather intervenes in Syria militarily when it suspects weapons transfers from Iran in transit to Hezbollah.  It must be prepared to accept properly vetted Syrian refugees whose lives are otherwise threatened.  Morality and Jewish history and ethics require it.