Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected calls to take in refugees, citing the country’s size and security needs as reasons.
“We have already devotedly cared for 1,000 wounded people from the fighting in Syria and we have helped them to rehabilitate their lives,” he said. “But Israel is a very small country, which lacks demographic and geographic depth. We must control our borders, against both illegal migrants and terrorism.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog ridiculed the stance, saying Netanyahu had “forgotten what it is to be Jewish”. Herzog called for Israel to take in refugees, adding: “Our people have experienced first-hand the silence of the world and cannot be indifferent in the face of the murder and massacre raging in Syria.”
Public opinion on the refugee crisis in Israel seemed to contrast sharply with the views of many in Britain, however.
Dr Lior Herman, a professor in the Department of International Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said Israelis’ perception of Muslim immigration into Europe was “characterised by trepidation” and worry about how it would affect the continent’s culture and identity.
“There is a fear that Israel is an island in an Islamic ocean, and that if that ocean expands to Europe, Israel will lose a close ally. In this regard, Israeli views about Muslim immigration to Europe are deeply tied to the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
Prof Arnon Soffer, head of the Chaiklin Chair in Geostrategy at the University of Haifa, likened the flood of refugees to “a tsunami” comparable to “the Huns” – a reference to the nomads who famously attacked Europe from the east. “Millions of migrants will head towards Europe,” he warned.
But Prof. David Newman, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben-Gurion University, struck a different note, arguing that Israel should be more open to those seeking asylum, and that biblical values of caring for the ‘stranger’ should be placed on the national agenda.
Nightly roundups of migrants, administrative detention and laboriously slow application processing should all be ended if Israel is to continue to seek the world’s sympathy for the security threats it faces, he said.
“That Jews once sought refuge and were refused should, as Menachem Begin correctly stated, become one of the keystones underlying a balanced and fair migration policy for Israel, as it matures into its 70th year.”