One big issue, two opposing opinions…This week: The refugee crisis
Syrian refugees are not British Jews’ problem. Yes, of course, there’s huge sympathy, for those who really are fleeing persecution anyway, but for every genuine refugee, there are dozens of economic migrants, and it’s not war they’re fleeing – it’s poverty. It’s free healthcare they want, for them and all their family, but the NHS can’t cope.
If it was just safety they wanted, they’d have stopped at Greece or Italy or wherever they landed. They wouldn’t break their back to get to the Calais Jungle. The only reason to make their way to Britain is for the welfare, or to blow us all up, if they’ve been sent by Islamic State.
Of course Jews relate to the plight of refugees, but you can’t compare the plight of Jews years ago to this recent exodus. For 2,000 years Jews were hunted and killed in pogroms around the world, culminating in something barely even describable, let alone comparable to this flood from Syria and elsewhere.
Jews were homeless and hunted. They didn’t come for the welfare – they came to earn, to look after themselves, to build a new life, knowing they could never go back.
Now, established after generations of hard work, British Jews are being told it’s their responsibility to look after these migrants from Kuwait or Iraq or Morocco or wherever, camping outside Dover, claiming they’ve got family here? Sorry, no, it’s just not British Jews’ problem, nor is it their responsibility, and the idea that they should know what it’s like better than most is an insult. So, argument settled: British Jews should NOT feel morally compelled to help.
That means watching them die by the boat-load in the Med, adrift in dinghies, as the waves crash around them and as the smugglers cash in.
That means passively supporting the indefinite detention of asylum seekers in the UK, and not speaking out when the government cuts their funding by a third, to £110 per week, which is meant to do for a mother and two kids.
It means not learning from Maimonides, who said the highest form of charity is to help the needy help themselves, or from the late Rabbi Hugo Gryn, who said “how you are with the one to whom you owe nothing is the test of our civilisation,” or from Sir Nicholas Winton, who saved hundreds of Jews because it was the right thing to do, and who later said: “There is nothing that can’t be done if it’s not fundamentally reasonable”.
It means not replicating the kindness shown to Jewish children who were taken in, descendents of today’s Jews, who were given a new home by the descendents of today’s government.
Is the British Jewish experience as refugees so distant?
Have they forgotten what it’s like to be demonised for seeking safety?
True, Jews weren’t universally welcomed when they came, but by looking the other way today, does that not simply make them no better than those who barred the door two generations ago?
Enough is enough.
It’s time to repay a debt, to give these migrants the same chance Jews were given, to offer them the same liberties, freedoms and opportunities British Jews now take for granted.
Besides, what’s the alternative?
Would we rather they just went home?
What would happen if they did? Every year, we say “Never Again,” knowing that hundreds of thousands are dying in today’s wastelands once known as Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen. Jewish heritage must inform the Jewish response to this humanitarian emergency.
When Jews look across at Calais and beyond, they should see themselves, and they should know that future generations will judge them by what they do now.