Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt

by Stephen Oryszczuk

Jewish groups have reacted with heartbreak to the news that 1,700 refugees have drowned in the Mediterranean in recent weeks, recalling how Jews were once in a similar position all over Europe.

So far this year, Italian authorities have rescued 10,000 people from the waters, but over 1,720 refugees have drowned, with 800 dying in one boat. Survivors say passengers died “like rats in a cage”, and experts have predicted that up to 30,000 may perish before the end of the year.

Speaking after the tragedy, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt of the Conference said: “for so many people to perish in such horrific circumstances, whilst seeking the freedoms and liberties we take for granted, has truly shocked us all.

“Many times in the last hundred and fifty years the Jews of Europe have found themselves as refugees and we are grateful for the many governments who have taken our communities in and allowed us to rebuild.”

Goldschmidt called on the European Union to open its doors to the migrants and replicated the kindness shown to Jews, adding: “We speak with experience”.

In 2014, over 3,200 died making the crossings, including Palestinians leaving from Egyptian ports, while in September two men from Gaza were rescued after a boat containing 200 people was rammed by rival people-traffickers on its way to Malta. They were believed to be the sole survivors.

Commentators have asked whether Israel may play a role in the crisis. There is a precedent.

In 1978, with tens of thousands braving dangerous seas to flee communism in Indochina, Israel took in hundreds of refugees, and sent a freighter to the South China Sea for others, only for it to be turned away. This year has seen a surge in the number attempting the perilous journey from north Africa to Europe. Many are economic migrants. Others are fleeing the threat of jihadist groups like ISIS now active across the Mahgreb.