Jews have good reason to be obsessed by history. It sits alongside food in the list of importance. We care about it, learn from it and see things in light of it. We are here because of history – and in spite of it. Above all else, we know that tomorrow’s history is made by today’s decisions.
How is today’s history being made? What is going on today that will still be talked about in 50, 100, 200 years’ time? Some things are unclear. We do not yet know, for example, what effect the recent surge of nationalism in America, Europe and Russia will have. We do not yet know whether the harm being done to the planet can be reversed. But we do know that one of human history’s most momentous events is happening right now – and that MPs are making important decisions about it today. The past few years have led to massive state ruptures and the biggest sudden movement of people the world has ever known. Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Sudan and Somalia have all fallen apart. What started with a desperate Tunisian market seller in 2010 led to what we see now.
As of last year, there were 65 million known refugees. Tens of millions more are displaced. Struggling African countries have opened their doors, including Uganda (200,000), Chad (300,000) and Ethiopia (500,000). Unsteady Middle Eastern states have taken even more, including Jordan (600,000), Iran (nearly 1 million), Lebanon (1.1m) and Turkey (2.5m). In 2015, at the height of the crisis, the UK allowed fewer than 39,000 asylum applications, including dependants, and approved fewer than half.
Lord Dubs, a Jewish refugee from Prague, asked that we also take 3,000 unaccompanied children. The government has now capped that at 350. Sometimes the word ‘shame’ does not do something justice. We are making history. And we know all too well that today’s Jews will one day be asked by their grandchildren what they did to help these people. Because Jews were ‘these people’ once.