Jewish communities around the world have rallied to the plight of refugees from the Middle East, but Israel has so far refused to get involved.
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Religious and political leaders from across the Diaspora have urged governments to open the gates to hundreds of thousands fleeing persecution in places like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, and a round-table meeting has been convened by World Jewish Relief for Thursday to create a “cross-communal response” to the crisis.
In the UK, members of the Jewish community were this week donating to the World Jewish Relief’s Appeal, which has described the flood of people as “the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War”.
Paul Anticoni, WJR chief executive, said: “Many Jews wouldn’t be here today without our ancestors finding shelter as refugees. Our community must once again come together to take action to support those fleeing violence, war and persecution.”
Jewish Labour politician Luciana Berger MP added her voice, saying the country’s response “has failed to live up to Britain’s historic role as a country that offers asylum to those fleeing persecution and death”.
In Scotland, where the ruling SNP has asked Westminster to do more, Ephraim Borowski, the director of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, backed calls to do more, signing a letter with other faith leaders saying: “Our faiths in their different ways are rooted in the refugee experience, in what it means to be forced to leave a place where one’s very existence is threatened in search of somewhere safer.”
In Italy, where many refugees first land, the president of the Jewish umbrella organisation urged aid and welcome for refugees, as communities in Florence and Milan worked with civic authorities to help migrants. Renzo Gattegna also warned against indifference, saying Judaism was based on “solid principles and profound roots that provide for the obligation of welcome and of respect for strangers”.
Countries from as far afield as Australia have said they will take in extra refugees, but in Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed calls to help, citing the country’s size and security needs as reasons.
“We have already devotedly cared for approximately 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. Therefore, we must control our borders, against both illegal migrants and terrorism.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog ridiculed Netanyahu’s stance, however, saying he had “forgotten what it is to be Jewish”. Herzog then called for Israel to take in refugees, adding: “Our people has experienced first-hand the silence of the world and cannot be indifferent in the face of the murder and massacre raging in Syria.”