Gershom Gorenberg writes:
…[Some 1,700 Sudanese have entered Israel from Egypt in recent years, according to Eytan Schwartz of the Committee for Advancement of Refugees from Darfur, a coalition of Israeli groups. Of those, Schwartz says, 500 are from Darfur, most of the rest from southern Sudan [and therefore are predominantly Christian]. The refugees fear mistreatment -- or worse, repatriation to Sudan -- if they are returned to Egypt. Meanwhile, the trickle is growing. As Schwartz points out, Israel is the only Western democracy that can be reached overland from Sudan..…
As a country of 7 million, it's true, Israel can't solve the Darfur refugee crisis. Then again, the Israeli population is now about one-twentieth that of America just before the Holocaust. If it is enough for Israel to let in 500 people fleeing genocide, then the U.S. could have met its responsibility by taking 10,000 Jews. In fact, 50,000 Jews came to America between 1933 and 1941, according a Yad Vashem scholar. That was insufficient refuge.
The underlying issue is that, pragmatically, Israel can claim it must protect its interests…. It can argue that refugees pose a security threat. It can reject refugees in order to maintain its ethnic balance. But if it does those things, it has no grounds to speak about Western countries who turned away Jews in 1938. [Because those were the very same claims made by Western democracies in 1938.]
The claims of history demand a different policy. For a start, Israel might announce how many Darfur refugees it will take in the future. Since even more refugees are likely to arrive, it could invite Western countries to a conference at which they will make their own pledges to take those fleeing Darfur. Room for that parley could be found at the wide campus of Yad Vashem.
What I find most interesting about the debate swirling around Israel's response to the Sudanese refugees is the number of Orthodox and right wing Jews who oppose granting asylum or refuge. Yet these same people decry America and the West for its indifference to Jews during the Holocaust.
The lesson here, I think, is that the choices made by governments in (or about to be in) a state of war with home countries of refugees are rarely easy. Israel should do as Gorenberg suggests, taking in as many refugees as possible and, at the same time, facilitating placement of many others in Western countries.
It may be that Israel itself only takes in a few thousand of these unfortunate people – but Israel can play a much larger and beneficial role by shaming western countries to step up and do their share. Using the moral bully pulpit granted to us by the horrendous suffering of the Holocaust, we can do a tremendous amount of good for these poor people fleeing genocide and murder.
"Never Again!" needs to be more than a fund-raising slogan, both for those who need refuge and for those, ourselves included, who find it expedient to close our eyes to their needs.
[Hat Tip: Warren.]