Here is a piece by Matthew Wagner from today's Jerusalem Post. Wagner reports Rabbi Dov Lior, the rabbi of Hebron and Kiryat Arba and a leader of the National Religious right wing has ruled that Israel should not aid Darfur refugees who have found their way to Israel. (Rabbi Lior earlier ruled that these poor people should be stopped at the borders and pushed back into the Sinai wilderness.)
His ruling was echoed by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, head of the Ateret Yerushalayim yeshiva and another leader of National Religious Jews. Efraim Zuroff, also an Orthodox Jew, of the Simon Wiesenethal Center's Israel office also agrees.
First, Rabbi Lior:
Israel has no moral responsibility to aid Darfur refugees, and their
plight must not be compared to Jewish victims of the Holocaust, Chief
Rabbi of Hebron-Kiryat Arba Dov Lior said on Wednesday.
He was responding to a query on the "Yeshiva" Internet forum.
Lior's questioner said Israel was obligated to help Sudanese refugees
who reached its borders just as the nations of the world were morally
responsible to help Jews suffering under Nazi Germany.
But Lior disagreed: "The Holocaust is not a good example [of a general
moral obligation that can be compared to Israel's obligation to Darfur
refugees]," he said. "During the Holocaust, Jews were hunted. The
Germans wanted to destroy all the Jews wherever they were. The Swiss
who saved the Jews [sic] knew that someone was hunting them down and
wanted to murder them.
"We have enough problems of our own with immigration absorption. We
need to take care of our own 'Sderot refugees' and we do not have
budget reserves. We have enough poor people in Israel. There are plenty
of nations that can help those refugees besides us.
"The poor of one's own country take precedence over other peoples' poor."
Now Rabbi Aviner:
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, head of the Ateret Yerushalayim yeshiva, said Jewish law obliged Jews to treat all human beings with loving kindness.
"We have to do it not because of the Holocaust but because God commanded to treat all of His creations, especially those created in His image, with loving kindness.
"We don't do it for the publicity or to look good in the eyes of the goyim. Jews have done acts of loving kindness in the past even when they were paid back with hatred," Aviner said.
However, he also said our own poor and homeless, including Israelis "expelled" from the Gaza Strip, came first. "We are a country of refugees," said Aviner. "We simply do not have the resources."
Now Efraim Zuroff:
Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Jerusalem office, agreed with Lior that comparing the plight of Jews during the Holocaust to that of Sudanese refugees was inaccurate.
"Sudanese who managed to reach Israel had already escaped ethnic cleansing by entering Egypt from Sudan," he said. "The move to Israel was an attempt to find a better haven.
"Obviously, as Jews who were victims of genocide, we have a special duty to help stop the ethnic cleansing inside Sudan. But at the same time, Israel has limited resources. We cannot possibly help all Sudanese refugees," he said.
The case being discussed here are refugees who walked across the the Sinai and illegally crossed into Israel seeking shelter. They are victims of genocide who fled to Egypt, were persecuted there, some were sent back to Darfur by Egyptian authorities, and others fled to Israel.
To say, as Rabbi Lior does, that the "poor of one's own country take precedence over other people's poor" is disingenuous. That halakha is talking about sending money or aid to another city or country. Then, all things being equal, the poor of your own town or family come first. But, if the poor in another country are starving to death, and yours merely skip one or two meals per week, or eat less choice foods for the Sabbath, the halakha mandates aiding the poor starving to death in that other country.
So what are Rabbis Lior and Aviner really saying? They are saying this – Darfur refugees are not Jews. The halakha quoted is talking about helping Jews. The implication here is clear. Darfur refugees do not deserve our help because they are not Jewish.
But the truth is, once these poor people get to us, they are our poor, and they must be aided just like any other poor person in Israel. That is the halakha. (Some of you may recall biblical verses about how to treat strangers, verses that also say, "…because you were once strangers in Egypt.")
So what we have here is two prominent right wing National Religious rabbis with huge followings. Both misrepresent the halakha, it seems for political reasons.
These rabbis are concerned about aiding settlers who refused to leave Gaza, lost much of their benefits as a result, and now suffer – all because they listened to these very same National Religious rabbis (and others, as well) who ordered them to remain in Gaza.
As for the Sederot refugees, aiding them is not a matter of a shortage in funds – it is a matter of s shortage in political will.
As for Zuroff, he is right and he is wrong. Yes, the parallel is not exact. But he raises a straw man rather than deal with the actual situation. No one is talking about taking in all or most of Darfur refugees. We are dealing with a few hundred people, not millions, and the state – and, just as importantly, the Israeli private sector – has more than enough money to help these people.
The saddest thing of all here is noting Rabbi Lior's background:
…During the Holocaust, Lior himself was a refugee. He and his family
were expelled from Poland and wandered through the Soviet Union. Both
his parents died of starvation.
Lior is one of the most respected and influential religious Zionist
rabbis in more right-wing circles. Many of his students hold key
positions in national religious high schools and he is the spiritual
authority for the Ariel Youth Movement.…
What did God spare Rabbi Lior for? To repeat the mistakes and evil of his parent's oppressors?
I will say one very controversial thing about this sad affair. Scholars study the formation of the Hitler Youth. They seek to answer, in part, a fundamental question: How could an entire generation of children be, for want of a better term, brainwashed? How could Hitler, yemach shemo, have 'cloned' so many little Hitlers?
Perhaps we should study the Ariel Youth Movement and its members. By this I do not mean to equate Rabbi Lior with Hitler or his movement with Hitler youth. But I do see parallels between Rabbi Lior's history of racism, and his teaching of this racism to youth, and what happened in Germany.
This is a very sad day for Judaism, and an even sadder day, I'm afraid, for God.
And, yes, I do see parallels with the late Lubavitcher Rebbe's position on (not) aiding Ethiopian Jews, where he also cites din kadima (the poor of your own town come first) as a reason to not help save starving, tortured Ethiopian Jews.