By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
The walls around the ghettos in the Diaspora were built to keep Jews inside and away from the surrounding population, even though in some cases the isolation may have made it easier to remain true to the faith of Judaism and to the Jewish way of life.
The walls that Israel is now building along its borders are intended to keep out asylum seekers from Africa, mainly Eritrea and Sudan, who are risking their lives and paying a lot of money to be smuggled into the Jewish state. Over 50 000 have found their way here via Sinai from where unscrupulous “agents” smuggled them in.
Sadly, they aren’t welcome here. After Israel built its protective wall along the Sinai, immigrants can no longer be smuggled in. It’s now building a similar wall along the border with Jordan to prevent refugees from Syria entering the country.
The bitter ironies must not escape us.
- Israel that was created in order to break down the ghetto walls to liberate Jews from their miserable existence is now turning itself into an inverted ghetto in order to keep out others who seek to escape oppression and persecution.
- Israel that was created by refugees from different parts of the world in search of survival, permanence and stability is now trying very hard to keep out others in need of protection. The old Jews don’t seem to know how to reach out to the new Jews.
- Israel that prides itself for providing a home not only to Jews who for ideological reasons have chosen to settle here, but also for Jews who now seek to escape anti-Semitism in countries like France and Ukraine, is doing its utmost to keep out non-Jews who find themselves in similar situations in Africa and the Middle East.
- Israel has been so successful in devising its walls that keep out the asylum seekers that European countries are now trying to acquire Israeli know-how.
The leader of Israel’s parliamentary opposition Isaac Herzog may have had this in mind when he recently urged the government to take in Syrian refugees in the way of European countries. Others, however, have pointed to Herzog’s alleged hypocrisy as he and his party hasn’t done anything for the African refugees who’re now in Israel. The suspicion is that his current call is a posture, not a program.
Some also play the security card by arguing that those who’d now come from Syria may well be Palestinians from refugee camps there. In this way they’d be claiming their right of return, which is one of the main demands of the Palestinians for making peace with Israel and that Israel feels unable to comply with other than, perhaps, offering monetary compensation as part of a comprehensive deal.
In response to Herzog’s statement, Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that little Israel isn’t in a position to take in a large number of Syrian refugees, but about a thousand Syrians injured in their country’s bitter civil war have been or still are being treated in Israeli hospitals.
We Jews found it easy to preach morality when we had no power to put it into practice. Now with a state of our own and the paramount need to protect it, national interests seem to take precedence. In this as in many other situations, the challenge of contemporary Israel is how to live up to the lofty teachings of Judaism while responding to the challenges of a modern democratic sovereign state surrounded by hostile forces.