Deputy Minister for Regional Affairs Ayoub Kara on Sunday called on Israel to take in thousands of refugees escaping the violence in Syria and noted that the Jewish state has a moral duty to do so because of the Holocaust.
“Israel needs to take in tens of thousands of refugees from the Syrian minorities, especially the Druze,” Kara, a Druze member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, told Army Radio. “It can’t be that a people that experienced what it did 70 years ago can disregard this and say ‘I am not in the game’ — that can’t happen.”
Kara’s comments came amid a growing debate among Israeli politicians over how Israel, with its national memory of the struggle by Jewish refugees to escape the Nazi regime, should respond to the regional migrant crisis to which the Syrian civil war is major contributing factor.
On Saturday, opposition leader Isaac Herzog said Israel was duty-bound to take in refugees from Syria, a suggestion that was lambasted by Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz.
“What a lack of political wisdom and a lack of national responsibility,” Katz retorted in a post on his Facebook page and referred to a much publicized offer by Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila to house refugees in his spare home.
“At least he [Herzog] should suggest, as did the prime minister of Finland, to take them in his house,” Katz wrote.
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin of Likud also against spoke out against the notion of Israel taking in people from Syria, an enemy country.
“I suggest we stop with this custom of trying to find favor all the time,” he told Army Radio. “We must not take in people from an enemy state who could act against us from within Israel.”
Herzog said Saturday that the Jewish state cannot turn away refugees escaping danger.
“It is incumbent on Israel to take in refugees from the war and push for the establishment of an urgent international conference on the issue,” the Zionist Union party chairman declared.
“Jews cannot be apathetic when hundreds of thousands of refugees are searching for safe haven,” he said, referring to the plight of Europe’s Jews in the run-up to the Holocaust.
But Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid also came out against Israel providing a safe haven for Syrian refugees, stressing that Israel must not take any steps that may in the future legitimatize the implementation of the right of return for Palestinians.
Israel said in June it was bracing for an influx of refugees on the Golan Heights, which is divided between Israel and Syria, after fighting on the plateau intensified. Druze residents of Israel have appealed to the government to help safeguard their brethren living on the other side of the border, where fighting between regime forces and rebels has been fierce.
More than four million people have fled their homes in the war-torn country, with Turkey and Lebanon taking in the lion’s share. Thousands of Syrian refugees have also flooded into Europe in the four years of bitter fighting.
A global outcry last week over an image of the body of a three-year-old Syrian child washed up on the Turkish shore after he and his brother and mother drowned trying to reach the island of Kos spurred European leaders to increase the numbers of refugees they accept.