Israel is duty bound to absorb refugees from the civil war in Syria, opposition leader Isaac Herzog said Saturday, speaking at a cultural event in Tel Aviv.
“I spoke with the head of the Syrian opposition [in Europe], Kamel Labwani. 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 chairman said, according to Chanel 10 television.
“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.
Former British chief rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks made a similar appeal on Thursday, telling the BBC that Britain should make a “very clear and conspicuous humanitarian gesture, like Kindertransport” – the absorption of hundreds of Jewish children fleeing the Nazis before the outbreak of World War II.
Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern also called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take in a limited number of Syrians fleeing the fighting, urging him on Thursday “to save them, but also as a message to our own children.”
“I call on you to do what [former Likud prime minister Menachem] Begin did and invite to Israel a limited number of Syrian refugees,” he said, referring to Begin’s decision to grant citizenship to 66 so-called Vietnamese boat people who were fleeing the communist regime at home.
“I think that the State of Israel, because of the lessons of the Holocaust and the compliance of the world, cannot remain indifferent. I call on members of the Knesset, the public and rabbis to join me in this call. I believe that Diaspora Jews would also appreciate such a move,” Stern said.
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.
The global outcry over the 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.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Saturday that there was no legal limit on the number of refugees Germany could take in. “As a strong, economically healthy country we have the strength to do what is necessary,” she said. Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipilä also said that he is willing to open his unused house in central Finland to those fleeing war in their own countries.