Four out of five Israelis oppose taking in Syrian refugees, while only 11% back allowing them to settle in the country, a poll published Monday found.
The survey showed a full 80 percent of Israelis do not see a role for Israel in easing the refugee crisis currently gripping the region and Europe, which has seen up to 7 million Syrians displaced amid the country’s ongoing civil war.
The results came a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put the kibosh on Israel allowing in refugees fleeing Syria, saying the country was too small. His statement came on the heels of a call by opposition leader Isaac Herzog for Israel to offer sanctuary to some refugees.
The poll, published by Channel 10, showed Israelis were split on whether Europe had a responsibility to take in the migrants, with nearly half of Israelis (43%) saying it ought to absorb the influx of refugees, while 35% said European countries had no such responsibility.
The poll was conducted by the Midgam Panel institute under the supervision of pollster Camil Fuchs. The channel did not say how many people were surveyed, when the polling took place or what the margin of error was.
Israel has struggled to form a policy in recent years for dealing with asylum seekers, some 47,000 of whom have come from Africa in recent years. Though it has accepted wounded Syrians into hospitals, the country has not taken in any refugees from neighboring Syria, even as Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon have taken in millions of displaced people. Syria is formally at war with Israel, and both the Assad regime and numerous opposition forces are profoundly hostile to Israel.
The results came in light of a massive influx of refugees in Europe and a debate among Israeli politicians on whether the Jewish state should allow migrants to settle in the country.
Netanyahu on Sunday said that while Jerusalem was sympathetic to the suffering of citizens across its border, it simply did not have the capacity to absorb masses of people.
“Israel is not indifferent to human tragedy; we conscientiously handled a thousand [people] who were wounded in the fighting in Syria and we have helped them rebuild their lives,” Netanyahu said during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.
“However, Israel is a very small country. It has no demographic depth and has no geographic breadth,” the prime minister continued. “We must protect our borders against illegal immigrants and against the perpetrators of terrorism. We cannot allow Israel to be flooded with infiltrators.”
The prime minister announced later Sunday that construction on a sensor-laden fence along the country’s southern border with Jordan had begun. The barrier is meant to keep out terrorists and refugees and allow Israel to retain control over its borders, said Netanyahu, pointing to the crisis gripping Europe as proof of its necessity.
The prime minister’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 a major contributing factor.
Opposition leader Herzog accused Netanyahu of ignoring basic Jewish ethical concerns by not allowing them in.
“You’ve forgotten what it is to be Jewish,” Herzog wrote Sunday in a Facebook post. “Refugees. Pursued. The prime minister of the Jewish state doesn’t close his heart nor his borders when people are escaping their pursuers, with their babies in their hands.”
The Zionist Union chairman urged Netanyahu to emulate former Likud prime minister Menachem Begin, who in 1977 let 66 Vietnamese boat people escaping persecution settle in Israel.
Other coalition politicians also came out against allowing in refugees, including a number of ministers, mirroring a debate taking place in Europe as the continent braces for what it says could be an influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and other migrants.
Germany was expecting 10,000 refugees to arrive Monday after more than 20,000 entered the country over the weekend. France and Britain pledged Monday to take 24,000 and 20,000 migrants, respectively, over the coming years.
More than four million people have fled their homes in war-torn Syria, with Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon taking in the lion’s share of refugees. 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.
AP and AFP contributed to this report