Israel’s opposition to accepting refugees is highest in West — poll
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Israel’s opposition to accepting refugees is highest in West — poll

Support in Jewish state for taking in migrants fleeing war ranks far below that of countries at center of European migrant crisis

Illustrative: Residents of south Tel Aviv protest outside the home of then Supreme Court Justice Miriam Naor in Jerusalem on September 2, 2017 (Hadas Parush/Flahs90)
Illustrative: Residents of south Tel Aviv protest outside the home of then Supreme Court Justice Miriam Naor in Jerusalem on September 2, 2017 (Hadas Parush/Flahs90)

A majority of Israelis oppose taking in refugees escaping countries wracked by violence, according to a poll released Wednesday, with support for allowing entry to such migrants ranking well behind that of citizens in many other Western countries.

According to the Pew Research Center survey, 57 percent of Israelis oppose accepting refugees fleeing war and conflict, the highest among countries polled.

Besides Israel, other countries included in the survey where opposition to accepting refugees was similarly high were Hungary, South Africa and Russia, with 54%, 50% and 47% of respondents in the respective nations against this.

Support in Israel for admitting refugees was second lowest among states in the poll at 37%, with only Hungary, which has emerged as the staunchest voice in Europe against accepting migrants, placing lower at 32%.

Antagonism in Israel toward migrants has hardened in recent years with an estimated 35,000 African immigrants in the country facing hostility from lawmakers and residents in communities with high migrant populations.

Detained African migrants inside the Holot detention center, located in Israel’s southern Negev desert near the Egyptian border, on February 4, 2018. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

The High Court of Justice has pushed back against government plans to jail or deport the migrants, saying a solution in line with international norms must be found.

The Africans, mainly from war-torn Sudan and dictatorial Eritrea, began arriving in Israel in 2005 through its porous border with Egypt, after Egyptian forces violently quashed a refugee demonstration in Cairo and word spread of safety and job opportunities in Israel. Tens of thousands crossed the desert border, often after enduring dangerous journeys, before Israel completed a barrier in 2012 that stopped the influx.

While the migrants say they are refugees fleeing conflict or persecution, Israel views them as job-seekers who threaten the Jewish character of the state.

Unlike many European countries included in the Pew poll, Israel has been unaffected by the waves of migrants leaving the Middle East and Africa for Europe and other Western countries, with the high level of opposition to accepting refugees noticeable compared to states that have been at the center of the migrant crisis.

Illustrative photo of refugees waiting for registration outside the state office for health and social issues in Berlin, Germany, on September 25 2015. (Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa via AP)

In Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision in 2015 to allow in over 1 million migrants sparked backlash and helped fueled the rise of the far-right, 82% of respondents said they support allowing in refugees fleeing war-torn countries, with 16% opposed.

A majority of respondents in Italy and Greece, which have been main entry points for migrants entering Europe, also said they support allowing in refugees escaping violence, at 56% and 69% respectively, while 32% of Italians and 27% of Greeks said they opposed this.

In the United States, where President Donald Trump has taken a hard line on immigration and lowered the number of refugees allowed to enter the country, 66% of respondents said they support taking in refugees fleeing conflict, with 29% opposed.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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