Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid voiced his opposition Saturday to the possibility that Israel would absorb any refugees from the civil war in Syria, and stressed that the Jewish state must not take any steps that may in the future legitimatize the implementation of a “right of return” for Palestinians.
“Israel, unfortunately, cannot afford to get into the matter of the refugee crisis, it is a European issue and there’s no reason for us to be part of it,” Lapid said during a cultural event in Beersheba, according to Haaretz.
“I will not open a back door to discussing the right of return for Palestinians,” he continued, adding that the Israeli left was keen to absorb refugees from Syria in order to set a precedent that could later be applied to Palestinians as well.
“There is a reason that all the leftist organizations support the refugee issue, because then they will say, ‘here you are allowing in people who are not Jews’,” the Yesh Atid leader said.
“Israel has made a great effort not to be involved in the events in Syria, so now we want to open a back door that will involve us in that war?” Lapid concluded.
On Saturday, opposition leader Isaac Herzog said Israel was duty bound to take in refugees from Syria. “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.
Lapid’s own party member MK Elazar Stern made as similar appeal on Thursday, calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take in a limited number of Syrians fleeing the fighting, urging him “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.
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.
Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report.