Israeli politicians exploit refugees’ suffering for political gain

Israel/Palestine
on 24 Comments

As the refugee crisis continues to reach levels of despair unseen since World War II, Israeli politicians raced to the bottom, exploiting the horrors to bash each other for political gain.

The self-proclaimed Jewish State’s geographic location, sharing a border with Syria, and being the land path for African refugees fleeing political persecution in Eritrea and Sudan, make it an obvious destination. And while Israel has portrayed itself as uninvolved in the crises unfolding in its vicinity, it has repeatedly bombed Syria (and continues to colonize the occupied Golan Heights), treated wounded fighters from al-Nusra – al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria – before sending them back to the fighting, and sold weapons to despotic African regimes. Legally, Israel is obliged to accept refugees as a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention. But while the Israeli government refuses to accept refugees escaping war and persecution from its north and south, statements from leaders highlighted the cynical nature of Israeli politics in which no form of suffering is off-limits from exploitation for political gain.

To kick it off, opposition leader and Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accept a limited number of Syrian refugees. “I call on the government of Israel to act toward receiving refugees from the war in Syria, in addition to the humanitarian efforts it is already making,” Herzog said, apparently referring to treatment of Al-Nusra fighters as Israel’s “humanitarian efforts.” But Herzog has been perfectly content with rounding up African refugees fleeing war-torn countries into the Holot detention center (what Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has referred to as a “concentration camp”), and didn’t protest when Silvan Shalom barred them from Tel Aviv and Eilat, nor did he lift a finger when the mayors of Arad and Beit Shean extrajudicially set up checkpoints to prevent African refugees from entering. Of course, Herzog was an enthusiastic supporter of the 51-day assault on Gaza last summer, the open-air prison for mostly Palestinian refugees.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded, “Israel is a small country, and we do not have the geographic and demographic depths [to absorb them].”

There are a few layers of irony to this claim: The State of Israel’s entire existence is predicated on the creation of 750,000 Palestinian refugees and permanent denial of their and their descendents’ right of return, as legally guaranteed by multiple UN resolutions. Many of the these refugees live in the besieged Gaza Strip, one of the world’s most densely populated areas that is a small fraction of the size of Israel and rest of the occupied territory. In Syria’s Yarmouk refugee camp, Palestinian refugees attempting to escape siege and attacks from both ISIS and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces were originally expelled in the Nakba. While Netanyahu claims that Israel has no space for refugees, his government continues to confiscate land to expand Jews-only settlements in the occupied West Bank at the expense of Palestinians.

Why would Herzog demand that Netanyahu absorb Syrian refugees, when to do so would be antithetical to Zionism? Simply because he wanted to embarrass Netanyahu in the international arena by making him appear brutish and indifferent to the plight of refugees.

Of course, Herzog would never agree to absorb refugees either if he were in power. If he did, he’d be pilloried politically, evidenced by a recent poll that four out of five of Israelis oppose taking in Syrian refugees.

While Herzog hit from the left, Herzog’s own party played a duplicitous game and flanked Netanyahu from the right, blaming his government for not having expelled African refugees. “The crisis of the refugees from Syria is not similar to the issue of the infiltrators from Africa who are mostly migrant workers. If only Bibi’s government had created immigration laws, it would be possible to send back to their country those who are in Israel for their welfare and for work. But the Likud government is only good at talking, and it is responsible for the troubles of the residents of south Tel Aviv,” the Zionist Union said in an official statement.

Herzog chose to play an extremely cynical game, attacking Netanyahu for the same behavior that he would undoubtedly do himself – all to gain points for his image, and at the expense of refugees.

But it doesn’t end there. While Herzog and the Zionist Union were attacking Netanyahu from both right and left, supposed “centrist” Yair Lapid, the chairman of Yesh Atid, attacked Herzog from the right in refreshingly honest terms. Allowing Syrian refugees into Israel would open a “back door for a discussion of the Palestinian right of return,” he said. Indeed,  acceptance of any non-Jewish refugees would call into question the denial of the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees, an outcome that would upend Zionism, Israel’s national ideology.

Lapid then came from the left, invoking the plight of African refugees who are currently inside Israel. “There are refugees in Israel already. Out of 50,000 infiltrators there are several thousands who came from Darfur, people who fled something I don’t want to term as a Holocaust, but is like the Holocaust, and it’s them that the State of Israel should assimilate,” Lapid said.

Like supposed “center-left” leader Isaac Herzog, Lapid has enthusiastically supported the Israeli government’s policy of making life intolerable in order to coerce refugees to go back to Africa – which they would face imprisonment and possibly death –  first articulated by former Interior Minister Eli Yishai.

While the faux debate allows Israeli politicians to gain credibility in internal politics, it also contributes to the abroad image of having a humanist side – the Israel that American liberal Zionists pine for. Meanwhile, the most accurate measure for Israel’s attitude towards refugees is its acceptance rate, which remains at nearly none.

About Dan Cohen

Dan Cohen is an independent journalist and filmmaker based in Palestine. He tweets at @dancohen3000.

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24 Responses

  1. just
    September 10, 2015, 5:25 pm

    Succinct and comprehensive piece, Dan.

    I’ve been following all this bs, and you’ve summarized it so well. Meanwhile they’re still ‘recruiting’ (with bribes and more) perfectly safe Jewish people from all over the world in order to populate the lands stolen from Palestinians. Most importantly, I can’t see any evidence that the majority in Israel want ANY non- Jewish people in Israel. They don’t want the Africans, the Syrians, or any of the “others”. Period.

    The ‘world’ stays silent despite the fact that Israel has obligations under the treaties that it is party to.

    • Citizen
      September 11, 2015, 3:08 am

      Not a peep from the US mainstream media about any of this.

      • Jackdaw
        September 11, 2015, 9:12 am

        Not a peep because it’s a crappy piece by Dan Cohen and unworthy of consideration.

        Israel has just accepted several thousand refugees to her shores.
        Most of the new immigrants are French Jews fleeing the violent and bigoted Arabs of France and many others are Ukrainian Jews fleeing their war torn country.

        http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4699396,00.html

      • Mooser
        September 11, 2015, 11:56 am

        Ah, good ol’ “Jaqckdaw”! Here he is, defending his Jerusaelm boner-fidos:

        “My ancestors migrated to Jerusalem in 1812.” “Jackdaw”

        “My ancestors emigrated to Jerusalem in 1811.”

        Seems pretty straightforward, he’;s been there since 1812, or 1811, right?
        Then we read on and:

        “My maternal great-grandfather emigrated from Ottoman Jerusalem to New York City. If he was a ‘Jewish/Zionist’ migrant then he was going ass-backwards.”

        New York City?

      • talknic
        September 11, 2015, 12:32 pm

        @ Jackdaw September 11, 2015, 9:12 am

        “Israel has just accepted several thousand refugees to her shores.”

        That’s not what your linked article says

        ” These olim’s free choice to live in Israel, and preference for it over other countries, is the real victory of Zionism”

      • Jackdaw
        September 11, 2015, 1:48 pm

        @talknic

        Certainly some of the olim are are coming of their own free will.
        The majority, though, are leaving their homes in France and Ukraine because of violent bigotry and war.

        talknic. If you prefer that these olim don’t migrate to Israel, than consider sponsoring some families so they can come and live near you.

      • Jackdaw
        September 11, 2015, 1:52 pm

        @Mooser

        ‘New York City’.

        Yes. New York City.
        Pre-mayoral Fiorello La Guardia, was Papa’s business attorney.

        Are you being typically obtuse, or is there something specific that’s bothering you?

      • eljay
        September 11, 2015, 1:59 pm

        || Jackdaw: … Israel has just accepted several thousand refugees to her shores. … ||

        Yup, and the rapist recently made a very generous donation to his local charity. But he continues to have women chained in his basement, and Israel continues to commit (war) crimes and flout international law (including the repatriation of ethnically-cleansed refugees) with impunity.

        Yeah, I know: Aggressor-victimhood is a tough gig… :-(

      • Mooser
        September 11, 2015, 2:21 pm

        “Are you being typically obtuse, or is there something specific that’s bothering you?”

        “Jackdaw” you must know that I am very concerned with the dual-loyalty problem. I just don’t see how Israel can survive when so many people are only half-committed to Israel, and have an escape ticket in their pocket. When Israel doesn’t fulfill their fantasies about 19th Century Rabbis and/or “classic left” kibbutzes or animal sacrifices or whatever, off they go, after screwing the place up. It’ll be hard for Israel to survive that.

      • Jackdaw
        September 11, 2015, 2:58 pm

        @Mooser

        ” When Israel doesn’t fulfill their fantasies … off they go, after screwing the place up. It’ll be hard for Israel to survive that.”

        Than why don’t you make aliyah, run for office, and try to make Israel a better place for all it’s citizens?

      • Mooser
        September 11, 2015, 3:35 pm

        “Than why don’t you make aliyah, run for office, and try to make Israel a better place for all it’s citizens?”

        Did you strain a fetlock or something? That was exceptionally lame, even for you. Hey Jackdaw why don’t you go to Israel, and get out of Jerusalem? You are no more “in Israel” than I am.

      • Steve Grover
        September 11, 2015, 4:00 pm

        Jackdaw asks Mooser:
        “Than why don’t you make aliyah, run for office, and try to make Israel a better place for all it’s citizens?”
        The only time Mooser or Talknic and others who say they are Jewish and agrees with MW talk about being Jewish is when they spew a hateful statement about Israel in the same breath.
        An example of this: Israel commits genocide and I’m Jewish.

      • RoHa
        September 11, 2015, 7:17 pm

        Mooser, you seem to be doubting the truth of Jackdaw’s Jerusalem b-fs.

        You’re a slow learner. You should have realised by now that the truth of Zionists’ claims is (a) too complicated for mere anti-Zionists to understand, and (b) whatever they say it is at the time.

        And if they say something different at another time, that’s true too.

      • Mooser
        September 11, 2015, 7:37 pm

        “An example of this: Israel commits genocide and I’m Jewish.”

        Ha-ha “Grover”, you didn’t put quote marks around your made-up (although I must say, it’s pretty uncontextable) quote, so it’s not real. Better luck next time.

        Don’t, of course, use a real quote and link it, that would spoil everything

      • Mooser
        September 11, 2015, 8:08 pm

        “You’re a slow learner.”

        RoHa, you are right. Yup, I must cogitate at a pre-global warming glacier’s pace. It took me all this time to see where the real dual loyalty problem is. Why not crap in the Israeli nest? They can just fly away. Why not push it to the limit?

      • talknic
        September 11, 2015, 10:36 pm

        @ jackdaw “The majority, though, are leaving their homes in France and Ukraine because of violent bigotry and war.”

        That’s NOT what your article says

        ” If you prefer that these olim don’t migrate to Israel,”

        Migrating to territory that’s actually Israeli is fine by me. It doesn’t include any territory outside of Israel’s self proclaimed borders of 00:01 May 15th 1948 (ME time) http://wp.me/pDB7k-Xk Occupied territory and territory illegally acquired by war, illegal annexation, illegal settlement is quite simply not Israeli.

  2. Jackdaw
    September 11, 2015, 2:08 am

    What an ugly, arrogant attempt to blame/link Israel to this refugee crisis.

    First, most Syrian refugees are fleeing north to Turkey, and than to Europe. Those fleeing south, have gone to Jordan, or Egypt. Syria’s border with Israel is the smallest border of all of it’s neighbors.

    African refugees are taking advantage of the chaos in Libya in order to cross the Med Sea to Europe. They’re certainly not using Israel as an escape route to Europe because war torn Syria blocks their path.

    Many of today’s refugees come from Pakistan and Afghanistan and sub Saharan Africa, not even remotely near Israel.

    Israel has been providing humanitarian aid to fighters who turned up wounded on her doorstep, which includes FSA and al Nusra.
    Two Syrian government pilots whose jet was shot down, were treated in Israel and released to the Syrian government.
    Equal treatment all around.

    Israel has only bombed Hezbollah targets in Syria so as to prevent Hezbollah (Iranian proxy) from opening up another northern front against Israel.

    • talknic
      September 11, 2015, 12:36 pm

      @ Jackdaw “African refugees are taking advantage of the chaos in Libya in order to cross the Med Sea to Europe. They’re certainly not using Israel as an escape route to Europe because war torn Syria blocks their path”

      Ever tried looking at a map before opening your crap trap?

      • Jackdaw
        September 11, 2015, 1:59 pm

        Yeah. This map.

        http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-24521614

        Now that you’ve made yourself look foolish, what’s you point?

      • Bumblebye
        September 11, 2015, 3:02 pm

        I visited Jackdaws bbc link a got a horrible breaking news strap – crane collapse kills 87 injures 184 at Mecca’s Grand Mosque. So close to Hajj.

      • talknic
        September 12, 2015, 1:13 am

        @ jackdaw “The majority, though, are leaving their homes in France and Ukraine because of violent bigotry and war.”

        That’s NOT what your article says

        ” If you prefer that these olim don’t migrate to Israel,”

        Their migrating to territory that’s actually in Israel is fine by me. Territory outside of Israel’s self proclaimed borders of 00:01 May 15th 1948 (ME time) http://wp.me/pDB7k-Xk , occupied territory, territory illegally acquired by war, illegal annexation, illegal settlement is quite simply not Israeli.

        ————-

        See the arrows on your map?

        Syria is not between Africa and Israel.

  3. ritzl
    September 11, 2015, 3:03 pm

    No doubt the Israelis are conserving resources so they can flit about the globe with medical teams, showcasing their limitless compassion for all to see.

    • Jackdaw
      September 12, 2015, 1:56 am

      @blah

      “..but I thought that Israel is already a paradise”

      I don’t feel Israel is a paradise. In fact, most of the time, I feel like packing up and returning to the US.
      But that’s my individual opinion and many people here do think Israel is a paradise.
      Maybe today’s olim will return to France when the Arab bigotry and violence subsides. Maybe the Ukrainian immigrants will return to the Ukraine when the war ends and that country finally pulls itself up by it’s bootstraps.

      Than again maybe these immigrants will sink roots here and help to strengthen and revitalize Israel.
      Time will tell.

      Do you have time to spare, blah? Mooser?ritzl?

  4. a blah chick
    September 11, 2015, 3:17 pm

    Jackdaw, are you really suggesting that Mooser go to Israel and work to make it a better place? But, but I thought that Israel was already a paradise, where everyone was equal and women, gays and ungrateful Arabs enjoy unprecedented freedom and fraternity in the greatest democracy the in the Middle East! Seems like Mooser’s efforts would only be gilding the lily.

    Don’t do it, Mooser, it’s a trap!

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