Israel and refugees

 Israel and refugees

These days, buses full of people with yellow and blue flags on the windshield drive along the roads of Europe, volunteers at stations distribute food, and railways and airlines provide refugees with free tickets. It seems that the entire civilized world has come together to help Ukrainians fleeing the war.

Against this background, Israel's position looks ambiguous, and, in fact, it is. On the one hand, our authorities are trying to reduce the number of refugees from Ukraine who do not have the right to repatriation, on the other hand – keep your reputation in the eyes of the international community.

The task is extremely difficult. We have already been censured by the UN for not providing refugees with any social guarantees other than protection from deportation. Information about the rough treatment of those who came to Ben Gurion, about the endlessly changing entry rules, is spreading in social networks and the media, causing universal condemnation. The government's explanations that we are already accepting thousands, and in the future – hundreds of thousands of repatriates are not taken into account: they say, aliya – this is your internal affair, the state has the resources and budget for it. As a last resort, the UN will help with money, but Israel still has to comply with the Refugee Convention, which it itself signed. And aren't we blaming the whole world for leaving the Jews of Europe to their fate?

So, should the Jewish state accept refugees on an equal basis with the rest of the world? Or is it entitled to its own, different approach?

The Israeli leadership has good reasons to resist the arrival of refugees, but most of them cannot be voiced internationally. When our ministers start talking about demographic problems, it only spoils the impression. People are fleeing death, taking their children away from the bombs, and in Israel they complain about the growth of the non-Jewish population. From here, one step to accusations of racism.

And yet this is a very important point. The demographic balance and, in particular, its change in favor of the non-Jewish stratum, strongly influences politics. Such shifts strengthen the position of the left parties and strengthen the oppositional spirit of religious circles. The fact that the refugees – non-citizens can not vote in elections, does not play a big role. Their very presence generates public discussion, forces Israelis to correct their political views, and ultimately leads to a deepening of the ideological and political split. Considering that there are also many non-Jews among the current repatriates from Russia and Ukraine, the problem is only getting worse. Yes, against the backdrop of a terrible war and the death of people, these considerations recede not even into the background, but into the tenth plan. However, our state itself is constantly on the brink of war, and politics and security are too closely interconnected. But it is impossible for the UN and international peacekeepers to explain how the demographic swing affects the defense capability and the very existence of Israel.

The second point, which is not very convenient to admit, is connected with those Ukrainians who are already in Israel on tourist or work visas. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, there are about 20 thousand of them, not counting illegal immigrants. Of course, these people cannot be sent home to the war zone if their right to stay in Israel expires. The authorities fear that both these Ukrainians and the newly arrived refugees will remain in Israel after the end of the war, and it will be impossible to force them to leave. This is another side of our reality: the deportation of illegal immigrants is associated with such huge technical, legal, financial difficulties, it causes so much resistance from local human rights organizations that in reality this happens extremely rarely, as we managed to see on the example of infiltrators from Africa. It is not surprising that the Ministry of Internal Affairs considers any person entering as a potential illegal immigrant who “came to settle forever” with us. Europe does not know such problems: the law is the law. Those who are denied stay are put on a plane and sent home, despite the tears and protests of human rights activists, and the relatively few illegal immigrants who have gone underground become invisible to the state and do not influence it in any way. Our country is too small to turn a blind eye to the thousands of people and workers illegally in it who are undermining the economic foundations. But to tell the whole world that we're trying to keep anyone out because we can't kick them out later is just embarrassing.

The third reason is even more complex – it is about the very nature of the State of Israel. Initially, it was created as a Jewish national home, closed to everyone else by default. The few exceptions only confirmed the rule. But the longer it went on, the more Israel became “normal”; the state that Ben Gurion dreamed of, that is, the same as everyone else. In the last thirty years, various governments have done a lot to ensure that we are recognized as equal to the rest of the civilized countries – and have achieved great success in this. Is it any wonder that the international community expects from us the same openness towards refugees as enlightened Europe, and does not accept any objections to this?

Of course, this creates a huge field for manipulation. World public opinion famously brackets the aliyah accepted by Israel (they say they are already “yours”) and insists on expanding quotas for Ukrainians. Meanwhile, according to experts, from 100,000 to 200,000 Olim from Ukraine and Russia will arrive in Israel in the near future. Their integration will require billions of dollars from the economy, which has not yet recovered from the “corona”; and, probably, budget cuts in other areas.

So far, the government plans to take in approximately 5,000 refugees. These figures may grow under the influence of the international community and the domestic lobby, which will give rise to additional difficulties and intensification of the already listed problems. But it is unlikely that Israel will be able to defend its special status – the time is not at all suitable for this.

On the other hand, the whole world is changing rapidly, and the Jewish state, it seems, is also waiting for change. Or not?

Author Irina Petrova

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