Don't lecture Israel about aiding needy Syrians, defiant Netanyahu says

"I don't accept the argument that Israel hasn't shown empathy for the suffering of people around us," Netanyahu said.

A migrant carries a child as they wait to board a train after crossing the Macedonian-Greek border (photo credit: REUTERS)
A migrant carries a child as they wait to board a train after crossing the Macedonian-Greek border
(photo credit: REUTERS)
While Israel is not indifferent to the human tragedy of refugees from Syria and Africa, it is a small country that cannot throw its doors open to receive them, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday.
Netanyahu’s comments, made at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting, came a day after opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) called on the government to absorb refugees from Syria.
“We have conscientiously treated over a thousand wounded from the fighting in Syria, and we have helped them rebuild their lives,” Netanyahu said. “But Israel is a very small country, with neither demographic nor geographic depth and, therefore, we must control our borders.”
Netanyahu said it must secure the borders both against illegal migrants looking for work, as well as from terrorists.
The prime minister said he has been in contact with African and European countries about developing multilateral economic packages to help the countries from which the economic refugees are leaving en masse.
In a speech to Likud activists in Kfar Hamaccabiah Hotel in Ramat Gan, he defiantly asked the crowd, “Who sent delegations to help the wounded in natural disasters in Nepal, the Philippines and Haiti? Israel! So they shouldn’t talk about us helping. This is the help we give.”
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked related to the issue on her way in the cabinet meeting, telling reporters that Israel, as a democratic country, cannot take in a massive number of refugees.
“The country gives humanitarian aid, but absorbing refugees will be done in Turkey or Jordan, but not in the State of Israel,” she said.
Immigration and Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin said Herzog’s proposal, like that of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to absorb refugees in the West Bank, is an “attempt to bring the ‘right of return’ through the back door. That is not responsible, and it is forbidden that it should happen.”
Likud MK Nava Boker went so far as to post on her Facebook page upon Syrian refugees to call Herzog.
“Dear Syrian refugees, upon your arrival to Israel, please contact MK Isaac Herzog for accommodations,” she posted, along with Herzog’s number at the Knesset. “You will be transferred to a comfortable home in the Tzahala neighborhood in Tel Aviv.”
Herzog responded to Netanyahu and his other critics by accusing them of forgetting what it means to be Jewish, to be refugees and to be persecuted.
“The prime minister of the Jewish people does not close his heart and gates when people are fleeing persecution with their children in their arms,” Herzog said. “After the establishment of his first government, Menachem Begin took in [66] refugees from Vietnam. He would be turning in his grave. I suggest you look at the need for responsibility in the current reality.
In this case, to act as part of a concerted international aid effort to offer a limited and controlled number of refugees entrance for humanitarian reasons.”
Joint List MK Basel Ghattas (Balad) echoed Herzog’s call for Israel to accept Syrian refugees fleeing the ongoing conflict, urging the Israeli government to open up its borders for Syrians and Palestinians alike.
These refugees should be absorbed by Arab society in Israel, which would provide them with economic opportunities, he suggested.
Ghattas also called on Arab society to absorb migrant workers from Africa by providing them with jobs.
Ariel Ben Solomon contributed to this report.