Israel has no moral responsibility to aid Darfur refugees, and their plight must not be compared to Jewish victims of the Holocaust, Chief Rabbi of Hebron-Kiryat Arba Dov Lior said on Wednesday. He was responding to a query on the "Yeshiva" Internet forum.
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Lior's questioner said Israel was obligated to help Sudanese refugees who reached its borders just as the nations of the world were morally responsible to help Jews suffering under Nazi Germany.
But Lior disagreed: "The Holocaust is not a good example [of a general moral obligation that can be compared to Israel's obligation to Darfur refugees]," he said. "During the Holocaust, Jews were hunted. The Germans wanted to destroy all the Jews wherever they were. The Swiss who saved the Jews [sic] knew that someone was hunting them down and wanted to murder them.
"We have enough problems of our own with immigration absorption. We need to take care of our own 'Sderot refugees' and we do not have budget reserves. We have enough poor people in Israel. There are plenty of nations that can help those refugees besides us.
"The poor of one's own country take precedence over other peoples' poor."
Three weeks ago, Lior first expressed his opinion on the issue after some 30 Darfur refugees, including women and children, crossed into Israel from Egypt. The IDF and the police refused to take responsibility for them. Eventually, Beersheba Mayor Ya'acov Turner agreed to provide for the refugees.
Lior said that since Israel was in a state of war and the Sudanese were known to be anti-Israel, Israel should not open its gates to the refugees.
During the Holocaust, Lior himself was a refugee. He and his family were expelled from Poland and wandered through the Soviet Union. Both his parents died of starvation.
Lior is one of the most respected and influential religious Zionist rabbis in more right-wing circles. Many of his students hold key positions in national religious high schools and he is the spiritual authority for the Ariel Youth Movement.
Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Jerusalem office, agreed with Lior that comparing the plight of Jews during the Holocaust to that of Sudanese refugees was inaccurate.
"Sudanese who managed to reach Israel had already escaped ethnic cleansing by entering Egypt from Sudan," he said. "The move to Israel was an attempt to find a better haven.
"Obviously, as Jews who were victims of genocide, we have a special duty to help stop the ethnic cleansing inside Sudan. But at the same time, Israel has limited resources. We cannot possibly help all Sudanese refugees," he said.
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, head of the Ateret Yerushalayim yeshiva, said Jewish law obliged Jews to treat all human beings with loving kindness.
"We have to do it not because of the Holocaust but because God commanded to treat all of His creations, especially those created in His image, with loving kindness.
"We don't do it for the publicity or to look good in the eyes of the goyim. Jews have done acts of loving kindness in the past even when they were paid back with hatred," Aviner said.
However, he also said our own poor and homeless, including Israelis "expelled" from the Gaza Strip, came first. "We are a country of refugees," said Aviner. "We simply do not have the resources."