Refugee crisis: Can Israel let the Syrians in? Isaac Herzog says yes



Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected a call from Israel's opposition to absorb Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war.

He dismissed the statement by Labour leader Isaac Herzog, saying that "Israel is a small country, a very small country, that lacks demographic and geographic depth".

Mr Netanyahu said that Israel had already done a lot to help Syrians - but would not help by opening its borders.

"Israel is not indifferent to the human tragedy of the refugees from Syria and Africa," he told his cabinet. "We have already devotedly cared for approximately 1,000 wounded people from the fighting in Syria and we have helped them to rehabilitate."

Mr Herzog issued his call for the absorption of Syrians last weekend, as the international media was gripped by the migration crisis.

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"Jews cannot be indifferent when thousands of people are looking for a safe place… [or] cool in the face of murder," he said.

Mr Herzog was praised on the left, and Arab politicians echoed his call.

However, the issue did not cut cleanly across political lines. Ayoub Kara, a right-wing MK and deputy minister, told Army Radio that he wanted Israel to absorb "several thousand" refugees and said he believed that the Holocaust should compel Israel to act. Mr Kara is a member of the Druze ethnic group, which has a sizeable population just over the Israel-Syria border, and wants to ensure their safety.

Many Knesset members criticised Mr Herzog on various grounds, from accusing him of seeking publicity to claiming that his suggestion could undermine national security by relocating people from a state that considers itself an enemy of Israel.

Not only politicians poured cold water on Mr Herzog's plan. Mitchell Barak, a pollster and public opinion expert, said that he detected little public sympathy for it, with people feeling that Israel is already struggling to support the African illegal immigrants who have arrived in recent years.

Some analysts were also critical. Ely Karmon, senior research fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy in Herzliya, said that it was "nonsense" and "not a responsible declaration". He said: "If Israel should bring in refugees, it should bring in, first of all, Palestinian refugees."

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