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Ruben Navarrette commentary: Faced with Ukrainians seeking refuge, Israel fails the immigration test — again

Summary: Today, there are Ukrainians — of all faiths — who need rescuing. Nothing else ought to matter.

Five-year-old Dasha eats soup at the World Central Kitchen in Zaporizhzhia on Sunday, a day after her family escaped Russian-occupied territory. “Three shells landed near our house. They blew out the windows and doors,” said Alexander Dolgovy, her father. “We were really, really afraid,” said Kseniya, his oldest daughter, 13.
Five-year-old Dasha eats soup at the World Central Kitchen in Zaporizhzhia on Sunday, a day after her family escaped Russian-occupied territory. “Three shells landed near our house. They blew out the windows and doors,” said Alexander Dolgovy, her father. “We were really, really afraid,” said Kseniya, his oldest daughter, 13.
Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/TNS
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SAN DIEGO — Israel is a beautiful country. What a shame that, when debating immigration, it battles such ugly contradictions.

In that respect, the Land of Canaan is a miniature version of the United States. Like Americans, Israelis see their nation as a land of immigrants and a haven for refugees. Yet, like Americans, Israelis have trouble living up to that billing and abiding by the principles they espouse.

I visited Israel 10 years ago, as part of a small delegation of Latino journalists. I fell in love with the place — and the people. Forget San Francisco. I left my heart in Jerusalem.

Ruben Navarrette column
Ruben Navarrette commentary
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During the Sabbath, a few of us visited a synagogue. Maybe it was because we were wearing yarmulkes. Or, at least in my case, maybe it was the fact that my supposedly Catholic great-grandmother hailed from New Mexico — land of the Sephardic Jews — and discreetly kept a Star of David in her jewelry box. For whatever reason, my fellow journalists and I were mistaken for Jews. A kind man approached, smiled, shook my hand and whispered: "Welcome home."

You see, Jews — especially those running from the Devil — are always welcome in Israel. Non-Jews, who find themselves in similar straits, not so much.

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According to The Washington Post, there is debate raging in Israel over whether to admit Ukrainian refugees who aren't Jewish. Since the Russian invasion on Feb. 24, almost 24,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Israel. Only about a third of them are Jewish.

Some Israelis agree with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — who is Jewish — that a nation established in the aftermath of the Holocaust has a moral imperative to help those in need. But others worry that admitting non-Jews will hurt national identity.

There is a popular saying in Israel: Two Jews, three opinions. With this issue, however, that may be a low estimate.

This sounds familiar. When I was in Israel, in 2012, the ruckus was over whether to admit non-Jewish refugees from Ethiopia.

Some of the push to restrict the entry of non-Jews is about prejudice. But much of it is about math. Many Israelis worry that taking in too many non-Jews will dilute the demographic pool, and make Israel less of a Jewish state.

Like the kids say: "As if." Israel now has a population of 9.2 million, while the debate over how many refugees to admit tends to involve numbers in the tens of thousands. Anyway, don't those Jewish restrictionists have any confidence that non-Jews who migrate to Israel might eventually convert to Judaism?

National identity is swell. But what's the value of it when the lives of human beings are at stake?

In the tug of war over Ukrainian refugees, the restrictionists are winning. Israel has capped the number of non-Jews at 5,000, while it prepares to take in as many as 100,000 Jews.

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The world is off its rocker. If there is one country on Earth that should not need a sermon about taking in strangers and offering safe haven to those who are fleeing monstrous evil, it is Israel.

The whole reason the nation exists is precisely because, in the 1930s and 1940s, so many countries failed their moral responsibility by turning away Jews who fled the Nazis.

That hall of shame includes the United States, where anti-Semitic voices in the Democratic administrations of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman drowned out pleas by Americans who — hearing horror stories about what was happening in Europe — called for the United States to take in more Jewish refugees.

That didn't happen until after 1945. That's when Truman signed an executive order — known as The Truman Directive of 1945 — giving preference to Jewish refugees seeking entry to the United States who were victims of Nazi persecution.

Mind you, this was more than a decade after that persecution began in 1933, when the Nazi party — led by Adolf Hitler — came to power in Germany. Millions of Jews had already been killed.

Thanks for nothing, Harry.

And even so, in the United States after the Holocaust, there were, according to historical accounts, many anti-Semitic members of Congress who opposed admitting Jewish refugees.

In 1948, a Jewish homeland was created to do what most of the world had failed to do: rescue those in need of rescuing.

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Today, there are Ukrainians — of all faiths — who need rescuing. Nothing else ought to matter.

But then, anyone who takes seriously what their faith calls on them to do should already know this.
Ruben Navarrette can be reached at ruben@wctrib.com.

©2022, The Washington Post Writers Group

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Related Topics: ISRAELUKRAINERUSSIA
Opinion by Ruben Navarrette
Ruben Navarrette is the most widely read Latino columnist in the country, and the 16th most popular columnist in America according to Media Matters. He is a nationally syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group whose twice-a-week column appears in nearly 150 newspapers, a contributor to USA Today and FOXNEWS.COM, and a columnist for the Daily Beast.

Mr. Navarrette can be reached atruben@wctrib.com.
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