Israel rejects calls to take in people over terrorism fears
Published 08/09/2015 | 02:30
Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected calls by opposition MPs for Israel to accept refugees fleeing Syria's civil war, saying it would open the doors to terrorists.
The Israeli prime minister's comments followed pleas to step in to Europe's burgeoning refugee crisis from left-wing parliamentarians.
They have argued that the plight of desperate refugees evoked the Jews' history of having to wander in search of safe havens.
"Israel is not indifferent to the human tragedy of the refugees from Syria and Africa," Mr Netanyahu told a cabinet meeting.
"But Israel is a small country, a very small country that lacks demographic and geographic depth.
"Therefore, we must control our borders, against both illegal migrants and terrorism.
"We will not allow Israel to be submerged by a wave of illegal migrants and terrorist activists."
Far from welcoming refugees, Mr Netanyahu said that Israel would shortly begin the first, 18-mile phase of a secure border fence to seal off the country's frontier with Jordan.
The appeal for intervention was led by Isaac Herzog, leader of the main opposition Zionist Union, who told a panel discussion in Tel Aviv that "Jews could not be indifferent" while thousands of refugees are currently seeking shelter.
"I call on the government of Israel to act toward receiving refugees from the war in Syria, in addition to the humanitarian efforts it is already making," Mr Herzog said.
He was referring to the estimated 1,700 Syrians who have received medical treatment in Israel since the Syrian conflict began in 2011.
The call was backed by several other politicians, including Zehava Galon, leader of the left-wing Meretz party, but was criticised by centrists and right-wingers.
Among them was Yair Lapid, leader of the pro-secular Yesh Atid party.
He suggested it would be opening a back door to a "right-of-return" for Palestinian refugees - a major sticking point in stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. (© Daily Telegraph London)