Echoing comments made earlier by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev said Sunday that despite Israelis' desire to reach out and help unfortunate Syrian refugees, Israel was just not capable of absorbing large numbers of refugees.
“As the Prime Minister said, Israel is not hard-hearted when it comes to helping Syrians,” said Regev. “We have provided them with medical assistance, and we have reached out to African leaders to help repatriate the many refugees that have taken shelter in our country already. We also provide food and other assistance to many refugees.”
Israel is doing everything it can to help refugees, said Regev – but there are some things, like resettling large numbers of them, that it can't do.
With her comments, Regev joined a growing debate in Israel, in which politicians on the left have been advocating for Israel to take in at least some Syrian refugees. Opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog slammed those opposed to the idea, accusing them of “forgetting what it means to be Jews. Refugees. Persecuted." Herzog charged on Facebook: "The prime minister of the Jewish people does not close his heart and the gate when people are fleeing for their lives from persecution, with their babies in their hands.”
Earlier, Netanyahu said that while not "indifferent' to the tragedy of the refugees, Israelis needed to realize that “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," Netanyahu told ministers at his weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.
Despite taking measures to prevent infiltrators from entering, the Prime Minister noted that Israel has "already devotedly cared for approximately 1,000 wounded people from the fighting in Syria and we have helped them to rehabilitate their lives." In addition, he said. "We are speaking with African heads of state, and with the Italian Prime Minister recently and with other European leaders, about multi-lateral aid packages for the countries of origin in Africa...in order to deal with the problem at its source."
Regev said she sided with Netanyahu. “We must realize that there is just one Jewish state, and that it is small, facing many complicated challenges. We must preserve our borders against attempts to infiltrate the country and from terrorists. This is our primary responsibility,” she added.