The Russian invasion of Ukraine has prompted worldwide revulsion and a justified desire to do something, anything, to alleviate the dire predicament of millions.
The reaction is the easy, consensual part of the equation. The doing part is where it gets difficult. Every country has had to assess its own interests and capabilities in determining what it should be doing to help.
Countries that border Ukraine have certain concerns, both geo-political and humanitarian. Other countries are taking either a purely geo-political posture, or are responding solely or primarily on the basis of providing humanitarian aid.
As is so often the case, Israel has its own unique set of considerations that have been driving its responses. Almost uniquely among Western nations, it enjoys cordial or better relations with Russia, Ukraine and the United States.
Israel is highly experienced and exquisitely well versed in rescue and aid missions. It is once again moving forward with a huge hospital complex just over the Ukrainian border, and with extensive shipments of aid, such as medical supplies, food and clothing.
And, of course, Israel has thrown open its doors to Jews seeking refuge. There have over the years been tens of thousands of Ukrainian Jews who have made Aliyah according to Israel’s Law of Return. Since the crisis began, an additional 4,000 or so Ukrainians have come to Israel pursuant to its Law of Return.
The real conundrum for Israel has been the issue of accepting non-Jewish refugees.
A State "of all its citizens"
When a government minister such as Nachman Shai returns from the border and emotionally reacts that Israel should throw open its borders and become the destination for hundreds of thousands of refugees, of any and all backgrounds, he is being emotional and not necessarily rational. He has allowed himself to be caught up in the fervor and duress of the scene without giving any thought to the implications of what he said.
Worse yet, he has set a dangerous bar; a bar that others, not well disposed to Israel, are happy to point to in showing how Israel has failed to reach it.
Every government minister must completely understand that in the eyes of most of the world, Israel is subject to a double standard. Simply stated, Israel can hardly ever do enough, and whatever it does will be viewed through the half empty glass of what else could or should be done.
This has been a given during numerous past rescue and humanitarian aid efforts. What though is different this time is that the double standard critical view of Israel is being employed by many on the Left with an ulterior motive.
That motive is to criticize and to weaken the idea of Israel as a Jewish State. The Left can sanctimoniously point out that wanting to take in only Jewish refugees is racist, exclusionist and chauvinist.
Forget the reality that a key aspect of the raison d’etre of Israel was to be a haven for any and all Jews throughout the world. Forget the history of the Ukraine, where Jews have by and large been treated poorly and often cruelly, with scant international relief.
Lastly, forget the fact that the EU is guaranteeing an automatic three year residency for any Ukrainian refugee entering an EU country, thus obviating the need for Ukrainians to even come to a distant Israel.
Israel was created to be both a Jewish and democratic State, meaning that Jews could be here as a matter of right, enjoying the unique reality of a country based on Jewish law and values, that also guarantees complete freedom and dignity to the non-Jews in its midst.
Maintaining that reality means preserving the demographic reality that Israel is a Jewish majority nation. Severe alterations, such as an overnight immigration of 50,000 non-Jews in a country of fewer than 10 million people can have a dramatically negative impact on maintaining the necessary demographic reality
As it already is, Israel has so far admitted far more refugees on a per capita basis in relation to its population than any country not bordering Ukraine and certainly in comparison to any Arab states.
Those who hate the idea of Israel as a Jewish state (though they seem to have no problem with the 30 plus Muslim and 20 plus Christian states), say that a “state of all its citizens” (a euphemism for a non-Jewish state) will be more humane, fair and equitable.
A Jewish State
This of course is one of the great inversions of all time. It is precisely because Israel is a Jewish State that goes the extra mile to provide help and aid, with no expectation of payment or even reciprocity.
It is precisely because we are a Jewish State that thousands of young Hesder Yeshiva students seek to become soldiers and even officers in a Jewish Army in order to protect the Jewish People in its sovereign land.
Does anyone seriously believe that the same level of service and sacrifice would pertain in a 'state of all its citizens'?
So, paradoxically perhaps, honoring the particularity of a Jewish Israel only bolsters its universal mission of helping others in need throughout the world.
Israel can be and, in fact, does serve as a light to the nations specifically because it is doing so as a Jewish state, reflecting age old Jewish values, not shirking away from the double standard others have thrust upon it.
What Israel’s leaders must clearly grasp and embrace is the recognition that seeking to protect the Jewish character of Israel is tantamount to helping non-Jews, in the Ukraine and elsewhere.
Our leaders should not be handing our detractors and demonizers a victory by bowing to accusations that Israel will be deficient if it doesn’t take in tens of thousands of non-Jewish refugees.
Those who want to see Israel do more and more for the world at large should be in the forefront of protecting it as a viable Jewish state. Only our particularity will enable our universal impact.
Douglas Altabef is the Chairman of the Board of Im Tirtzu, Israel’s largest grassroots Zionist organization, and a Director of the Israel Independence Fund. He can be reached at email@example.com