Love Him as Yourself: From Biblical Justice to Secular Injustice

Tuesday, September 08, 2015 |  Tsvi Sadan

The present popular European plea to open the gates to a flood of primarily Muslim refugees seems to me emotional and ill-considered. 

English author and journalist Peter Hitchens rightly predicts that, since these refugees are not what they seem to be, they will bring about the demise of everything British. "Our advantages," he writes, "depend very much on our shared past, our inherited traditions, habits and memories." 

Therefore, he continues, "on the basis of an emotional spasm, dressed up as civilisation and generosity, are we going to say that we abandon this legacy and decline our obligation to pass it on, like the enfeebled, wastrel heirs of an ancient inheritance letting the great house and the estate go to ruin?"

This "emotional spasm" has been seen in Israel, too, but with a Jewish twist. 

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog's (Labor) recently call to admit a limited number of Syrian refugees to Israel is based on Jewish experience and biblical mandate. "I call on the Israeli government to carry out a process of absorbing refugees from Syria in addition to humanitarian efforts already being made now," he said, adding that "Jews cannot be indifferent when hundreds of thousands of refugees are searching for a safe haven."  

This dangerous proposal is based on a reckless comparison between the fate of Jewish refugees during WWII and the fate of Syrian refugees now. The commandment hidden in the subtext is that of loving the stranger (Leviticus 19:34), mistakenly seen as "the other" in post-colonial lingo. A more sophisticated argument for Herzog's position comes from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who uses the same arguments as Herzog.

The foolish equation between WWII Jews and Syrians fails to account for the fact that the Syrians are suffering the consequences of their own actions. While not belittling their misfortune, genuine refugees don't demand to go to Germany or England, and don't defame their host countries from the moment they set foot on their shores. 

Unlike immigrants, refugees will go just about anywhere to save their lives. Such was the case with Jews who were willing to go to Cuba, Madagascar and China to save their lives. And, of course, Syrians are not facing a "final solution."

Evoking a biblical command to justify this emotional spasm is just as bad, if not worse, than the aforementioned false comparison. 

That to which Hitchens merely alluded needs to be said clearly. Nowhere does the Bible suggest that loving the stranger should come at the expense of the locals. This is why the medical care Israel extends to thousands of wounded Syrians has raised the indignation of many Israelis living in the north of the country, where medical services are already limited and costly.

Taking care of the other at your own expense is an expression of perverse love. This is why, unlike the man-made commandment that speaks only of "you shall love him [the other]," the divine commandment demands to "love him as yourself."

If immigration to Europe endangers its culture, heritage and economy, which it does, welcoming the strangers into their midst is, in the best scenario, a recipe for civil unrest. And what is true for Europe is also true for Israel.

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