The issue of refugees and migration is of great ethical concern in Israel and around the world in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Jerusalem Center has dealt with this issue in past periods of crisis as well.
After European states confronted a wave of mass migration that peaked in 2015 from Africa and the Middle East, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs organized a briefing by Israeli experts for European ambassadors in Israel on “The Migration Wave into Europe: An Existential Dilemma.” The experts’ presentations appeared in a book with this title edited by Fiamma Nirenstein.
One of the experts was Israel Prize laureate Professor Asa Kasher, co-author of the IDF Code of Ethics. He is Professor Emeritus of Professional Ethics and Philosophy of Practice and Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Tel Aviv University.
Today, with Europe facing a new wave of refugees and mass migration, we revisit Prof. Kasher’s perspective:
In Israel, we are the nation-state of the Jewish people. In other examples, Poland belongs to the Polish people, Hungary to the Hungarians, and Finland to the Finns, etc. If a Jew living in Brooklyn chooses to remain there, Israel is not usually responsible for his well-being. However, if he is persecuted for being a Jew, Israel has a responsibility to provide him with a safe haven and approach the relevant authorities to demand his protection. This is a clear example of a nation-state’s general responsibility.
Beyond this, there is a state’s responsibility toward humanity. Basically, we are responsible for anybody who suffers, as long as we are able to practically shoulder that responsibility. Whenever and wherever people are suffering, nobody can afford to turn a blind eye.
Every case of human suffering is our business. For instance, we, the Jewish people, rightly complain about the fact that the American and British forces did not do enough to rescue Jews and stop the annihilation of the Jews during the years of the Holocaust. Jewish suffering, being an extreme case of human suffering, was their business, but they did almost nothing.
While one should never ignore human suffering in any situation, it is still necessary to measure the possibilities of offering help. Sometimes the answer may be, “Sorry, presently I can’t do anything of real significance.” Can I solve India’s problems? In general, I don’t think I can.
However, if there is a catastrophe and I can help, I must do so. Israel has shown an excellent aptitude for this, providing humanitarian assistance in many situations of natural disasters, where rescue operations are crucial. Of course, this cannot rest on the state harming the welfare of its own citizens to help others. It is, however, required to do its best in the face of human suffering.
When it comes to immigration, the attitude must be the same. The questions and answers must be honest and straightforward. A state ought to decide what it can and what it cannot do.
Each country should be allowed to impose a limit on immigration because accepting too many migrants may jeopardize its nation-state’s identity and stability. This limit is based on realistic assumptions like how many people you can give refuge to and provide with employment and housing, as well as factors such as freedom of religion, without significantly changing or jeopardizing the given character of the state.
View the video of his presentation on “Proportionality and Non-Indifference in Our Response to Immigration” here.