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The Long Shadow of History: Refugees and Immigration, Then and Now

On Tuesday, 26.1.16, the Ghetto Fighters' House hosted a seminar on "Refugees and immigration – Then and Now", in recognition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  The audience included Friends of the Ghetto Fighters' House, participants in the Poland Guide course and residents of Western Galilee among others. 

The event was facilitated by the reporter Oren Nahari, who moderated a panel with representatives of both the Right and Left Wing in Israel:  Ophir Pines-Paz, former minister of internal affairs and chairman of the museum's board; Professor Hanna Yablonka, the museum historian; activist and blogger Avi Blecherman; Journalist Ben Dror Yemini and Dr. Dror Eidar. 

Dr. Anat Livne, CEO of the Ghetto Fighters' House, in her opening words, reminded the participants that during the Évian Conference in July 1938, representatives of 32 countries discussed the Jewish refugees. The USA made it clear that there would be no changes to the country's immigration quota, Britain announced that the country was too crowded and the representative of Australia said "as we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one". Dr. Livne said that as a historian of the Holocaust she sees the persecution of Jews in the 1930's and the refusal of many countries to allow the Jewish refugees through their gates, as well as the 250,000 Jewish displaced persons that remained in Europe for months and years after the war, as an integral part of the story of the Holocaust. And if this is true, she asked, do we have a different moral imperative when it comes to the refugees because of our historical experience?


Oren Nahari, Foreign News Desk Editor
at Channel One Television Israel, moderated the seminar
Dr. Anat Livne, CEO of the Ghetto Fighters' House

Oren Nahari asked the members of the panel what the differences are between the asylum seekers trying to enter Europe today and the refugees in the 1930's, considering that today the refugees are "for the most part Muslims, extremists that are faithful to their version of Islam. A number of them, one can assume, are present or future terrorists; camouflaged or sent as a 'Trojan Horse' to the heretics." Dror Eidar also addressed the differences and claimed "the deconstruction of the old world nationalistic society is gaining momentum because many refuse to integrate, and their entry may cause the destruction of the old world way of life." Ophir Pines-Paz added that in Israel there is no refugee policy since the country is not interested in taking action in a systematic way and not generous enough when it comes to giving refugee status." Pines-Paz added that incarcerating asylum seekers is not an acceptable solution in his opinion. They should be given rights or be exiled.  Professor Yablonka said that in Israel there are three separate days of remembrance of the Holocaust and that in her opinion each one should have its own unique character, and that the International Holocaust Remembrance Day should deal with universal perspective of the Holocaust and the lessons for humanity. She quoted Yehuda Elkana who said that two Jewish nations emerged from Auschwitz, "a minority who assert: 'this must never happen again’; and a frightened majority who assert, 'this must never happen to us again.’” Yablonka added that she belongs to the former. Avi Blecherman described his meeting with worn out refugees on the Hungarian border several weeks ago and the authorities' treatment of them as criminals, incarcerating them in camps. Ben Dror Yemini spoke about European countries that at first criticized Hungary's extreme policy concerning refugees, but today have adopted the same policy. The panel participants did tend to agree that Israel has to receive at least a symbolic number of refugees in order to show a humanistic solidarity in this continuous crisis.


Jamal Omar, a refugee from Sudan, gave his personal testimony on the slaughter in Darfur and his stay at the Holot Detention Center in the Negev. And, to close the seminar, the performer Prince from Ghana put the audience in an uplifting mood, reminding us all how similar we are as human beings.      

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