Paddington Bear has become a popular symbol among Jews of solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of people who have been displaced and made refugees by the on-going conflict in Syria. Michael Bond was inspired to create this now familiar little bear, from deepest darkest Peru, from his memories of the Jewish children who arrived in England during the Kindertransports from Hitler’s Germany in the 1930s, and so it is a fitting reminder to the Jewish community of the plight of others who have had to flee their homes. Many of my close friends have recently adopted Paddington Bear as their profile picture on various social media sites, and many of them are engaged in activism directed towards encouraging the British government to welcome more refugees from Syria and other countries. The State of Israel, which claims to be the Jewish State, consistently evokes the memory of the Nazi genocide to justify its more controversial domestic and foreign policies, including the illegal occupation of Palestine and the Syrian Golan Heights, and yet it is refusing to accept a single refugee from war torn Syria. Another frequent claim made by Israel is that it is the only democracy in the Middle East, and the region’s most enlightened state. Fine words indeed.

It certainly is not the case that Israel does not take refugees. In the past Israel has opened its doors to refugees fleeing numerous conflicts in central Africa, and has come under pressure from the international community for its treatment of them. Israel has an active policy of refusing to allow refugees to integrate into Israeli society. Instead it holds thousands of African refugees, without trial, in detention centres in the Negev. The idea is that they will be held there – and only there – until they can go home. Why would a modern, liberal democracy – the most enlightened state in the Middle East – not want Africans to integrate into its society? Why would a modern democracy not offer refuge to people fleeing violence from a neighbouring country? We’re all intelligent adults here, and I’m sure we can see what is going on. Israel is a deeply racist country; a colonial state desiring to establish a Jewish homeland for Jewish people. This is not to say that all Israelis are racists, or that there is no resistance to state policy within Israel, but, at present, this is the reigning ideology of the state. While those in power use the excuse that taking in refugees might be importing Arab terrorism, they are missing – or avoiding – the perfect opportunity to be agents of peace.

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