What Is To Be Done? Philosophers on the Refugee Crisis

How might we tackle the concern of Germany’s Jewish communities that the arrival of mainly Muslim refugees will intensify anti-Semitism? Susan Neiman in the current issue of Germany’s philosophie magazine: 27 philosophers consider the country’s situation with relation to the crisis in refugee policy.

von Susan Neiman

Artikel "Was tun? Philosophen zur Flüchtlingskrise" aus dem Philosophie Magazin Februar/März 2016. Foto: Gallerystock
Article “What Is To Be Done? Philosophers on the Refugee Crisis” in February/March issue of “Philosophie Magazin”. Photo: Gallerystock

My answer will sound utopian, but sometimes only utopian answers help. I believe we ought to take the concerns of (parts of) the Jewish community very seriously – seriously enough to make them into an opportunity for conciliation in a number of respects.

It is clear that Arab dictatorships have been relying on an old strategy to maintain their power for many years: they unite their subjects by conjuring up an external enemy. In many parts of the Muslim world, malicious propaganda against the state of Israel and against Jews in general is part of normal life in the media and the schoolbooks. It is just as clear that the state of Israel has shifted so far to the right and towards racism over the past fifteen years that opposition Israelis now regard the word “fascist” as a fitting description for some members of their government. To the rest of us – Jews outside of Israel and non-Jews actively supporting Israel’s right to exist in peace, but who don’t see a possibility for that peace without a beneficial solution for the Palestinians – the conflict appears increasingly a no-win situation. Might the refugee crisis now offer new grounds for hope?

Many Jews are campaigning for Jewish communities to receive refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan with open arms. The religious commandment to do so is found in the third book of the Torah: “The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19, 34) And if we look back to the far more recent past, those whose parents and grandparents were only forced into exile by the Nazis, if they were lucky, ought to be particularly sensitive to the suffering of people who have to leave their homes to escape war and fanaticism. In strategic terms, a culture of welcome on the part of Europe’s Jewish communities would be a good counterpart to the anti-Semitic clichés that many refugees – just like many other people – have internalized. It might be an opportunity to break the cycle of fear and hate between the Jewish and the Muslim world.

In order for this strategy to bear fruit, the German government would have to ensure that the refugees recognize Germany’s particular responsibility in the battle against anti-Semitism – and hate crimes would have to be strictly punished.

It would be helpful, but perhaps even more utopian, if the German government were also to adopt a clear position in favour of a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine and were also prepared to assert pressure on Netanyahu. At the same time, it should reduce its support for the Saudi Arabian regime, which is the main financer of worldwide Salafist and anti-Semitic propaganda. How could Germany better demonstrate its determination in the battle against anti-Semitism than by taking specific steps towards solving the apparently endless Middle Eastern conflict?


This article was published in Philosophie Magazin Nr. 2/2016.