"I’ve said it before: where do the Israel-bashers stand on Syria? I’ll say it again because I hear a resounding silence."
I’ve said it before: where do the habitual Israel-bashers and Palestinian solidarity mavens stand on Syria? I’ll say it again because I hear a resounding silence. Are there scores of UN resolutions against this murderous regime? Where are the views of the great and the good on the three-year civil war that has slaughtered 191,369 at the last count, displaced millions and orphaned or made refugees of two million children?
And how is the UK responding to the worst refugee crisis on earth? Well, it seems that the statistics are as follows: Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan have admitted three million refugees into camps. Egypt has accepted 138,000, Germany 40,000, Algeria 25,000. Sweden has taken 17,000, and even the Gaza Strip has welcomed a thousand (what’s second prize, I wonder?). Meanwhile, our sceptred isle has managed to grant visas to 90. No, not 90,000—just 90 refugees.
In fact, the UK declined to join the UN resettlement programme. Instead, we set up the Dickensian-sounding Vulnerable Person’s Relocation Scheme, from which, so far, those plucky, lucky 90 migrants have benefited. David Cameron has declared that our aid to Syria is the second highest in the world; I don’t doubt that £700 million will make a difference—if it reaches the people who need it. But does that absolve us of compassion for the persecuted victims of a needless, atrocious civil war?
Those who would close up our borders maintain that we’re already tightly squeezed. If you believe Fox News, our cities are a virtual no-go area for whites, while Farage’s blokey burbling is picking up votes from the malcontents and an uncertain election is around the corner. After all, the Le Pen-leaning France has taken a mere 500 Syrians, and the United States, land of the free and the home of the brave, has taken only a hundred. So on what grounds should Britain offer a home to the homeless?
Fade to flashback. It’s July 1938 and even without the benefit of 24-hour news, the world is aware of Hitler’s threatening behaviour towards Jews and other minorities. The situation is more pressing and depressing every day. He has pledged to make Germany judenrein (cleansed of Jews). German Jews are wearing yellow stars and suffering pogroms. Refugees are flooding across borders and, in a flurry of conscience, President Franklin D. Roosevelt calls for a conference. It will take place at Évian-les-Bains, on Lake Geneva, with representatives from 32 countries. Although the President himself is unable to attend, nor does he send his Secretary of State, he will dispatch a trusted friend, an industrialist named Myron C. Taylor, to chair the event.
After nine days of the conference, it is apparent that no one will commit to taking in these refugees. The word “Jews” is never mentioned, nor are the Nazis called anything but the “host nation”. America refuses to increase its quota for German and Austrian immigrants. They claim that the Depression is still impacting and employment would suffer. The Central American states announce they can accept no “traders and intellectuals”. Australia explains that “we have never had a racial problem and we are not desirous to import one.” (Big sigh of relief from the Aboriginals then.) Brazil requests that every visa application is accompanied with a certificate of Christian baptism. The French lament that they are “at the extreme point of saturation”—a situation that the Vichy government will soon find a way to rectify. And the British fear that “a sudden rush of Jewish refugees might arouse anti-Semitic feelings.”
“It is felt,” said the Evening Standard at the time, “that we hear too much about the troubles of the Jews. They shout too loudly. They make too insistent a demand upon the compassion of the world. Compassion they get—and deserve—but annoyance is apt to accompany it.” (Yeah, sorry about the annoyance, Lord Beaverbrook. We’re still annoying 70 years later, just as we were 4,000 years ago as slaves in Egypt.)
Curiously, the tiny Dominican Republic offered (admittedly in exchange for a vast pay-off) to take 100,000 Jews. Cynics maintain that the PM desired a lighter-skinned population, but still, I’m grateful for the 800 he took in before the Führer closed all the borders. Hitler himself found it “astounding” that although all these countries had severely criticised Germany for its treatment of the Jews, not one of them wanted to take them in. Nazi observers at Évian returned to Germany saying, “You can do what you like to these Jews, nobody is interested in them.”
One could argue that this disdain and chilling absence of empathy was a chief factor in the evil little psychopath’s decision to proceed with the Final Solution. Hundreds of thousands of lives could have been saved. Just to add insult to genocide, at the same time the powers-that-were in the British Mandate stopped all ships taking European refugees to Palestine. And in that same year—1938—came the Anschluss, the Munich Agreement, and Kristallnacht. In Vienna, prominent Jews were forced onto all fours to scrub the pavements with toothbrushes. Not long afterwards, Switzerland, Italy and Czechoslovakia closed their borders. It was the beginning of the end.
Golda Meir and Chaim Weizmann were present at the Évian conference as Jewish observers from Palestine. “There is only one thing I hope to see before I die,” said Meir, “and that is that my people should not need expressions of sympathy any more.” Weizmann added with savage irony, “The world seems to be divided into two parts: those places where Jews could not live and those places where they cannot enter.”
And now we have another butcher decimating his own people: a man who was educated in this country, whose wife attended a central London school. The most vulnerable of Assad’s victims can be saved, sustained and given new life if we stand up to the tyrant by welcoming them in. Take a sip of Evian, Mr Cameron, and issue those visas. Today.