Photo Credit: WikiCommons
Young Syrian males refugees strike in front of the Budapest Keleti railway station in Budapest, Hungary on Sept. 3, 2015.

{Originally posted to the JNS website}

Ambassadors to Israel from across Europe met with Israeli security and legal experts in Tel Aviv this week to gain insights on how to cope with the migrant crisis that has severely impacted Europe over the past decade.


The event was hosted by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA), which presented its recent study delving into the legal, security and cultural implications of the crisis, titled “The Migration Wave into Europe: An Existential Dilemma.”

Session chairwoman Fiamma Nirenstein, who edited the study, told JNS that “the crisis is indeed existential for Europe, and this is precisely why ambassadors are searching for answers.” The Jewish state, she said, “deals with many of the same challenges, yet has prevailed in maintaining a clear national identity,” while at the same time securing its own security interests.

Nirenstein, a former Italian parliamentarian who emigrated to Israel in 2013 and is now a senior fellow at the JCPA, said that “Israel has proven that it can export its knowledge on how to deal with difficult problems such as terrorism. Europeans recognize this and are now inclined to hear whether Israel can provide useful insights into this new problem, which threatens the very nature of Europe as a continent with Western ideals.”

Discussion at the event was comprehensive, but calm—unusually so for a topic that has become hyper-charged across the European Union. Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, director of JCPA’s Project on Regional Middle East Developments and former head of the IDF Military Intelligence Research Division, addressed the security implications of the immigration wave.

Kuperwasser called out European governments for not properly dealing with the extremist organizations already operating in their countries, noting that indoctrination towards violent extremism is rampant in Islamic education in Europe, in the European prison system and among converts to Islam.

“We must improve intelligence and counter-terrorism practices,” he said, though noted that “much has been accomplished here already.”

Kuperwasser also warned against turning a blind eye to what he called “soft” radicalism. Issues that might not seem problematic now, he said, could become much more so in the future.

“Europe must say that it rejects all forms of radicalism, whether terrorism or softer forms of radicalism,” said the Mideast expert. As an example, Kuperwasser noted that many Muslims adhere to an Islamic doctrine that calls for them to be less aggressive while living under the sovereignty of non-Muslims, with the belief that they will later become rulers themselves.

“Just because they currently live as a minority in Europe,” he said, “does not mean that Muslims have given up the idea that Islam should one day be in the majority.”

Ethical principles at stake

Dr. Lars-Uwe Kettner, legal counselor to the German Embassy to Israel, said that Germany’s open policy on immigration is based on humanitarian considerations. “We took a strong stand towards human dignity,” he said. He noted, however, that the challenges Germany’s approach involves make it “very important that we stay in discussion with each other on these issues.”

Germany has been among the most liberal European countries in its approach to immigration and has encouraged others European countries to share the immigration burden. This policy has angered many nations, particularly those in Eastern Europe who have been less eager to open their borders, and has led to political backlash.

Hungarian Ambassador to Israel Levente Benkő noted that this phenomenon can be seen all over Europe.

While it is difficult to maintain “politically correct discourse on this issue,” he said, the inability of European governments to come up with suitable answers is giving rise to political extremism in Europe. This, he said, has been one of the unexpected byproducts of the immigration issue.

“There are parties coming out of nowhere with controversial answers that do not contribute positively to this problem. If the mainstream is unable to deal with this issue, that will give rise to parties on the extreme left and the extreme right,” said Benkő.

Ambassador Martin Stropnicky of the Czech Republic said the problem is arising in large part not only because of the sheer number of migrants, but because “most of the people that are immigrating [to Europe] now do not want to accept our cultural milieu, but want us to accept theirs,” he said. “And that is not acceptable.”

According to Israel Prize laureate Professor Asa Kasher, co-author of the IDF Code of Ethics and a JCPA fellow, there is an ethical principle at stake when it comes to the preservation of national identity.

Kasher addressed the need to maintain “proportionality” when deciding how many migrants to accept. He insisted that nobody should be “indifferent to human suffering,” including the suffering of migrants, yet at the same time he said states have a national, cultural and sometimes religious identity that should be preserved.

“States have a right to maintain their identity,” said Kasher. “That means they have a right to stop others from taking steps that jeopardize that identity.”

Given that European countries cannot absorb unlimited numbers of refugees without jeopardizing their own identities, Kasher suggested that a more appropriate humanitarian approach might be to invest effort and money in the countries migrants are fleeing.

“We can spend a lot of money on naval forces stopping them from coming” to Europe, he said, “but maybe it is more effective to spend the money building a hospital or a school that will help encourage those who are suffering to stay and not to immigrate.”

Sharing security concerns

From ethical and moral considerations, the discussion turned to the legal aspects of the crisis.

According to former legal adviser and director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry Alan Baker, while there may be moral and ethical reasons to accept migrants, there is “zero legal obligation” to do so under international law.

“There is a dichotomy between the legal obligations of sovereignty and the moral issue of permitting freedom of movement between one country and another,” said Baker.

Former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations and current JCPA president Dore Gold praised the working session, noting that issues such as terrorism and migration are “changing the way people look at the relations between the Middle East and Europe.”

In particular, Gold noted that “Israel and Europe are now sharing the same set of security concerns they did not have before.”

Superior Israeli intelligence on the Islamic State, he added, as well as the natural-gas resources discovered off Israel’s coast in recent years, are positively impacting the way European nations look to and rely on Israel.

Said Gold: “Israel must be prepared for a new paradigm of relations with Europe.”

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Alex Traiman is managing director and Jerusalem Bureau Chief of Jewish News Syndicate.