The World Food Program said on Monday that it is forced to suspend a voucher program that helps provide food to the 1.7 million Syrians who have fled the country’s civil war. The agency said that it needs an additional $64 million to support its voucher program through December and that the entire food aid program could run out of funding by February.
The voucher system provides funds that function like electronic debit cards to refugees currently live in Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and other Middle Eastern states.
Noticeably absent from official efforts to help refugees, though, has been Israel and the Jewish community at large, which, while usually quick to respond to international crises, has sat this one out. “We’ve been kind of relegated to doing advocacy, not operational work,” said Mark Hetfield, President and CEO of Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, in May 2013.
Technically, Syria and Israel are at war. Although Israel permits the Golan Druze to export apples to Syria and allows them to study at Damascus universities, the two countries have a pretty frosty relationship. During the 2006 Lebanon War, Syria provided support for Hezbollah and in 2007 Israel launched an attack on Syria’s alleged nuclear complex. As few as 17 Jews remain in Damascus, down from 70 in 2008 and 12,000 at the time the Jewish state was created. Israel has donated just $20,000 to the WFP in 2014, which also funds food aid programs to refugees outside of the Syrian civil war.
Meanwhile, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said in a Monday press statement the suspension of the voucher program comes at the worst possible time:
“Winter is already an extremely difficult period for Syrian refugees, but the suspension of food assistance at this critical juncture is going to be devastating. It will impact tens of thousands of the most vulnerable refugee families who are almost entirely dependent on international aid. I urgently appeal to the international community – support WFP now, don’t let refugees go hungry.”
Zack Schrieber is an intern at Tablet Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @zschrieber.