American Rabbis tell Congress to welcome Syrian refugees and not to make the same mistake as politicians made during the Holocaust -- when America turned away thousands of Jewish refugees seeking asylum.
More than 1,000 American rabbis signed a letter to Congress, drawing parallels between how America turned away thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany and how Congress seems to be on a course to repeat history with Syrian refugees.
“In 1939, the United States refused to let the S.S. St. Louis dock in our country, sending over 900 Jewish refugees back to Europe, where many died in concentration camps,” write the rabbis in the letter that was delivered to Congress yesterday. “That moment was a stain on the history of our country – a tragic decision made in a political climate of deep fear, suspicion, and antisemitism.”
“The Washington Post released public opinion polling from the early 1940s, showing that the majority of U.S. citizens did not want to welcome Jewish refugees to this country in those years,” they continue. “In 1939, our country could not tell the difference between an actual enemy and the victims of an enemy. In 2015, let us not make the same mistake.”
HIAS, a U.S.-based Jewish charity, was the organization that delivered the letter to all federal lawmakers. The 1,000 rabbis who signed the letter represent congregations in 46 states and Washington, D.C. They implored Congress to “exercise moral leadership for the protection of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.”
You can read the full letter here.
The rabbis are expressing concern due to the House bill that passed on November 19th. The bill will suspend the Syrian and Iraqi refugees from entering the U.S if President Obama isn’t able to veto it.
Even though Syrian refugees weren't involved in the November 13 Paris attacks, supporters of the House bill used the attacks as justification. Governors in 31 states have also said refugees are not welcome, citing the same concern – that Syrian refugees could bring about a terrorist attack in the United States.
Even before the Paris attacks, many weren't happy with Obama's plan to increase the number of Syrian refugees allowed into the U.S. to 10,000 - claiming this move will let in terrorist groups such as ISIS - watch this video for a recap:
“Last month’s heartbreaking attacks in Paris and Beirut are being cited as reasons to deny entry to people who are themselves victims of terror,” the rabbis write. “And in those comments, we, as Jewish leaders, see one of the darker moments of our history repeating itself.”
The U.S. Holocaust Museum has also expressed concern about refugees, making similar connections:
Acutely aware of the consequences to Jews who were unable to flee Nazism, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum looks with concern upon the current refugee crisis. While recognizing that security concerns must be fully addressed, we should not turn our backs on the thousands of legitimate refugees.
“The Museum calls on public figures and citizens to avoid condemning today’s refugees as a group,” the Museum's statement continues. “It is important to remember that many are fleeing because they have been targeted by the Assad regime and ISIS for persecution and in some cases elimination on the basis of their identity.”
In July 1938, Fortune Magazine published a poll that showed fewer than 5 percent of Americans wanted the United States to raise immigration quotas or take in political refugees “fleeing fascist states in Europe.” Two-thirds of those polled said “we should try to keep them out.”
Another poll taken in January 1939 found that 61 percent of Americans also opposed 10,000 refugee children, “most of them Jewish,” settling in the United States.
Of course, there are historical and contextual differences between then and now. Back then, the United States was coping with the Great Depression and many people were out of work. Hostility toward letting in Jewish refugees was fueled by a fear that Jews would promote communism, or that they were actually Nazi spies. Many rejected them simply because they weren’t Christian, or because they felt the Jews would leech resources from an already crippled American economy. For all these reasons and then some, the state department claimed the Jewish immigrants could threaten national security.
But wait…isn’t this starting to sound familiar? Aren’t Syrian refugees harbingers of a dangerous ideology? Won’t they also destroy our economy?
I mean, come on, they’re all ISIS in disguise, right? They certainly aren’t from a Christian nation, that’s for sure. They’re out to impose Sharia law on America while abusing our welfare system. Or even worse – they’re out to steal American jobs at a time when it’s hard enough as it is to find one that pays more than $15 an hour. Close the borders, build the wall, and let's be done with it.
“More than 1,000 rabbis have joined the call to elected officials to keep the door open to those who are yearning to breathe free. As rabbis, it is important to acknowledge that this is a frightening time in our world, but with confidence we can, and must, still welcome the stranger,” stated HIAS Vice President of Community Engagement Rabbi Jennie Rosenn. “We know all too well from our own recent history that the cost of not doing so can be tragically high.”
What cost is Rosenn referring to? In the late 30s and early 40s, as nativist voices were denouncing refugee policies, over 6 million Jews were exterminated in a country that specialized in terrorism.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC its affiliates, or its employees.
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