Washington Watch: Shipload of fools

“Jews cannot be indifferent while hundreds of thousands of refugees are looking for safe haven.”

November 18, 2015 20:31
4 minute read.
Syrian and Afghan refugees struggle to stay afloat after their dinghy collapses

Syrian and Afghan refugees struggle to stay afloat after their dinghy collapses just off the coast of Greece. (photo credit: REUTERS)

In the 1940s politicians and the State Department saw the war ravaging Europe and said only Christians could enter this country as refugees, and only a select few at that. No Jews welcome here. A favorite argument for turning away Jews fleeing Europe was that they had somehow had been infiltrated by Nazis.

With Islamic State on the rampage and war devastating Syria, among other places, many politicians today are singing a similar tune. Only a select few refugees can come in, and they must all be Christians, say Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush. “No Muslims welcome here” is the theme frequently invoked in the name of national security.

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No Syrian refugees in my state, said 26 governors – all but one a Republicans – who refuse to admit any Syrian refugees, whatever god they worship. That includes Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Ohio’s John Kasich, New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Florida’s Rick Scott, whose states have some of the country’s largest populations of Muslims and Arab-Americans.

Christie said not even “orphans under the age of five should be admitted.” Taking care of them would be too much of a burden, he complained.

American Jewish leaders are struggling with the question of refugees. Many organizations have been raising money for humanitarian groups, particularly in Jordan, helping Syrian refugees, reports The New York Jewish Week, but when it comes to admitting them to this country they urge caution.

Rabbi Mark Dratch of the Orthodox movement’s Rabbinical Council of American told the Jewish Week that Muslim countries should be pressured to take greater numbers.

He’s right. Jordan and Turkey are overwhelmed with refugees, but the others could and should do a lot more.

But that does not mean our own doors should be slammed in their face, and Jewish leaders, more than most, should know that.

HIAS, formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, is virtually alone among Jewish organizations supporting the president’s decision to admit 10,000 refugees by the end of 2016.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that although Israel has treated some 1,000 wounded Syrians, it will not take in any Syrian refugees because the country is “too small.” Opposition leader Isaac Herzog disagrees.

“Jews cannot be indifferent while hundreds of thousands of refugees are looking for safe haven.”

Some Republicans who aspire to be the leader of the free world sound like bigoted xenophobes. Most conspicuous are ones whose own parents were refugees from brutal dictatorships or are married to immigrants.

Their rationale is that some jihadi terrorists may sneak in with the refugees (one apparently did in the French attacks Saturday), so all refugees should be banned.

Critics like to point to the 9/11 hijackers to justify anti-immigration attitudes. Senator Marco Rubio, who favored immigration reform before he was against it, said “some” of the hijackers “had overstayed [their] student visas.”

Sen. Lindsay Graham has said all 19 were here on expired student visas.

Neither presidential wannabe did his homework. All 19 had entered the country legally; only one on a student visa, which he did not overstay, and the others on tourist or business visas, according to Factcheck.org.

The only Jew running for president, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, pledged to stand against Islamophobia and racism and backed President Barack Obama’s decision to admit some 10,000 refugees. So have his two Democratic rivals, Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley, both of whom suggested raising the number to 65,000.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-New York) said, “We can protect our safety and our humanitarian values,” and we shouldn’t “slam the door on them.”

But that’s exactly what Republicans want to do.

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) would shut down the government in order to keep them out. Presidential candidates Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee have written to Speaker Paul Ryan demanding he block all funding for Syrian refugee resettlement.

Donald Trump, warning that Syrian refugees could be IS’s “Trojan horse,” said if he were president he’d consider closing US mosques with radical clerics and limiting civil liberties for all Americans.

Senator Cruz, the son of a Cuban immigrant, said we should only permit Christian refugees because, “There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror.”

Has no one told Ted or Jeb about Dylann Storm Roof, who killed nine worshipers at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, SC; neo-Nazi Frazier Glenn Cross who got the death penalty last week for killing three people in Kansas he thought were Jews; Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols who bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City or the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski? Or about those law abiding folks of the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Nation, the Army of God and the Phineas Priesthood? And what about the mass murderers responsible for shootings at Newtown, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Centennial and Roseburg, to name only a few? Ted and Jeb, there wasn’t a foreigner among them. No Muslims as far as I could learn. All good Christians.

President Obama said, “We don’t have religious tests to our compassion. That’s not who we are.”

He may not, but many of those who want his job do, and that should scare a Jewish community that remembers – or should – what it’s like to be shut out when the alternative is discrimination and maybe death.

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