HIAS head blames Trump for continued rise in antisemitism, hate

‘We can’t count on our national leaders to welcome the stranger and protect each of us, so we must rise to the occasion ourselves.’

By
October 27, 2019 19:52
3 minute read.
Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS)

Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). (photo credit: Courtesy)

President Donald Trump is not the cause of antisemitism in the United States, but he is not effectively fighting it either, said Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS).

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, the one-year anniversary of the Pittsburgh shooting – the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States – Hetfield said that Trump “continues to stoke the fires of hate and fear that have burned in our society for hundreds of years,” and that many of his colleagues “don’t call on him on this language and simply stand by in complicit silence.

“We can’t count on our national leaders to welcome the stranger and protect each of us, so we must rise to the occasion ourselves,” he continued.

Hetfield’s organization is the global Jewish response to refugees. It was founded in 1881 to assist Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe, was instrumental in relocating Jews during the Holocaust and later in assisting with Ethiopian Jewish and Russian immigration, as well. Since 2000, HIAS expanded its work to include assistance to non-Jewish refugees.

The organization became tied to the Pittsburgh shooting, during which 11 people were killed, when the attacker – hours before opening fire at the Tree of Life synagogue – posted on social media that he could not “sit by” while the Jewish nonprofit that protects refugees brings “invaders in that kill our people.”

Hetfield said it is understood that 46-year-old Robert Gregory Bowers was referring to HIAS and that it is possible that Bowers chose Tree of Life because Dor Hadash, one of the three congregations housed in the building, had participated in HIAS’s National Refugee Shabbat the week prior.

In 2019, close to 300 Jewish communities across the country showcased strong support for refugees on that Shabbat. This year, Hetfield said, Refugee Shabbat will take place on March 20, to distance it from the attack.

“After the attack last year, we were hoping things would change, we were hoping that Trump would stop using the same slurs against asylum seekers,” Hetfield told the Post. He said that Trump often refers to asylum seekers as “invaders,” a word that he believes was borrowed by Bowers for his affidavit.

“We were hoping he would stop using that language at a minimum,” he said. “But nothing has improved.”

He noted that the president even used the word to describe asylum seekers and refugees before the Republican Jewish Coalition in April.

In addition, he said that the president has continued to reduce the number of refugees allowed in the United States at a time when there are a greater number of people seeking refuge than even after World War II. Trump allowed 30,000 refugees into the country in 2019 and has only committed to allowing 18,000 into the country in 2020, Hetfield said. This represents the lowest number in the nearly 40-year history of the US Refugee Admissions Program.

He admitted that the Trump administration has approved federal grants to help “harden” Jewish institutions. But Hetfield said that “it is not enough to just fortify ourselves. We need to deal with the root causes of these attacks: gun control and hate speech.”

Antisemitism, according to Hetfield, saw a sharp increase during the era of the Obama administration. Under Trump, he said, all forms of hate “have just grown and continued.”

Welcoming the stranger is mentioned 36 times in the Torah, Hetfield pointed out, and he said that the Jewish community must not fail to fight antisemitism and all other forms of hatred.

“Antisemitism is one unique form of hatred, but it never exists in isolation,” he said. “Homophobia, Islamophobia – it all needs to be confronted.”


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