JPost Editorial: Trump’s history lesson

International Holocaust Remembrance Day should be a time for introspection and learning from the mistakes of the past, not for blanket bans on refugees from Muslim nations.

January 29, 2017 21:05
3 minute read.
US refugee ban

People protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at O'Hare airport in Chicago, Illinois, US January 28, 2017. . (photo credit: REUTERS)

Consider the timing of US President Donald Trump’s executive order suspending the resettlement of refugees from war-torn Syria and his ban on people from seven Muslim nations.

He signed the order shortly after issuing a statement noting that the day was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which commemorates the world’s – and America’s – failure to save European Jewry from systematic genocide.(Trump’s statement did not mention Jews, although it cited the “depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror.”)

While it would be wrong to draw parallels between the civil war raging in Syria and the Shoah, there are, nevertheless, lessons to be learned from the plight of European Jewry that remain relevant today. Namely, that the free nations of the world have a moral obligation not to stand by in the face of the suffering of refugees – regardless of the circumstances of this suffering.

Yet, that was precisely what appeared to happen when Trump issued his order. Within hours one could witness in airports across America the injury inflicted on families and individuals who at the last minute, after believing they had escaped war and persecution in Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen and had reached the promised land, were detained pending deportation back to the carnage and the despotism in their homelands.

A federal judge in Brooklyn on Saturday evening issued an emergency stay, ordering that those stuck at the airports not be returned to their home countries.

But their future and the future of all the others subject to the executive order is far from settled.

The ban may also disrupt the lives and careers of hundreds of thousands of immigrants who have been cleared to live in America under visas or permanent residency permits. Hundreds of thousands more living in war zones and suffering from persecution will lose hope.

Scholars of the Holocaust view their work not just as a purely academic project in uncovering the past, rather they see it as having relevance for humanity today.

This is what motivated hundreds of Jewish scholars of the Holocaust in November to sign a statement condemning “hateful and discriminatory language and threats” against minorities during Trump’s presidential campaign.

In December, at the opening in Jerusalem of the International Institute for Holocaust Research’s conference titled “The Jewish Refugee Problem During the Shoah (1933-1945) Reconsidered,” Avner Shalev, chairman of the directorate of Yad Vashem, cited Syria, expressing “deep concern over the appalling images of massacres of human beings from this turbulent area.”

He added that international institutions put in place after the Holocaust had an obligation to deal with the Syrian refugee problem.

In Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, Yale historian Timothy Snyder argues that if we really understood what happened in Ukraine in 1941 we would begin to understand what happened in the Rwandan Genocide in 1994 and in the Syrian civil war that began in 2011.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day should be a time for introspection and learning from the mistakes of the past, not for blanket bans on refugees from Muslim nations.

The threat posed by terrorists who exploit the humanitarian instincts of the West is very real. But it is unclear how Trump’s sweeping ban will improve US homeland security.

History has taught that a more nuanced and balanced approach to the plight of refugees is in order.

Strict vetting of immigrants seeking to enter the US is understandable as is the need to set a clear immigration policy.

A sweeping ban though that smacks of prejudice and appears like a callous disregard for human suffering is not.

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