More than 1,000 rabbis in the United States signed onto a letter urging elected officials in the country to "exercise moral leadership for the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program."
The letter was published on the website of HIAS, a venerable U.S. charity once known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society that was originally founded in the 19th century to help bring over emigrants from Czarist Russia.
It marks an important intervention in the American conversation at a time when conservative politicians have used the pretext of terrorism — security fears that followed the Paris terror attacks last month — as an excuse to pass legislation that would restrict the flow of Syrian refugees into the U.S. (Never mind that no Paris attacker has yet to be identified as a Syrian refugee or national.)
The rabbis' letter denounces this brand of politics by invoking the historical experience of Jews in the U.S.
Since its founding, the United States has offered refuge and protection to the world’s most vulnerable. Time and time again, those refugees were Jews. Whether they were fleeing pogroms in Tzarist Russia, the horrors of the Holocaust or persecution in Soviet Russia or Iran, our relatives and friends found safety on these shores.
It goes on:
We are therefore alarmed to see so many politicians declaring their opposition to welcoming refugees.
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. And in those comments, we, as Jewish leaders, see one of the darker moments of our history repeating itself.
In recent weeks, WorldViews has highlighted this very comparison — how blanked scapegoating of Syrian refugees by some leading political figures in Europe and the U.S. enchoes the bigotry of an earlier moment. The letter elaborates, citing a WorldViews story from two weeks ago:
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. 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 1940’s, showing that the majority of U.S. citizens did not want to welcome Jewish refugees to this country in those years.
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".
A number of prominent Jewish organizations in the U.S. have already taken the lead in condemning some of the rhetoric surrounding Syrian refugees. Last month, the Anti-Defamation League criticised the dozens of U.S. governors who said they would block attempts to resettle Syrians in their states.
"This country must not give into fear or bias by turning its back on our nation’s fundamental commitment to refugee protection and human rights," ADL chief Jonathan Greenblatt said. "Now is precisely the time to stand up for our core values, including that we are a proud nation of immigrants. To do otherwise signals to the terrorists that they are winning the battle against democracy and freedom."