As Jews across the world have just celebrated Chanukah and lit the menorah candles, we remembered the battle against the ancient Syrian Greeks who refused to let Jews practice their religion. The candles reminded us of the darkness of oppression and the light of our victory. Today, we must bring light to a recent attack on religious freedom coming from a proposed ban on Muslims entering our country, solely because of their faith.
[pullquote align=left] As Jews we are taught “as we were once strangers, so must we love the stranger.”
[/pullquote]This latest proposal comes in the context of the presidential election which started with accusations that Mexico is exporting murderers and rapists to the US, and a call to deport 11 million immigrants. Then the focus of animus shifted to Syrian and Iraqi refugees who are fleeing terror in their own countries. This resulted in calls to register all American Muslims and a refusal to resettle refugees by 30 state governors, which then escalated to proposals to offer entry only to Christian refugees. A bill that overwhelmingly passed the House effectively closes the door on those refugees who endangered their lives to support the US war effort.
The latest discriminatory proposal goes even further; it is an outright ban on any and all Muslims entering the US. This rhetoric violates our nation’s fundamental principle of religious freedom, impacting people from every country in the world, including Muslim citizens of the United States who are not in the country.
[pullquote align=right] Thousands of desperate Jews were turned away from our country, ensuring their destruction in the Holocaust.
[/pullquote]Substitute the word Jews for Muslims in this ban and we find harrowing similarities to attitudes and language in an earlier shameful time.
Like today, fear of refugee violence, fear of their inability or desire to assimilate, concern over their economic dependence, suspicion of their ideological alienation and radicalism — were in fact central to the debate over admitting Jewish refugees at the outbreak of WWII. Thousands of desperate Jews were turned away from our country, ensuring their destruction in the Holocaust. As Americans, we are deeply disturbed by the current rush of some of our politicians and citizens into the politics of fear and hatred that fuels this opposition; as American Jews, we are particularly alarmed.
[pullquote align=left] Today our nation — a nation of immigrants — must find the moral courage to welcome those seeking refuge
[/pullquote]We recognize the legitimate need for immigration policies that provide security for our country, but the truth is that refugees already are thoroughly vetted and must go through multiple screenings over 18-to-24 months before they enter the US. There is no need for Congress to impose additional restrictions or security measures. And most certainly there is no place in our democracy for refusing entry based on religion.
As Jews we are taught “as we were once strangers, so must we love the stranger.” Had the US been more welcoming of Jewish immigrants in the years leading up to World War II — and less swayed by the hysteria of the day — countless Jewish lives could have been saved. Today our nation — a nation of immigrants — must find the moral courage to welcome those seeking refuge from fear, persecution, and hate, regardless of the faith they practice.