What better time to lobby for America to take in more refugees than after a weekend that saw bombs go off in New York and New Jersey and a mass stabbing in Minnesota.
If you found your bedroom was filled with poisonous snakes, who would you hate? The snakes or the people who put them there? HIAS wants to fill your country with poisonous snakes.
In 1951, after witnessing a second world war, a genocide and an iron curtain descending across Europe, nations of the world finally united to establish a Refugee Convention and share responsibility for those who no longer had a home or a homeland. Among the displaced at that time were hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees and asylum seekers.
For the 6 million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, the Refugee Convention came too late. In the aftermath, the world promised that never again would refugees be pushed back into the hands of their persecutors, as the United States, Canada and Cuba did in 1939 when they turned back the St. Louis, carrying more than 900 Jewish refugees who had tried to flee Nazi Germany.
Yet today there are more refugees and displaced persons — 65 million — than there have been since the World War II. Refugees are again being wrongly perceived not as a people who are threatened themselves, but as a people who threaten our own security. This rationale was used to limit Jewish immigration in the 1930s and 1940s. Western countries, some more openly than others, today are using similar prejudices to limit resettlement of refugees from predominantly Muslim countries.
The 135-year-old organization I currently lead, HIAS, demonstrates Jewish communal support welcoming and protecting refugees. For many years, HIAS helped refugees because they were Jewish. Now we help refugees because we are Jewish.
Welcoming the stranger is central to our tradition and to our shared experience, and we know there is too much at stake to become paralyzed by xenophobia and intolerance. Recognizing this communal obligation to act, nearly 200 synagogues across America have already signaled their willingness to help welcome refugees in their communities. Last year, over 1,200 American rabbis signed onto a statement in support of refugee resettlement…
Mark Hetfield is president and CEO of HIAS, the global Jewish organization that protects refugees.