Kudos to the more than 1,000 rabbis who signed a petition calling on the United States government to welcome refugees from Syria. An impressive feat, even in the digital age, to gather such a large number of supporters on a hotly debated political topic in such a short period of time. Even so, the petition represents a fundamental misread of American Jewish history, United States immigration policy, and ultimately, the import of rabbinic authority in the most critical public policy matters of the day. And, in an ironic twist, the petition failed to note the most impressive, visionary and brave aspects of their pro-Syrian refugee position.
“Since its founding,” our nation’s religious leaders argued in their one-page petition, “the United States has offered refuge and protection to the world’s most vulnerable.” Not so. A quick survey of U.S. immigration policy reveals a much less optimistic picture. In 1921 and 1924, for example, Congress enacted racist immigration laws that codified a eugenics-based approach to U.S. citizenship. Supposedly superior Nordic stock immigrants from northern Europe enjoyed large quotas under a national origins system that all but ended migration from less-desired southern and eastern Europe, where two million Jewish immigrants once called home.
Perhaps unwittingly, the rabbis acknowledged that history when they pained over the U.S. government’s refusal to save European Jews aboard the S.S. St. Louis. During the pre-World War II period, this nation did not protect its most vulnerable, with Jews near the top of the list. Famed aviator Charles Lindbergh and automaker Henry Ford headlined a two-decade surge in domestic anti-Semitism. The petition’s optimistic appraisal of immigration history could not be applied to the Japanese, who faced effective restriction with the Gentleman’s Agreement of 1907, nor to the Chinese, whose American dreams ended with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Of course, two and a half centuries of African immigration ended in slavery while the only group not to immigrate, America’s indigenous population, faced systemic marginalization.
On a more subtle level, the petition’s claim that “our relatives and friends found safety on these shores” overstates the political causality of Jewish immigration. In most cases, economic opportunity proved more important in decision-making. As much as eastern European pogroms forced Jews to flee, the comparison to the Syrian refugee crisis doesn’t pass muster. Jews immigrated at a time of a rapidly expanding industrial economy whose titans sought, even recruited, low-wage workers. Business, labor and government joined to provide an open hand to new arrivals in the hope that their service would strengthen the economy and the nation. This is not the case today as xenophobia colors election-year politics, business demands fewer workers and labor resists added competition for scarce jobs.
Marc Dollinger says nothing about the interests of Americans. That does not concern him. He says nothing about the Jewish state having a moral obligation to absorb Muslims. He just wants to inject that poison into the bloodstream of the goyim. What is to be done with such a traitor? He repays America’s kindness with venom.
If you found your bedroom filled with poisonous snakes, who would you hate? The snakes or the people who put them there? People like Marc Dollinger want to fill your home with poisonous snakes. How do you feel about that? What is the appropriate response to such traitors? Perhaps we should write a letter to the editor? Take out an ad in the New York Times?