Fellow Jews: Are We Going to Let Innocent People Go Through What We Went Through?

Thousands Of Syrian Refugees Seek Shelter In Makeshift Camps In Jordan

Syrian refugees in Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan, in February. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

I’ve been in tech this week, so I’m behind on the news, and this will be a short one. It certainly won’t take long to say what needs to be said here.


As a Jew, I firmly denounce the stigmatization of Syrian refugees, along with all the GOP proposals for surveillance of Muslims, including a national database and closure of mosques. Fellow Jews, if you are not loudly and firmly denouncing this as well, I am ashamed of you.


A four-year-old girl named Hudea mistakes photojournalist Osman Sagirli’s telephoto lens for a gun and surrenders to him at the Otmeh refugee camp in Syria last December.

A national database? You know where registering people for being part of an ethnic group leads, right? And even if you don’t believe it could happen in America, you and I know what that kind of registration was used for even before the camps. You don’t know? You don’t remember? Talk to your grandmother. Pick up a book.


The identity card of Herbert Levy, marked “J” for “Jude” (Jew). Levy was brought to England through the Kindertransport program in 1939. Activists successfully lobbied Britain to loosen immigration restrictions to allow 10,000 Jewish children– but children only– into the UK, taken in by foster families. Most never saw their parents again. (Photo: AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Proposing the closure of mosques should scare the living daylights out of you. For one thing, we have this little document called the US CONSTITUTION, and are we truly going to allow our hate, fear, and racism enable us to shred it? Are we going to mistreat our citizens? Or people looking for our legendary Land of Opportunity? The “opportunity” for what, virulent racism?


Three Japanese American boys stand at the perimeter fence at the Manzanar internment camp near Independence, California in this iconic photo by Toyo Miyatake. Japanese Americans were forced to live in internment camps 1942 – 1945. (Source: blog.janm.org, courtesy Alan Miyatake)


Probably the most heartbreaking, however, is the heartless turning away of refugees. It’s no surprise to me that there are so many conservative American Christians shrieking “No room at the inn” and slamming the door against Syrian refugees. They did the same to us. This was expected. But you and I? Our families? Not one of us, not one, should refuse these people a place AT OUR TABLES, let alone in our country. We know better.


These Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany fled to the US aboard the “St. Louis” and were forced to return to Europe after both Cuba and the US denied them entrance. 1939. Look at the hope in their faces. They believed they were safe. They believed they were among the lucky. How many of the children in this picture survived after we turned them away? (Source: ushmm.org)

Radical right-wing white men are the most dangerous terrorists in the US today (also see this and this). If you’re in favor of refusing Muslim refugees escaping extremist violence, if you’re in favor of (unconstitutionally) curtailing the rights of American Muslims, but you’re not in favor of tracking and/or limiting the rights of American far-right extremists, you’re not trying to protect America from terrorist attacks. You’re just a racist.


A Syrian child sleeps in his father’s arms after arriving on a dinghy from the Turkish coast to the Greek island of Lesbos in October. (Photo: Muhammed Muheison/AP)




Syrian refugees struggled to keep warm during the snowstorms that hit the Middle East last February. Too many died of hypothermia. This was taken at a refugee camp in Lebanon. (source: UNICEF)

We’re talking 10,000 Syrian refugees here. That wouldn’t even sell out Madison Square Garden. You’re willing to shitcan everything America stands for because you’re afraid of a group of victimized innocents that number fewer than 1/50th of the people who saw the last Rush concert tour?

American Jews, please join me in denouncing, loudly and vociferously, the terrifying, all-too-recognizable treatment of Syrian refugees seeking shelter here, as well as our fellow Americans who happen to be Muslim. Join me in lifting the lamp beside the golden door, even if we have to wrench it from the hands of the racists seeking to hide it from them.

American Muslim Pride

(photo: Joel Gordon)

(NOTE: This is my personal blog, not CNN. While I approve all respectfully dissenting comments, I am under no obligation to approve comments I deem racist, disrespectful, derailing, or trollish. If you want to blame “the Jews” for government actions in nations to which most of us have never been, or “the Muslims” for criminal actions most of them have roundly condemned and in which many innocent Muslims have perished, I advise you to pick up your racism and move along. It truly pains me to have to include this, but bitter experience has taught me well.)



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8 thoughts on “Fellow Jews: Are We Going to Let Innocent People Go Through What We Went Through?

  1. Adam Versenyi says:

    Thank you, Melissa!

  2. sheaannmarie says:

    The GOP has brought anti-semitism to its logical conclusion. Now they attack Arabs too. The following is a copy of a letter that I wrote to the Boston Globe yesterday.

    Governor Baker has gone on record saying that he does not want Syrian refugees settling in Massachusetts. Why stop there? Why not ban immigration from the Caucasus region? (Remember the Tsarnaev brothers?) Massachusetts has also had a rocky history with certain Italians. (Think “Sacco and Vanzetti.”) And, as painful as it is to admit, Irish Catholics can cause a lot of trouble. (Whew—that Whitey Bulger!) Even White Anglo Saxon Protestants have displayed violent, anti-social tendencies. (How about that King Phillip’s War?) Ban them too.
    You get the point, no? Banning people because of the circumstance they flee is absurd. Good people can come from bad places.
    I say this as the child of immigrants who arrived on these shores from a country reeling after a bloody revolution, and still struggling with a bloodier civil war. My immigrant parents raised a family, some of whom served this country in the military. Their descendants now include entrepreneurs, educators, lawyers, healers and artists. So far, all of us have managed to keep out of trouble.
    By all means, screen newcomers and examine their backgrounds. But do not slam the door to refugees simply because they come from a troubled place. That’s why they are on the run to begin with.
    Remember the tragedy and the shame of refusing to accept the passengers from S.S. St. Louis in 1939, all of whom were returned to Nazi Germany, and most of whom later perished in camps. We cannot shame our country again in this way.
    Ann Marie Shea

  3. seana2014s says:

    I’m not Jewish, but I wrote a strangely similar blog post myself. It’s as if as a nation we’ve learned nothing.

  4. Obviously, when people need safe haven from terror they should find it, and quickly, but let’s not be so quick to call out Jews for special condemnation. Syria was barbaric to its Jewish citizens and continues to preach virulently anti-Semitic rhetoric in its schools, media and mosques. If Jews have some trepidation about Syrian immigration, keep the context in mind: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Jews_in_Syria

    • I’m speaking specifically to my fellow Jews because of our shared understanding of what it means to be discriminated against and turned away in our time of need. I’m not in any way excusing or condoning the bigotry of other segments of the population.

      • I understand, but I don’t like the idea of singling out Jews on this issue if there’s no acknowledgement that Syrians have a pretty dismal track record when it comes to anti-Semitism. That’s a legitimate concern for Jewish Americans. I’m not arguing that refugees should be punished in any way, but rather that if you’re aiming this argument at Jews, you also need to address the roots of our fear.

        It’s not an issue of simple xenophobia; it’s an issue of historical discrimination against Jews perpetrated by both the Syrian people and their government.

      • To refer to the racists who hurt our people in Syria as “Syrians,” blaming all Syrians everywhere, makes us no better than the people today who blame “the Jews” for the decisions of the conservative Israeli government. These refugees are victims if the same people we were. The contain an enormous percentage of children. Do we want to be the kind of people who smugly allow these people to die as some kind of revenge for the horrific oppression we went through in Syria? Are these people, so many of whom are children, to be held responsible for that? What do we think these people are going to do when they get here? Start some new wave of antisemitic violence? Turn America even more antisemitic than it already is? What, precisely, are we afraid of?

        Again, I’m not “singling Jews out.” I’m a Jew speaking to my own community. There’s a huge difference.

      • No, I’m not suggesting we send people back to die. I’m sugesting that the Jewish community has legitimate concerns and that calling for wholehearted acceptance is naive.

        Personally, I think the Jewish community must be proactive in offering assistance to incoming Syrians, and offer opportunities for education and cooperation. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a bestseller in Syria, which means a whole lot of average Syrians are reading it (or watched it as a miniseries on Syrian TV).

        Of course you’re right about anti-Semitism finding full flower here anyway, and I think we’re mostly on the same page, but as Jews, we must be better at battling anti-Semitism, and one of the ways to achieve that goal is to acknowledge it where it exists.

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