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November 25, 2015 7:48 am

Why Russian-Jewish Refugees are Different From Syrian Refugees

avatar by Yuri Kruman

Syrian refugees striking in front of  Budapest's Keleti railway station. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Syrian refugees striking in front of Budapest’s Keleti railway station. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

In a recent op-ed entitled “I’m a Russian-born American Jew. My people’s rejection of Syrian refugees breaks my heart,” Ilya Lozovsky slanderously paints all Russian Jews as fascist hypocrites for failing to join his crusade to resettle Syrian refugees in America.

As a Russian-born American Jew, I beg to differ with his shallow smear campaign.

Let’s first be clear that as recent refugees ourselves, most Russian Jews in America know and remember well what it is like to be a refugee — not knowing where food or shelter may come from next, stuck in Austria or Italy on the way to the States or Israel. We get it like few others.

Humanitarian tragedies know no borders or nationalities, and deserve our help through the provision of food, temporary shelter, clothing, and medication.

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But resettling refugees in the US is another matter altogether. The relevant policy questions to consider will have serious implications for our country. There is no place in this necessary and civilized argument for smears of racism and worse. Unfortunately, Mr. Lozovsky has stooped to this lowest of levels.

Do the proposed immigrants share our society’s values and respect the local rule of law? Given their average educational level, tolerance for other cultures and religions, as well as contributions to society back home, will they manage to integrate and succeed in America? Frankly, will they contribute significantly to the economy, civil society, and the preservation of democratic institutions? Lastly, do they have a core group of countrymen or co-religionists that will help them with integration, jobs and other big and little “logistics?”

With Russian Jews and with Syrians both, the situation was urgent and needed common-sense help immediately. We had only Israel as a challenging alternative. The Syrian refugees’ wealthy Gulf Arab brethren haven’t lifted a finger to help.

When it came to a community ready to help, Jewish organizations all over the country stood ready to help and indeed resettled hundreds of thousands of us successfully. We paid back our keep and much more by achieving high average educational level, high average salary, and strong participation in the economy and civil society. Syrian-Americans in Detroit, meanwhile, have remained reticent about accepting any Syrian refugees.

Do Russian Jews share American values? You bet.

Do Syrian refugees share our values? That’s a much more difficult question. Whether they’re rebels (Al-Nusra or Al-Qaeda), ISIS or just “regular folks,” they come from a society that’s deeply and universally misogynistic, intolerant of gays and other religions, profoundly anti-American and antisemitic, rife with conspiracy theories, etc. Every family’s case is different, but we must take their society of origin into account.

It’s true that most of this could well be said of Russian refugees, as well. However, Jews were long persecuted (and often killed) in the Soviet Union for religious practice, prevented from participation in civil society, filled the ranks of dissidents, and nevertheless managed high educational and scientific achievements despite state-sponsored antsemitism.

In short, as much as the Syrian refugees deserve our tactical help, they have other alternatives, don’t share our values to a large degree, and have little infrastructure ready to absorb them in the US. These are arguments that must be considered when debating the issue.

Unlike Mr, Lozovsky’s shallow and insulting argument painting all Russian Jews in one black swath, we simply have perspective that’s still fresh. We know that when a subset of another group of people threatens us with death, then we must listen, not invite them to our shores. This doesn’t make us racist, but keen realists.

Mr. Lozovsky would be smart to learn the history of Bolshevik techniques of propaganda. His sounds too eerily familiar.

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