We Cannot Allow Comparisons of Mideast Refugees to Holocaust Survivors
President Obama recently compared, openly and unreservedly, refugees fleeing allegedly from Syria and seeking resettlement in the United States with Jewish refugees from the Holocaust.
Whether refugees from Muslim countries should be resettled in the United States is a source of lively debate and there are meritorious arguments on both sides of the issue. However, the historical inaccuracy of comparing the refugees traveling via Syria to Jewish Holocaust era refugees is stark and touches on lessons of the Holocaust that must never be forgotten:
1. Jewish refugees were not warring with anyone, and were no threat to anyone. Refugees attributed to Syria are fleeing a war within their own land in which they are on one side or another.
2. Jewish refugees were hunted down to be killed wherever they were. This is not happening to all (or most) Muslims of Syria and neighboring countries who seek emigration.
3. Jewish refugees were literally fleeing for their lives with nowhere in their countries to go. Syrian refugees are fleeing a country with degraded infrastructure for a safer and more normal existence. They also have the option of traveling to neighboring Arab countries — something Jews of the Holocaust did not have.
4. Jewish refugees had no conflict or grievance with the West. The Arab world is in the midst of an open conflict with the West. The United States has been sponsoring some of the fighters operating in Syria. There is no way of knowing whether refugees have allegiance to one faction or another.
5. Jewish refugees were not accompanied by any terrorist problem in America. Islamist terrorism has already expressed itself through those who have immigrated here legally and illegally.
6. Jewish refugee traffic was never exploited to embed people who were simply taking advantage of chaos to slip across borders with criminal or terrorist motivation. That has already been demonstratively the case with the Syrian-Turkish Muslim migration.
7. Jewish refugees had no Jewish homeland to go to. They were stateless people who were unsafe everywhere. The “Syrian” refugee problem overlooks that there are areas all over the Muslim world which could accommodate them culturally, but many of those countries have refused them.
As detrimental and disparaging as President Obama has been to Israel and Zionism, as easily as he has been comfortable resorting to canards about Jewish financial influence, it is easy to leap to criticize the President for such a stunningly ignorant comparison. Closer scrutiny of the discussion, however, demonstrates that even before the President’s public statements, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, or HIAS, provided the US Congress with a letter signed by more than 1,250 rabbis that included the assertion, “In 1939, the United States refused to let the S.S. St. Louis dock in our country, sending over 900 Jewish refugees back to Europe, where many died in concentration camps. That moment was a stain on the history of our country – a tragic decision made in a political climate of deep fear, suspicion and antisemitism… In 1939, our country could not tell the difference between an actual enemy and the victims of an enemy. In 2015, let us not make the same mistake.”
The elephant in the room that this letter overlooks is that the very source of the current American controversy is that, by admission of even trusted intelligence persons in the Obama administration, the United States indeed cannot tell the difference between the enemy and the victims of the enemy. That is the source of our current national security problem. To compare this real dilemma to a climate of 1939 that was nothing more than just visceral hatred for Jews for nothing more than their religion is obscene. That many rabbis are willing to abet such misunderstanding demonstrates, once again, a deep failure of those rabbis to take responsibility for teaching and protecting the fidelity of Jewish history. The horrors of the Holocaust remain unthinkable, even as memories fade with the dying off of elderly survivors. So why is it that rabbis, so designated as leaders of Jewish thought, could display such derelict idiocy in making comparisons of Holocaust refugees to migrants from the Arab world?
In my professional opinion, these behaviors actually reflect on the sickening pathology among Jews of even the most highly educated pedigrees to feel the need, even by resorting to the grotesque, to display their non-denominational compassion. Tikkum Olam, to many, reflects upon the Jewish imperative to help the world beyond those who are Jewish. Others interpret that phrase differently. But it cannot be disputed by anyone that Jewish non-discriminatory philanthropy and with no strings attached is unmatched among religions. We need not prove that we are kind. And for those who feel that Jews need to do a better job of demonstrating this to the Muslim world, consider how much Jewish charity has been offered to Iran and Turkey after natural disasters, only to be refused in order to preserve narratives that demonize Jews. Jews are pilloried not for lack of charity, but because Muslim Arab intolerance is extreme, implacable, and emanates from countries that control their media and can control their peoples by creating fictions of Jewish bogeymen. The purveyors and consumers of said fictions couldn’t care less about the billboarding of Jewish advocacy for Muslims.
How is it then, that the signatory rabbis degrade the special history of their own people? Because flaunting public perception of their sensitivity to others enables them to make personal political statements, massage their vanities for being part of letters published in full page ads, and announce their own bonafides. But while those public personas are their own, no rabbi owns Jewish history such that they have the right to reinvent it.
It would be far more responsible for such rabbis and other prominent Jews to feed their self-interests without resorting to defiling the Holocaust by diluting it or by distorting any of its searing lessons. How pathetic it is that in this day and age, we truly have many Christians who have a greater sensitivity for the legacy of baseless hatred towards Jews than certain rabbis themselves. President Obama can hardly be blamed for insulting the legacy of the Holocaust when so many rabbis utterly fail to respect their own Shoah.
Silence only invites greater latitude with the facts of our painful history. If Holocaust denial bothers you, this crass misuse is not something to overlook without strong response. Like the BDS movement, silence only enables greater latitude. Assertions by Jews that dilute and therefore desecrate the Holocaust must stop. Holocaust trivializing should be limited to Iran and the other visceral haters, rather than daily parlance of the educated in America. The teaching of accurate Jewish history must remain, across all denominations, a litmus test for suitability to minister to others as would be expected from any religion.
The author, a pre-eminent American forensic psychiatrist, is Chairman of The Forensic Panel, and is responsible for such advances as the pioneering of peer preview in forensic examination and standardizing the assessment of the worst of crimes with the Depravity Standard (www.depravitystandard.org )