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March 21, 2016 7:39 am

As Jews, It’s Now Our Job to Help Other Refugees

avatar by Mark Hetfield /

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Middle Eastern refugees in Germany. Photo: UN Refugee Agency.

Middle Eastern refugees in Germany. Photo: UN Refugee Agency. – The Torah reiterates, no less than 36 times, versions of the commandment to love the stranger as ourselves, for we know the heart of a stranger, as we were once strangers in the land of Egypt. The Exodus narrative is not just about the suffering and flight of the Jews, but it delivers a universal message about Jewish commitment to human rights and refugee protection.

HIAS was established 135 years ago to protect refugees — Jewish ones — who were fleeing the pogroms of Czarist Russia. HIAS, which always refers to itself as the “global Jewish non-profit that protects refugees,” is not searching for a new mission. We remain true to the original one of refugee protection. What HIAS has done is moved from its “Exodus” period of our first 120 years, in which HIAS focused on bringing Jews from oppression to freedom, to our “Leviticus” period, in which we fulfill Jewish values and assist refugees of all faiths and ethnicities based on our own Exodus experiences.

The changes to HIAS’s work are not just theologically motivated. They are based on the lessons of history, especially from the Holocaust period when HIAS, the Jewish community, and the world failed to protect the 6 million Jews who perished. The evolution of HIAS is about fulfilling our community’s promise that never again will we permit anything like the Holocaust to happen. What is the most effective strategy for doing this? By acting only when Jewish refugees are in danger, or by constantly advocating for the universal protection of all refugees? HIAS has chosen the latter path.

One reason we failed during the Shoah was that, at that time, the world had no internationally recognized right to flee and seek refuge. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Refugee Convention of 1951 and its 1967 Protocol — heavily advocated by the Jewish community, Israel and HIAS — now provide us with the principles to help ensure that never again will refugees be pushed back into the hands of their persecutors.

We cannot protect ourselves by being only for ourselves. We can only protect ourselves by protecting and implementing universal principles of human rights.

In Washington and in meetings convened by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, HIAS advocates for the US government and the international community to respect the principles of refugee protection that arose from the ashes of the Holocaust. HIAS is already working on five continents to protect refugees of all faiths who have fled ethnic cleansing and other forms of persecution. In addition, we resettle 3,500 refugees each year through our U.S. network, primarily consisting of Jewish Family Service agencies. These partners, like HIAS, have decided to continue programs welcoming refugees even though most refugees whom they now resettle are not Jewish.

And, as you should expect, when there are refugees who are Jewish, HIAS is still there to make sure they receive help. This year, HIAS continues to bring Jews from Iran, the Middle East, Ukraine, and other parts of the former Soviet Union to safety and freedom.

With the largest number of refugees and displaced persons since the Second World War, HIAS’s mission is as relevant as ever. In 1881, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society was established to help refugees find welcome, safety and freedom. HIAS has not strayed from that path. Today, HIAS does not help refugees because they are Jewish. HIAS helps refugees because we are Jewish.

Our bubbes would be proud.

Mark Hetfield is president and CEO of HIAS.

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  • MensRightsMovement

    I’m not finished with you guys, yet.
    There’s a more sinister reason why you’re aiding refugees. You’re sensing a Muslim victory. So, you’re trying to get friendly with them, just in case. And, as far as you’re concerned, it’s screw the native peoples in the host nation. You welcomed Muslims at the gates of Vienna, over a thousand years ago. You sided with the Moors, the Ottomans, …..

  • Mike P.

    HIAS’ original mission has been replaced by the Jewish Agency.

    HIAS is now a story of non-profit workers trying to keep their jobs, ironically, by getting US government funding for importing anti-Semites that make US campuses no-go zones for Jewish students who dare live proudly as Jews.

    No Jew should donate a single dollar to HIAS.

  • MensRightsMovement

    Gee. I wonder why people are antisemitic? There is no word to describe Jewish Evil. The manner in which you pretend that you’re only trying to ‘stop antisemitism’. No. You’re doing the same thing which Jews have done for millennia. You opened the doors while Moors invaded Spain. You welcomed the Turkish Ottomans. You betrayed the Poles every time they were invaded. The list goes on and on. So please don’t pretend that you’re on a noble mission. Speaking of antisemitism; these Muslim nations ALL keep Jews in their place. In fact, right now, Yemen is attempting to kick out ALL the Jews. So, why are you constantly attacking Europe rather than fighting Muslims abroad? The reason is because Jews only betray those nations which offer them freedom and refuge.
    ALSO, you’re abstract thinkers. Jews were safe in Europe. You can’t just pretend that it’s World War II. In the 1970’s, Jews were comfortable, and free of danger. So, don’t try to pretend that Ghost Nazi’s were lurking.
    MOST IMPORTANTLY, you say that Jews are supposed to welcome the stranger amongst them? LIE ! That’s a total lie. I’ve been to dozens upon dozens of Jewish communities. You don’t welcome migrants in your neighborhoods. In fact, you make sure to keep them away. If someone is an immigrant, try renting an apartment in a Jewish community. You WON’T be able to find living space. Jews make sure that undesirables are kept out.
    Final word; Who the hell are you to decide policy in Europe. You’re not European.

  • s. jones

    If it’s the Jews time to help other refugees, why not show the world you’re serious and open your door to some of these refugees? Can you think of a better way to help them?

  • s. Jones

    If it’s now the Jews job to help other refugees, what better way to show them – and the world – just how serious you are by accepting needy refugees into Israel. What better way, indeed!

  • rbockman

    The author is a fool, we Jews as immigrants did not decapitate, rape, did not maim and murder our daughters and sisters. No comparison can be made.

  • Most refugees from Muslim countries have greater hatred against Jews than did the average German during World War II.

    During World War II, the Muslims were allies of the Nazis, and pressured the British to cut-off all escape routes that Jews might use to escape from Europe to Palestine.

    In the decades that followed World War II, the Muslims publicly praised Hitler and acted as havens of refuge for convicted Nazi war criminals.

    In Muslim countries, the anti-Jewish propaganda book “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” is a perennial best-seller.

    These innocent Middle-Eastern refugees eagerly look forward to the day when the entire state of Israel is permanently wiped off-the-map, to be followed by an international genocide campaign whose goal will be to make the entire planet Earth Judenrein – free of Jews.

    These innocent Middle-Eastern refugees have already caused thousands of Jews to flee from France and other European nations.

    Last but not least, HIAS should be defunded and disbanded and dissolved, because they are pursuing policies that will cause another Holocaust.

    Please help Shurat HaDin SUE the terrorists in court:

    Shurat HaDin’s victory for Israel on FaceBook:

    Thank you!

    PS: Please check out these pro-Israel web sites: * * * *

    • Ms. Cohen

      Mr. Cohen, I’m curious: how many refugees from Muslim countries did you speak with in order to come to the conclusion that “Most refugees from Muslim countries have greater hatred against Jews than did the average German during World War II.”

      What an absurd comment.

  • Robert

    HIAS has done great work, but its original mission has effectively been completed. It now merely duplicates what non-Jewish refugee assistance NGOs do, and promotes its continued existence and competes with other NGOs for fundraising entirely for the purpose of self-perpetuation of professional staff jobs like that of the CEO and for indulging board members, donors, and other volunteers in moral narcissism. HIAS should be dissolved with great thanks.