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February 13, 2017 6:02 am

Why Is This ‘Jewish’ Humanitarian Group Challenging Trump’s Immigration Ban?

avatar by Abraham H. Miller /

IsraAid helped refugees to reach the shore after their boat capsized off the Greek coast on September 13. Photo: IsraAID.

IsraAid helped refugees to reach the shore after their boat capsized off the Greek coast on September 13. Photo: IsraAID. – Imagine you are an impoverished religious Jew living in Paris. You can no longer wear religious garb out of fear of being attacked by North African immigrants. Your children are bullied in school, and their teachers ignore your complaints.

Even though French political figures make speeches condemning antisemitism and the police are routinely sent to protect Jewish institutions, antisemitism grows, partly due to Muslim immigrants who carry antisemitism with them as part of their cultural and religious socialization.

In 2014, a survey of 1,580 French respondents found that Muslims, who comprised one-third of the interviewees, were two to three times more likely to be anti-Jewish than French people in general.

You would like to leave France, but you don’t want to go to Israel, which is under a state of siege, and where the language is difficult to learn.

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Who will help you?

In your grandmother’s day, there was the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society — the agency that, with the help of private contributions, came to the aid of European Jews.

But the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society of your grandmother’s day no longer exists. It has dropped the “Hebrew” and has become simply “HIAS,” because its clients are no longer Jewish (although the last fundraising letter I received flaunted painful scenes of Jews trying to escape Europe on the eve of World War II).

The Jewish roots of HIAS go back to rescuing Jews from the Russian pogroms of the 19th century. But, in my opinion, the group feared that the word “Hebrew” might “offend” some of the Muslim refugees from the Middle East that HIAS is now helping resettle in America.

No longer headquartered in New York, HIAS has moved to the Washington beltway to be near its new source of funding — the federal government.

HIAS is the only “Jewish” organization approved by the federal government to resettle refugees, but it is a small player compared to the other religious and secular organizations in the business of refugee resettlement.

Still, in 2014, HIAS CEO Mark Hetfield commanded a salary of more than $318,000, plus $22,000 in benefits. In the eight years of the Obama administration, HIAS received funds exceeding $157 million, most of which came from the federal government. A small percentage of this funding is used to lobby the public at the grassroots level and to lobby legislators. Consequently, members of the American public pay for HIAS to convince them, and their elected representatives, to continue to sustain HIAS refugee programs with federal tax dollars.

There are 65 million displaced people in the world, so this is not a business that is going away. And after 120 days, when refugees can’t find employment, the resettlement organizations take them to the local welfare office. According to some estimates, the majority of Middle Eastern refugees are on some form of assistance, with 90 percent getting food stamps, 73% getting medical assistance and some 63% receiving outright cash welfare. According to one estimate, some Middle Eastern refugees cost the American taxpayer more than $64,000 per person.

Now HIAS, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, is suing the Trump administration over its travel ban. From his lofty perch, Hetfield is lecturing the American public on how refugee resettlement is the fulfillment of American values. This hectoring earned Hetfield a place on Tucker Carlson’s TV show, where he was asked to explain what values are being celebrated by bringing in refugees. He could not remotely articulate what those values are.

In my value system, there are Jews throughout Europe who are living lives all too reminiscent of the pogroms that gave birth to HIAS. Yet HIAS does nothing for them. Half the Jews of Malmo, Sweden — a favorite destination of Muslim immigrants — have found life there intolerable, and have left. HIAS was not there to help.

European Jews will not qualify for refugee status as it is currently defined. The American government will not provide grants to assist them. But they are condemned to lives filled with ongoing terror. The difference between the pogroms of Russia and the violence against Jews in Paris is that in France, the government still attempts to protect Jews.

But as the percentage of Muslims increases in France and throughout Europe, the pogroms launched by them — like the locking of Jews in a synagogue — will get worse.

When that is done, I will be most pleased to be lectured not only about American values, but also Jewish values. My grandmother and mother, who fled the pogroms of Russia, would have been proud of such a version of HIAS.

Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and a distinguished fellow with the Haym Salomon Center. Follow him on Twitter @salomoncenter.

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