Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and the Refugee Crises

We Jews are naturally very sympathetic to the plight of refugees. After all, most of us are descendant from generations of refugees who fled persecution in the Christian and Muslim worlds over the centuries. My mother’s family came to the USA between 1870 – 1900 fleeing anti-Semitic persecution in Czarist Russia and my father came to the USA from Vienna in 1939 fleeing Hitler and the Nazis. The memory of how the world slammed its doors shut in the face of desperate Jews fleeing from the Germans before and during WWII is still fresh and bitter for many of us.

So it is natural that Jewish communities around the world have come out fairly strongly in support of accepting Muslim and Arab refugees and in opposition to those who would slam the doors shut. Given our history and values this is to be expected. The irony is that at the same time, we are likely helping to hasten the decline of the Jewish communities of Western Europe and perhaps that of the American Jewish community as well.

It is no secret that in European countries with large Muslim populations such as Britain, France, Belgium and the Scandinavian countries Jewish communal life has become more precarious over the past two decades. Radical imams and mosques dot the landscape and seem to drown out the voices of more moderate Muslims. Appearing in public with outward signs of Jewishness has become unpleasant and often dangerous throughout Western Europe. (I wouldn’t suggest walking with a Kipah or a Chai necklace in certain Muslim communities in Detroit or Brooklyn either for that matter).

The influx of millions more Muslims into Europe, coming as refugees from societies where anti-Semitic stereotyping and scapegoating are part of mainstream education and culture is likely to make what is already a difficult situation for Western European Jewish communities that much worse. Looking at the European experience we have to ask ourselves what impact the growth of the Muslim population in the USA will have on the American Jewish community.

Many of my conservative friends assert: “They hate the West. They hate the USA. They are terrorists or supporters of terrorists. Keep them out”. They are ready to paint all Muslims as terrorists or supporters of terror and to discriminate against Muslim Americans as a group.

Many of my liberal friends blandly assert: “They are nice people – they are not terrorists. They are poor, desperate refugees who pose no danger or threat to the USA or Europe. Let them in”. They are generally more concerned about combating Islamophobia than in confronting uncomfortable truths about real security threats from a significant and influential minority within the Muslim community. They mostly turn a blind eye to the rabid anti-Semitism accepted and promoted in much of the Muslim world and being imported to Europe and the USA by waves of Muslim immigrant and refugees.

Both positions are pretty simplistic and based mostly on emotion rather than facts. There are real and complex issues here. Our moral responsibility as human beings and as Jews to help refugees is clear but at the same time we would be naïve fools not to acknowledge the very real dangers. (For a sober and sane consideration of the phenomenon of Jihadism & Radical Islam and its impact on and threat to Muslim society and the rest of the world I suggest that this video by Raheel Raza)

I am particularly disturbed by the growing acceptance of the idea that the plight of today’s Muslim refugees is the same as the plight of the European Jewish refugees of the 1930s and 1940s. Yes of course there are obvious parallels – but there are important differences that should be informing our views and the decisions of our policy makers.

The Jews of Europe were targeted by the German government for total annihilation – the murder of every Jewish man women and child. Thank God, no government today has targeted the Muslims of the world for annihilation as a group.

The Jews of Europe had nowhere to go – there was no Jewish state anywhere in the world. Today however there are over 50 Muslim dominated countries and over 20 Arab countries only a few of which (notably Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey) have accepted a significant number of Arab & Muslim refugees. It seems to me that Europe and the USA should not be the only – or even the prime destination – of Muslim and Arab refugees.

At the same time there are groups that are being targeted for mass murder such as the Yazidis, Kurds and various Middle Eastern Christian groups including the Chaldeans and others – why isn’t there more focus on helping them?

So here’s what I think we should do:
1. Do not close the doors to refugees, Muslim or otherwise – that is simply immoral.
2. Do prioritize – the Yazidis and the Christians who are being targeting for annihilation and have nowhere else to go should be fast tracked for entry to Europe and the USA. Similarly, people who have been targeted for religious or political persecution should be fast tracked.
3. Do not throw the gates open to unrestricted immigration. The threat of violence from Muslim extremists is a clear and present danger. Continue security screening of refugees even though it is clearly not even close to a fool proof system
4. Do not be naïve. The USA and other Western countries should follow the French lead in increasing surveillance of Muslim institutions and leaders, shutting down schools and mosques that preach hate and intolerance
5. Identify, empower and fund Muslim institutions and leaders that teach and promote co-existence. (The Ahmadiyyan Muslim communities that are found throughout the USA are a great example of this – Jewish communities should be reaching out to them)
6. Encourage American and European Muslims leaders to speak and educate more publically in their own communities for coexistence and respect for non-Muslims. This needs to happen more non-Muslims Westerners are to trust and respect their Muslim neighbors
7. Provide massive financial and military support to the Kurds who have a proven track record of tolerating minorities. They are the best local hope for the persecuted minorities of Iraq and Syria. (Of course the Turkish and Iraqi governments will be vehemently opposed to this.

Some have asked what about Israel? Will Israel accept Muslim and Arab refugees from Syria? It’s a strange question. While Israeli hospitals have treated about 2,000 Syrian refugees there has been no large scale movement of Syrian refugees towards the border with Israel. After all, they have been educated to fear and hate us – why would they want to come here? And of course, they are from a country that is still officially at war with and committed to the destruction of Israel. It would be rather insane of Israel to encourage a large influx of enemies.

About the Author
Daniel Ehrlich is the Educational Director at Keshet: Educational Journeys In the USA he was the founding director of the Tehilla Aliyah Movement a Director of Yeshiva University’s Communal Services Division and Executive Director of the Bnei Akiva Religious Zionist Youth Movement After making Aliyah in 1996 with his wife Batya and their three children, he worked for the Chief Rabbinate of Israel as Coordinator of Diaspora Affairs, was the Program Director for the Coalition for Missing Israeli Soldiers, served as Editor of the Rabbi Amiel Publications Project of the Religious Zionists of America and was a regional coordinator for Christian Friends of Israeli Communities. He also served as the high holiday Cantor of the Ashkenazi Jewish community of Curacao (Netherlands Antilles) for nearly 20 years. Mr. Ehrlich earned Masters Degrees from Yeshiva University in Community Social Work and in Jewish History and is a graduate of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism Tour Guides Course. His special areas of expertise include the development of early Christianity, Christian-Jewish relations, Holocaust Education and Contemporary Jewish and Israeli Identity.He has served as “Israel Educator” for a wide variety of Jewish, Interfaith and Christian groups. Mr. Ehrlich is the Director of Keshet’s Jewish Roots Journeys to Europe. He has been a scholar in residence and guest lecturer at churches and synagogues in the United Sates, Canada and Israel.
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