Shared values must unite Jews to support refugee rights and fight anti-migrant policies on both sides of the ocean, and not only in the US
Over the past few days it has been truly heartwarming to see so many American Jewish organizations and leaders stand up for refugees, in the name of Jewish values and Jewish history, in opposition to Trump’s new anti-refugee and anti-migrant Executive Orders. Some particularly powerful statements have been made by ADL, AJWS, HIAS, JCPA, NCJW, RAC – to name just a few – in addition to dozens of inspiring articles and op-eds published by rabbis and other leaders throughout American and international Jewish media. To them it is unequivocally clear – as Jews we must stand with refugees, because we were once refugees.
At the same time, there is at least one Jewish “leader” who has taken a notably different approach to Trump’s latest anti-migrant actions. Benjamin Netanyahu posted Saturday night (no more than 3 minutes after the end of Shabbat) on his twitter account: “President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea.” Indeed, Trump himself cited Israel’s border fence as inspiration for his planned wall on the Mexican border. No wonder Bibi is kvelling.
For those of us in Israel who have been working tirelessly for refugee rights on this side of the ocean, Bibi’s response comes as no surprise. American Jews are up in arms – and rightly so – about Trump’s new policies to seal America’s borders, freeze America’s refugee resettlement program, and bar entry from several Muslim countries. However, Trump’s latest policies only pale in comparison to the anti-refugee policies and rhetoric that Bibi has been enacting in the Jewish State for years. And perhaps the saddest thing about it is that Bibi’s anti-refugee policies have been enacted – in Bibi’s own words – to protect the “Jewish” character of the state.
Over three years ago, Bibi sealed Israel’s southern border to prevent African migrants and asylum seekers from entering, to protect the “Jewish” character of the state. But far beyond that, Bibi has also imprisoned over 10,000 Eritrean and Sudanese (from Darfur and elsewhere) asylum seekers without trial, and has coerced over 10,000 to asylum seekers to leave, in order to protect the “Jewish” character of the state. Bibi has consistently refused to recognize to recognize non-Jewish asylum seekers as refugees, insisting on referring to them as “illegal infiltrators”, denying them refugee status, and keeping them in legal limbo, and inciting hatred and fear against them, calling them a threat of course to the “Jewish” character of the state. Just this past Thursday, while many of my American Jewish friends took part in pro-refugee protests in the US, I stood in front of the Knesset, shoulder to shoulder with roughly 1,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers to protest Bibi’s latest proposed policy: to force all African “infiltrators” to choose between deportation and indefinite detention. And while all this is being done in the name of the “Jewish” character of the Jewish State, the Jewish People, with few exceptions, has remained silent.
For years Bibi has been beating the Israeli public over the head with his twisted “Jewish State” rhetoric to justify policies which are anything but Jewish – policies that oppress and incite against those who are “strangers”; for Bibi’s “Jewish State” is devoid of any Jewish values, but is merely a state “for Jews only”, wherein anyone who isn’t Jewish is to be feared and kept out. Bibi’s so-called “Jewish State” vision, therefore, stands in direct contradiction to everything I (and most of my American Jewish peers) know about Judaism, which teaches that we must love the stranger, for we were once strangers.
It is with mixed feelings, therefore, that I read the growing wave of American Jewish statements in support of refugees in opposition to Trump’s policies. On one hand, it makes me exceedingly proud to see the American Jewish community putting its values where its mouth is, taking a clear, unequivocal stance in support of refugees, in the name of Judaism, Jewish values, and Jewish history. And I very much hope that this support will continue, and words will be followed by unequivocal actions. On the other hand, it pains me to see the American Jewish community continue to ignore and turn a blind eye to Bibi’s anti-refugee policies, which are being enacted sadly and twistedly in the name of the “Jewish State”. Where will the American Jewish community be if Israel’s Supreme Court upholds Bibi’s new policy and Israel begins to deport tens of thousands of asylum seekers in the coming months? Will they continue to be silent, or will they sound an unequivocal Jewish voice in support of refugees, and pull the rug out from under Bibi’s void “Jewish State” rhetoric?
Today I am hopeful. I am hopeful that American Jews are waking up. I am hopeful that American Jews will see that just as Trump does not speak for them and does not represent them, so too Bibi does not speak for them and does not represent them or the Judaism and Jewish values they hold dear. That they will see that because of – and not despite – our love of America and what it stands for, we must oppose Trump’s abhorrent un-American policies being enacted in our name. And that because of our love for Israel and what Israel should stand for, we must oppose Bibi’s abhorrent un-Jewish policies being enacted in our name.
In this global world in which we live, Jews and people of all faiths must come together to support refugee rights and human rights everywhere. Bibi and Trump and those like them want us to be divided, to stick to our national bubbles and categories, and ignore the human suffering beyond our borders. But Judaism teaches us otherwise – that we are responsible for one another, that we must love not only our neighbor but also the stranger, and that all human beings are created in the image of God. Only if we are united, strengthened by our shared values and our common belief in the sanctity of all human life, and if we work together beyond borders, and sound an unequivocal voice for refugee rights and human rights everywhere – only then will we overcome.
Join me tomorrow (Sunday Jan 29) at 17:00 at the American Embassy in Tel Aviv for a protest in support of refugee rights in the USA, Israel, and everywhere in the world: www.facebook.com/events/1267969969962798