January 27th was International Holocaust Remembrance Day (not to be confused with Yom HaShoah, which is explained later), the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Jews tend to commemorate Yom HaShoah as their day and memorialize the Holocaust as a strictly Jewish tragedy. Yom HaShoah is one of two separate days also called Yom HaZikaron (‘Day of Remembrance’) in Israel and it falls in late April on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Israel’s Yom HaShoah is yet another way that Zionism reinforces the message that the world’s hatred and extermination of Jews gave birth to the State of Israel. And it is another example of the denigration of the Jewish Diaspora and the isolation of Israel from fellow Jews and the world itself.
Especially for the Israel Lobby, it is a day that supremely ratifies the claim of Zionism that Jews will never be safe unless they are in their own sovereign State. Alternatively, the “freethinkers” among us Jews see the Shoah not just as a tragedy which befell Communists, gays, the disabled, and Roma; we see it as an epochal event meant to teach us lessons about moral depravity and human (not just Jewish) suffering today.
Any American with half a heart has been stung by the staccato machine-gun fire of executive orders dripping from the signing pen of Donald Trump. Over the past 12 hours, in particular national outrage has arisen from the attempted expulsion of scores of refugees from Middle East countries holding valid U.S. visas, who were turned away on arrival at U.S. airports. There are at least three such individuals here at Seattle’s airport and others in New York and many other places. 10,000 people reportedly demonstrated here.
The ACLU filed a stay against the deportation of two Iranian translators who’d worked for U.S. forces in Iraq. These two people could’ve been returned to Iran, where they likely would’ve been arrested as American spies. A federal judge ordered a stay of their deportation and the executive order which facilitated it. Just like the first shots fired at Fort Sumter began the Civil War, I hope that this filing serves as the opening salvo of resistance against the tyranny of Donald Trump.
Yet another Trump outrage is the official White House proclamation marking Yom HaShoah. It was elegantly phrased and seemingly heartfelt. But there was only one problem: it never mentioned the words “Jew” or “six-million.” In fact, it never mentioned any particular group which suffered. Do I hear you say, “tone-deaf?”
Now, returning to Jews and refugees: I’ve written often here about Jewish historical suffering. About our plight as refugees going all the way back to ancient Egypt, when Jacob’s sons fled famine in ancient Israel by migrating to Egypt. I’ve quoted the famous Biblical verse commanding Jews to “honor the stranger for you too were strangers in the land of Egypt.” I’ve remembered the tragedy of the S.S. St. Louis.
I’ve also written about Holocaust survivors who learned universalist, rather than particularist (Judeo-centric) lessons from the evils of the Holocaust. Unlike, Elie Wiesel, who became a Palestine denier and settler adherent towards the end of his life, survivors like Chavka Folman-Raban, Hedy Epstein, and many others devoted their later lives to the cause of universal human rights, and those of Palestinians in particular.
I’ve excoriated the Israeli government for dishonoring this ancient Jewish tradition and international humanitarian law by refusing asylum to the 65,000 African refugees in its midst.
In fact, Bibi Netanyahu tweeted earlier today congratulations to Trump on this matter:
President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea 🇮🇱🇺🇸
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) January 28, 2017
The Israeli leader lies like Trump, but not with as much aplomb. As U.S. ambassador Dan Shapiro pointed out in his counter-tweet, Bibi built a fence and not a wall. And he built a far shorter (150 mile) fence than the $15-billion one Trump promises as his present to his people. The U.S.-Mexico border is 1,900 miles long. There is already a barrier along nearly 600 miles of it. That leaves only 1,300 more to go. Nor has Bibi’s Folly “stopped all immigration,” though it has substantially curtailed it.
What’s especially sad about Bibi’s tweet is that only a tiny minority of Israelis support these African refugees. The prevailing sentiment is represented by current Israeli culture minister, Miri Regev, who called them a cancer and then apologized for insulting…cancer victims. You would never see Israelis massing at Ben Gurion airport to protest the arrest or expulsion of African refugees. Though you will see African refugees themselves (and a few Israeli Jews in solidarity) protesting against their mistreatment.
The Israeli contractor who built much of that Israel fence has gallantly offered to put its expertise to good use in building the wall with Mexico. Not doubt the prospect of some of that $15-billion coming their way was a powerful motivator.
The Mexican government and Jewish communal representatives reacted with outrage to Bibi’s tweet. One Jewish leader posted pictures of concentration camp fences and suggested them as models for Israel’s walls.
Here are some moving tweets Jewish journalists have published today which offer food for thought:
All four of my grandparents left the countries of their birth as refugees. Three of them are from countries now part of the ban.
— Sheera Frenkel (@sheeraf) January 28, 2017
1944. My father, 5 years old Jewish kid, escapes from Italy & allowed in Switzerland as a refugee. Today I’m ashamed. We must stay human
— Uri Blau (@uri_blau) January 28, 2017
My own maternal great-uncle, who I never met, emigrated from Europe as a refugee here before World War II. Apparently, he didn’t thrive here and told my grandmother, his sister, as he departed: T’iz a genayvishe land (“it’s a thieving country”). I suppose he was right. But the result of his decision to abandon America was that he perished in the Holocaust. The only reason he was permitted entry to the U.S. in the first place was that he arrived before the 1924 Congressional act which sealed U.S. borders.
After 1924, America turned nativist, or Trumpian if you prefer. The borders closed. Refugees were turned away. Take Anne Frank’s father, Otto. He wrote countless letters to U.S. officials begging for a visa to save his family. Despite having powerful friends and relatives here willing to sponsor him, all his efforts were in vain. We all know the tragic result of America’s hardened heart, just like that of the Egyptian Pharaoh.
Donald Trump’s new anti-refugee policies not only offend Jewish history and tradition, they contradict the American spirit. We are a nation of immigrants and refugees. Emma Lazarus saw Lady Liberty lifting her lamp by the golden door to “your tired, your poor, your wretched refuse yearning to breathe free.” That is what America is.
I should note that Trump’s executive order banning refugees and immigrants from Muslim countries conveniently omits countries in which he has significant business and real estate interests. Do I hear “emoluments clause” anyone? Leaders of those countries presumably would not look favorably upon their citizens being unceremoniously dumped from America when they tried to visit. They would have reason to lobby heavily to be exempted from these measures. Apparently, there’s a willing ear listening.
By the way, terrorists from some of these states actually committed acts of terror here. Experts are even skeptical that such a ban will have any impact in stopping terrorism on our soil.