A common diatribe swirling around social media and social discourse is directed at Jews who support U.S. President Donald Trump. It goes something like this: “Our own people were turned back during the Holocaust because of closed borders. How can you be so heartless, dispassionate and cruel when you see this happening again? Doesn’t ‘Never again’ mean anything to you?”
But are Jews who support Trump’s executive order really turning their backs on the seminal teaching of Judaism, “You should love your neighbour as yourself?” I say no.
For one, those who support the immigration order are, in fact, not supporting a permanent ban that targets Muslims based on their religion. The test is not religion. The test is one’s connection to terrorism. If it were a bona fide Muslim ban – that is, one that barred Muslims permanently because of their religion – then I would argue that those who support it are indeed being cruel. But it is not.
This fact somehow is lost on so many on the left, because they despise Trump. They think he is a buffoon at best, a racist and a neo-Nazi at worst. Everything he does is seen through that prism and is used as evidence to confirm the left’s hypothesis. But the truth is, Trump’s personal failings of character do not mean he is a racist or that his temporary travel halt is wrong.
My father survived a concentration camp, losing five brothers and sisters, as well as a stepmother, to the gas chambers at Auschwitz. It changed him in ways that only children of survivors can attest to. His experience informed everything he did and embedded itself subconsciously in my experience as a child, one that was filled with trauma and sadness. I have compared the Holocaust to being at the epicentre of a nuclear explosion, with generations afterward feeling the tremors.
So I think I can speak with some authority when I say that the cardinal lesson of the Holocaust is twofold. The first one is surely compassion for others. But there is another lesson of the Holocaust that cannot be ignored, one that lies at the other end of the spectrum – the lesson of being eternally vigilant to the ravages of hate, a hate that is directed, time and again, against the Jewish People.
The mantra of “Never again” is a double-edged sword: we must ensure that others do not suffer from discrimination, inequity or injustice. At the same time, we must be cognizant of the hatred that others may harbour toward us. To brush the latter aside in one’s pursuit of justice is simply irresponsible and foolish. After all, Hitler tapped into a latent hatred that lurked in the hearts of millions across Europe who ended up acting either as his collaborators or silent accomplices.
Yes, Syrians and other refugees are suffering greatly. They deserve our compassion. But we must also understand that the region from which they come is steeped in hatred for Jews and the West. In fact, former U.S. president Barack Obama listed the seven countries that were ultimately adopted in Trump’s ban because his administration determined them to be “failed states,” ones that either export terrorism and/or have governments that have imploded in chaos and corruption.
We must balance our God-given mission of compassion with the need to learn from the lessons of history and current events. A balanced approach is in order. Exercising chesed (compassion) without the mediating influence of gvurah (strength) is not what the Torah teaches. And, I believe, in spite of the disorganized and in some cases appalling way that Trump’s order was executed, it essentially represents this balanced approach that is the true lesson of “Never again.”
Miriam Perl is a writer and editor. She lives in Toronto, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org