Reactions in Jewish circles to the unexpected executive order by U.S. President Donald Trump banning immigrants from Muslim countries have been swift and condemnatory.
In Toronto, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC) said there should be “no blanket ban on entry to the United States based on nationality, religion or ethnicity.”
The FSWC urged that Yazidis and “endangered” Christians who are “targeted disproportionately for discrimination, violence and even death” be excluded from the temporary ban, “along with women and children seeking to be reunified with families already living in the United States.”
The FSWC repeated its hope “that any new permanent rules will keep open the doors of America to legitimate refugees, whatever their nationally, religion or ethnicity.”
In a move that left chaos in its wake and stranded thousands of travellers, Trump suspended entry of all refugees to the United States for 120 days, barred Syrian refugees indefinitely and blocked entry for 90 days for citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
The order, signed Jan. 26, also gives preference in admission to Christians, whom Trump said are persecuted in majority Muslim countries.
The White House later scaled back part of the ban by saying that it would not apply to those with green cards granting them permanent residence in the United States.
‘Protection of human life is at the very core of Jewish tradition… This concept… supersedes virtually all other considerations’
In Ottawa, officials said anyone travelling with a Canadian passport, even if they hold dual citizenship with any of the seven countries, should have no problems.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.”
On Jan. 28, York Centre Liberal MP Michael Levitt tweeted: “Incredibly proud of the many families & community groups in #YorkCentre & across #Toronto who continue to welcome & support Syrian refugees.”
Following Trump’s announcement, thousands of Twitter users shared the names and photographs of Jewish refugees who were killed in the Holocaust after the ship MS St. Louis was turned away by both the United States and Canada in 1939.
My name is Joachim Hirsch. The US turned me away at the border in 1939. I was murdered in Auschwitz pic.twitter.com/pfvJtMpIps
— St. Louis Manifest (@Stl_Manifest) January 27, 2017
At a rally Sunday in Vancouver by Concerned Canadian Clergy for Refugees, Rabbi Dan Moskovitz of Temple Sholom welcomed Trudeau’s stance.
“If America won’t take these people, we must,” said Rabbi Moskovitz, a spokesperson for the rally, which saw clergy from all religions protest Trump’s actions.
“Hopefully the PM hears our call,” he said. “These are refugees [who] are fleeing war-torn countries, these are immigrants holding valid U.S. visas for travel, these are our brothers and sisters. We have prayed that this would never happen again, not in 2017, not in North America.”
Trump’s policy is “an outrage. It hurts people who should not be hurt, who’ve been hurt too much already. It will do nothing to stop terrorism. It will feed anti-Americanism,” said Suzanne Klein, who, with her husband Martin, co-chaired the committee at Toronto’s Darchei Noam Synagogue that sponsored a Syrian refugee family to Canada, a process that began in 2015.
“We are horrified,” added Martin Klein.
They said they know of a synagogue in Providence, R.I. that was in the midst of sponsoring a Syrian refugee family to the United States, something that will now not happen.
Racism’s “new champion”
Every country’s “clear” obligation to ensure the security of its citizens must be informed by “compassion for the most vulnerable, including refugees fleeing persecution, terror and war,” David Cape, chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said in a statement.
“Protection of human life is at the very core of Jewish tradition. Indeed, this concept is considered of such great import that it supersedes virtually all other considerations. The Jewish community in Canada has demonstrated this by welcoming and privately sponsoring many refugee families fleeing the conflict in Syria. In that regard, we note with appreciation Prime Minister Trudeau’s principled statement, which was reinforced by both opposition parties, leaving no doubt about the Canadian consensus on this issue,” Cape said.
In a statement to The CJN, Karen Mock, chair of JSpace Canada, a progessive Zionist group, said all Jewish organizations should protest Trump’s immigration ban.
“There is an inherent immorality of rejecting refugees on an arbitrary basis, while poisoning the discourse, and using hateful rhetoric and propaganda to justify [Trump’s] executive orders,” Mock said. “Trump has shown us yet again that fearmongering, stereotyping and scapegoating minorities works to grab power, as we have seen historically throughout the ages.”
It was “an awful irony,” Mock noted, that Trump signed his order on Jan. 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“JSpaceCanada joins with all progressive Jewish organizations – indeed all like-minded people who believe in human rights and humanitarian causes – to uphold our Canadian and Jewish values of welcoming the stranger, and standing up for what is right,” Mock said.
A weary-sounding Shahid Akhtar, co-chair of the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims, said he “agrees with anyone who wants to express their disgust with what Trump is doing.” He would like to see a movement to press political leaders to remove the president’s name from any building he owns or has an interest in in Canada.
The group issued a statement following Trump’s election, noting that “racism has found a new champion.”
Condemnations across denominations
All denominations of Judaism issued statements condemning Trump’s executive order.
The Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America, the umbrella group for Orthodox rabbis, reaffirmed the principles of a joint statement they issued in December 2015.
“We call on all Americans to reaffirm that discrimination against any group based solely upon religion is wrong and anathema to the great traditions of religious and personal freedoms upon which this country was founded.”
The organizations called on the U.S. government “to recognize the threats posed by radical Islamists, while preserving and protecting the rights of all people who seek peace, no matter how they worship God.”
The Conservative/Masorti movement, which includes the Rabbinical Assembly, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, and the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, “completely rejects the targeting of individuals based on their religion. As Jews, it is an affront to our fundamental values,” it said in a statement.
“Deeply rooted in our tradition, faith, and values, we are a people of immigrants,” the New York-based movement added. “Throughout our history we often were the stranger in a strange land and were persecuted and attacked simply for being the other. As Jews, it is not only our religious values that speak to welcoming those who seek shelter and safety, but it is also a pillar of free, democratic nations.”
Leaders of the Union for Reform Judaism, the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism called on Trump “to rescind this abhorrent executive order. Every member of Congress must denounce its provisions, including the imposition of a religious test for entry, and urge its immediate repeal.”
The Reconstructionist movement said it is “dismayed” by the new policy. “The entire American Jewish community, indeed a majority of the American community, is made up of descendants of refugees and immigrants,” it stated.