In commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day, President Trump on Friday issued a statement remembering the victims of the Holocaust and promising to “make love and tolerance prevalent throughout the world.”
But while the president may claim to remember the victims, the organized American Jewish community believes he has forgotten the lessons of the past.
Earlier this week, leaked drafts of President Trump’s executive orders revealed plans to temporarily ban immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations and suspend all refugee admissions for 120 days. The order, as signed late Friday, also closed the door to Syrian refugees indefinitely, and more than halved the number of refugees the country will take in 2017. Christian and other refugees of minority religions will now be privileged over Muslims coming from Muslim majority nations.
A number of national Jewish groups and prominent individuals have drawn a direct line between the rejection of Jewish refugees during the reign of Nazi terror in Europe and the new refugee restrictions. For the descendants of the survivors and refugees who were given safe haven on American shores, the parallel is stark.
“This one hits Jews in the gut,” says Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Executive Director of T'ruah, a network of Rabbis that champions human rights.
“It is an insult to release this executive order on International Holocaust Remembrance Day when we realize that millions died because they couldn't find refuge in the United States or anywhere else,” Rabbi Jacobs says, “and many of the reasons that were given for why the US couldn't let Jews in are very similar to reasons that are given for blocking refugees, especially Muslim refugees, now.”
Protesters also gathered in multiple cities on Friday afternoon, with a strong showing from Jewish organizations, including the HIAS, the global Jewish nonprofit that protects refugees, and Bend the Arc in Manhattan. Organizers tweeted under the hashtag #NoBanNoWall. In New York, demonstrators formed a solidarity wall of people around Muslims praying the Friday “jummah” prayer.
David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee, said in a statement that Jews “are all related to those fortunate enough to have been admitted to this country ... and we believe that other deserving individuals merit the same opportunities to be considered for permanent entry.”
The Anti-Defamation League’s Jonathan Greenblatt issued a statement explicitly underscoring that for Jews, “our history and heritage compel us to take a stand.”
“History will look back on this order as a sad moment in American History — the time when the president turned his back on people fleeing for their lives,” Greenblatt’s statement read. “This will effectively shut America’s doors to the most vulnerable people in the world who seek refuge from unspeakable pain and suffering.”
Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS, which has supported refugees since the early 20th century, told the Forward, “We find it particularly ironic that he’s chosen the week of Holocaust Remembrance Day to wall out refugees and immigrants and to put a ban on refugees.”
We, the undersigned Soviet Jewish refugees, write to express our support for the United States’ refugee resettlement program and our opposition to President Trump’s draft Executive Orders that would close America’s doors to vulnerable refugees desperately seeking our protection. The United States must not turn our backs on the human beings who are fleeing violence and persecution, just as we and our families did when we left the former Soviet Union, nor abandon our highest national values and the demands of basic decency.
Prominent Jews and intellectuals also issued statements.
In a Facebook post, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called the executive order “cruel” and a “departure” from America’s “core values.” She spoke of her own family’s history, and America’s promise to refugees.
“We have a proud tradition of sheltering those fleeing violence and persecution, and have always been the world leader in refugee resettlement,” she wrote. “As a refugee myself who fled the communist takeover of Czechoslovakia, I personally benefited from this country’s generosity and its tradition of openness.”
Masha Gessen, a writer and refugee from the former Soviet Union, tweeted, “I came to this country as a refugee,” and tagged several other prominent people who had also come to the US as refugees, including Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt, writer Gary Shteyngart, and others.
“Anne Frank didn’t,” Gessen wrote. “Couldn’t get a visa.”