Refugees, the Holocaust, and the Danger of Illiterate and Partisan Analogies

Jan. 30 2017

Many of those outraged by President Trump’s executive order severely restricting the admission to the U.S. of people from certain Muslim countries have compared it with Franklin Roosevelt’s callous treatment of Jewish refugees from Europe during the 1930s, a comparison encouraged by the fact that Trump’s order was issued on Holocaust Remembrance Day. While calling the president’s move “cruel and bigoted,” Walter Russell Mead and Nicholas M. Gallagher note, and correct, the mix of historical ignorance and political tendentiousness at work in these analogies:

The restrictions that kept out the St. Louis’s passengers, [who were turned away from the United States in 1939 and for the most part later perished in the Holocaust], were written into law in 1924, when the Reed-Johnson Act almost totally cut off immigration to the United States, refugee or otherwise. . . . [Going] far beyond anything we’re seeing (yet) today, [it] cut immigration by over 90 percent, and an almost total ban was imposed on immigrants from central, eastern, and southern Europe that would endure for two generations. Not even the Holocaust could pry the doors open more than a crack; large-scale immigration was not allowed to resume until 1965. . . .

[But the] real problem in the 1930s wasn’t the lack of compassion for Jewish and other refugees; it was the feckless appeasement of Adolf Hitler and the unwillingness to confront him that empowered the Nazi persecution of the Jews and created hundreds of thousands of refugees. So today the true villain of the Syria story—aside from Syria, Russia, and Iran—is the feckless Obama foreign policy that allowed a cyst to metastasize into a cancer, just as Britain, France, and America once allowed Hitler to grow into the master of Europe.

The Obama administration officials and cheerleaders now guilt-tripping the country over its “heartlessness” toward Syrian refugees are giving hypocrisy a bad name. Bad foreign policy is the cause of the heartbreak in Syria today, not bad immigration policy. The world does not need lectures from Susan Rice and Samantha Power on what we should do about Syrian refugees; the best way to deal with refugee flows is to prevent them from happening. The Holocaust was not caused by the Reed-Johnson Act; it was caused by Nazi hatred, enabled by naïve liberal illusions about the “arc of history” that prevented the West from mobilizing against Hitler when he was weak and easily defeated.

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More about: Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Holocaust, Politics & Current Affairs, Refugees, Syrian civil war

The Proper Jewish Response to the Pittsburgh Massacre

Nov. 21 2018

In the Jewish tradition, it is commonplace to add the words zikhronam li-vrakhah (may their memory be for a blessing) after the names of the departed, but when speaking of those who have been murdered because they were Jews, a different phrase is used: Hashem yikom damam—may God avenge their blood. Meir Soloveichik explains:

The saying reflects the fact that when it comes to mass murderers, Jews do not believe that we must love the sinner while hating the sin; in the face of egregious evil, we will not say the words ascribed to Jesus on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We believe that a man who shoots up a synagogue knows well what he does; that a murderer who sheds the blood of helpless elderly men and women knows exactly what he does; that one who brings death to those engaged in celebrating new life knows precisely what he does. To forgive in this context is to absolve; and it is, for Jews, morally unthinkable.

But the mantra for murdered Jews that is Hashem yikom damam bears a deeper message. It is a reminder to us to see the slaughter of eleven Jews in Pennsylvania not only as one terrible, tragic moment in time, but as part of the story of our people, who from the very beginning have had enemies that sought our destruction. There exists an eerie parallel between Amalek, the tribe of desert marauders that assaulted Israel immediately after the Exodus, and the Pittsburgh murderer. The Amalekites are singled out by the Bible from among the enemies of ancient Israel because in their hatred for the chosen people, they attacked the weak, the stragglers, the helpless, those who posed no threat to them in any way.

Similarly, many among the dead in Pittsburgh were elderly or disabled; the murderer smote “all that were enfeebled,” and he “feared not God.” Amalek, for Jewish tradition, embodies evil incarnate in the world; we are commanded to remember Amalek, and the Almighty’s enmity for it, because, as Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik explained, the biblical appellation refers not only to one tribe but also to our enemies throughout the ages who will follow the original Amalek’s example. To say “May God avenge their blood” is to remind all who hear us that there is a war against Amalek from generation to generation—and we believe that, in this war, God is not neutral.

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More about: Amalek, Anti-Semitism, Judaism, Religion & Holidays