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Welcoming immigrants is the Jewish thing to do

Charles Jacobs’ July 21 guest editorial, “Typical School Day in Syria: Jews are our Enemies,” describes the horrendous anti-Semitism in official Syrian textbooks and calls for the United States to screen Syrian refugees for evidence of anti-Semitic views in advance of their being considered for asylum.

 

There is no doubt that noxious anti-Semitic views are prevalent across much of the Islamic world, in many cases fostered by official government textbooks and media. But it is wrong to assume that Syrian refugees are natural anti-Semites who instinctively adopt the views of a government that has been systematically killing them and destroying their communities for years.

The Jewish refugee agency HIAS, of which I am a former board member, has resettled more than 500 Syrians since 2014 and found little, if any, evidence of anti-Semitism in spite of the many years of hateful propaganda under the Assad regime. And whatever residue of this propaganda may have remained was quickly erased by the gratitude among these refugees for the generous welcome and assistance they have received from the Jewish community. More than 150 American congregations including The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah have joined HIAS’ Welcome Campaign, pledging to support and assist refugees nationally and locally.

As Jews, we were once refugees fleeing dictatorial regimes and looking to start a new life in a new country where our families could live safely and thrive and our children have a future. Today, there are more refugees and displaced people in the world than at any time since World War II. More than 65 million people — over half under the age of 18 — have been forced from their homes. Of these, nearly 5 million are from Syria — and that crisis is only getting worse.

As Americans, welcoming the next generation of immigrants and refugees is not only a moral act, it is also an investment in our future. Just consider the contributions made to our society by Sergei Brin and Steve Jobs, among others. We know that when treated respectfully as the human beings they are, refugees establish roots and contribute significantly to their communities.

Of course, federal authorities must continue to thoroughly screen all refugees in an effort to ensure that anyone with links to extremist groups is denied entry. But a blanket screen of refugees from one specific country to assess their general feelings toward the Jewish people would be impossible to implement and counterproductive. Anti-Semitism is a scourge, but its existence should not stop our community from working together to make the world a better place.

When people truly get to know each other, outside of preconceived notions and stereotypes, we often find we have more in common than we ever might have realized. Organizations including HIAS are working to express the best Jewish values of tikkun olam to help some of the world’s most desperate people — and because it’s the right Jewish thing to do. I encourage Mr. Jacobs to make a contribution at www.hias.org/donate.

Jamie Metzl is a senior fellow of the Atlantic Council and former candidate for U.S. Congress from Missouri’s Fifth Congressional district in Kansas City. His father and grandparents were refugees resettled to Kansas City by HIAS in 1948. www.jamiemetzl.com