Jewish Federation releases statement on executive order concerning refugees

On Thursday, Jewish Federation of St. Louis released a statement on President Donald Trump’s recent executive order suspending entry of all refugees to the United States for the next four months, and barring Syrian refugees from entering the U.S. for an indefinite period.

Jewish Federation of St. Louis Statement on the Executive Order Concerning Refugees

In 1901, the Jewish Federation of St. Louis was founded to help Jewish refugees fleeing religious persecution in Eastern Europe.  Since that time we have helped our people and many others find refuge in the United States, Israel and around the world through support of local, national and international agencies including the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.  

Our work on behalf of refugee policies is informed by our own experience during the Holocaust when many Jews and others sought refuge from the horrors of Nazi Germany only to find the doors of multiple countries, including our own, closed to them.  At least some of this refusal must be attributed to anti-Semitism—the stereotyping and vilifying of Jews based on their religion or perceived race, in a manner all too similar to present day efforts to stereotype and demonize Muslims.

As we do on all policy issues, the Federation has worked in a non-partisan manner with every Democratic and Republican administration, both in Missouri and nationally, to ensure fair and reasonable policies, consistent with Jewish and American values. It was through these efforts we successfully advocated for the Jackson-Vanik Amendment and later the Lautenberg Amendment both of which facilitated the rescue and then resettlement of Jews and other religious minorities.   

The commitment to supporting persecuted refugees is not just central to Federation’s mission; it is a core value of the Jewish People.  

Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, has noted our tradition’s “almost endlessly iterated concern for the stranger…together with the historical reminder that ‘you yourselves were slaves in Egypt’.” 

Sacks goes on:

“Why should you not hate the stranger?—the Torah asks.  Because you once stood where he stands now. You know the heart of the stranger because you were once a stranger in the land of Egypt. If you are human, so is he. If he is less than human, so are you… I made you into the world’s archetypal strangers so that you would fight for the rights of strangers – for your own and those of others, wherever they are, whoever they are, whatever the color of their skin or the nature of their culture, because though they are not in your image – says God – they are nonetheless in Mine. There is only one reply strong enough to answer the question: Why should I not hate the stranger? Because the stranger is me.” 

While these are our shared values as Jews, we recognize that reasonable people can disagree about how they should be interpreted.  No one should expect refugees to be admitted should they pose an existential threat to a nation.  Further, we respect the democratic process, and we support a regular review of public policy especially when it involves our security.  

Whatever policy is adopted must be based on an objective assessment of risk and implemented in a manner that is careful, reviewed, coordinated and planned. This is the path to sustaining the noble ideal that our nation should be a safe harbor for those fleeing persecution.    Failing to do so establishes a policy based on fear rather than fact, and places at risk the very refugees who are the most vulnerable within their home countries.

As Jews, we came to this country fleeing danger and oppression. Upon our arrival we were often unwelcomed and faced significant discrimination. We came to pursue our hopes, to practice our faith freely, and to realize the promise of America. We must not close our doors on the basis of fear and in a manner that is not carefully planned and implemented to those around the world who would seek these same opportunities today.

The Jewish Federation of St. Louis will continue to work closely with our elected officials and our community to find policies that make our nation stronger and support its living up to its own highest ideals.