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Letter writer’s facts don’t match opinion

Ace Allen, M.D. Guest Columnist

I did some fact checking in regards to Lee Levin’s Feb. 9 letter (Muslim countries should welcome their own refugees) in support of banning Muslim refugees from entry to the U.S. The following is what my research found.

 

In response to “What are they doing here (coming to the U.S. rather than to Turkey, Jordan, etc.) … why don’t these Muslim countries welcome their own?” The following countries are taking in Syrian refugees: Turkey: 2.7 million; Lebanon: 1 million; Jordan: 655,000 (this is one-tenth of their total population); Egypt: 115,000. Parenthetically, Turkish is no more related to Arabic than English is, so there is no shared language for the refugees.

The wealthiest Muslim states — notably those excluded from Trump’s attempted immigration ban — have indeed not taken in Syrian refugees. These include Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, and Bahrain. 

The U.S. has taken in about 13,000 Syrian refugees. About 44 percent of them have been Christian.

Israel is taking in 100 Syrian orphans, and will consider taking in remaining relatives of those children in the future.

Thus, Levin’s argument is based on false premises. Many Muslim countries welcome refugees, some to the point of saturation. The opposite of “Nada. Bubbkas. Squat.” And yes, some don’t. As Elie Wiesel repeatedly cautioned: collective judgements are wrong. About people, and about nations. Also, almost half the Syrian refugees arriving in the U.S. have not been Muslim at all, but rather Christian. Finally, Israel itself is taking in refugees. 

References: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/02/syrias-refugee-crisis-in-numbers/ and http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/01/30/key-facts-about-refugees-to-the-u-s/

As for  “Why do they come 6,000 miles at our expense…?” I can report refugees are required to repay the U.S. government for their flight expenses getting here. Moreover, several studies have found that these immigrants, driven to assimilate and produce by their hardships, work ethic and gratitude, are a net benefit to our economy. Finally, some of these resettlement dollars come from nonprofit sources, including HIAS and JVS (as you yourself noted; see below), rather than from public funds.

Reference: http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015/11/20/8-facts-about-the-us-program-to-resettle-syrian-refugees

Mr. Levin commented, “There is absolutely no parallel … to the plight of Jewish refugees from Germany in the 1930s, and America’s refusal to let them in. …” He builds his argument on a hypothetical about Germany being surrounded by Jewish-majority countries in the 1930s who wouldn’t admit Jews as refugees. As noted above, Syria is indeed surrounded by Muslim-majority nations, which together have absorbed almost 4 million refugees. Thus, his hypothetical argument is based on a false premise. The fact stands that the U.S. refusal to grant asylum to Jews in the run-up to World War II was a very dark stain on our country. Let there be no doubt that this refusal was largely based on nativist, anti-Semitic sentiment. I urge readers to familiarize themselves with the National Origins (Johnson-Reed) Act of 1924, an exercise in American eugenics and the culmination of years of progressive throttling down of immigration from non-English/Nordic countries. The act essentially shut down immigration from Eastern Europe (as well as Italy, China and Japan). The act was clothed in language about “preserving the ideal of American homogeneity.” Jewish refugees wouldn’t be welcomed again to America until after World War II. 

My own grandfather’s family was trapped in Lithuania after World War I. His brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews were murdered there because they had nowhere to go. The doors of refuge had slammed shut.

I believe there is indeed a parallel between the plight of today’s Syrian refugees and the plight of Jewish refugees in the WWII era. References: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immigration_Act_of_1924

Daniels, Roger. Not Like Us. Immigrants and Minorities in America, 1890-1924. American Ways Series, 1997

He also states, “Why does Jewish Vocational Services spend money on them [Muslim refugees]?…every single Jewish dollar expended on them is a dollar stolen from needy Jews here...”

I look forward to JVS’ response. To characterize philanthropic dollars directed to helping resettle refugees, whatever their religion, as “stolen from needy Jews” is a profoundly wrong misunderstanding of philanthropy. Philanthropy is a willing transfer of private assets for public good. Stealing is theft. Furthermore, the “stealing” argument assumes a fixed pie, as though money spent on Syrian resettlement would have been directed dollar-for-dollar to needy Jews. There’s no reason to think that this would be the case. Helping one party doesn’t require spurning the other.

Finally, I also dispute the statement, “If these refugees were Jewish, is there one single person who truly believes that the local Muslim community would lift a finger to help them?”

Levin makes the argument that Jewish money shouldn’t go to help Muslim refugees. Why would he then expect American Muslim money to go to Jewish refugees? He is arguing against himself. Furthermore, as Jews doing our best to live Jewish values, we must be mindful of what other people do, but we are obligated to do what the Torah teaches: To care for the widow, the orphan, the needy, the stranger. Finally, there is at least one single person who truly believes that local Muslims would lift a finger: me. I have too many Muslim friends and colleagues to believe otherwise.

Ace Allen, M.D. lives in Overland Park and serves in leadership positions of several Jewish organizations.