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Fact checking the fact checker: Refugees are not welcome by Muslim countries

In his Feb. 9 letter, Lee Levin articulately challenged the premises of the many articles in the Chronicle decrying the executive order delaying (not stopping, just delaying) refugee immigration from several Muslim countries. Levin raised some simple, direct questions for the community and asked for answers, not pejoratives.

In the Feb.23 issue, my friend Dr. Ace Allen writes a one-page article, “fact checking” Levin’s letter. To his credit, Allen avoids pejoratives. However, the facts are selective, more revealing of the truth in the information that they omit. Some of the facts are incorrectly quoted. Finally, Allen does not really answer Levin’s illuminating questions.

First, let’s discuss the facts.

Levin questioned why Muslim countries do not welcome their own. Allen answers that “many” Muslim nations welcome refugees “to the point of saturation” citing numbers of refugees taken in by Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt. But are they “welcome,” as he contends?  A survey by the German Marshall Fund reveals that 73 percent of Turks say the refugees should be asked to go home. And 83 percent say they don’t integrate well. If Turkey is accepting the 2.9 million refugees that Allen claims, then it is 4 percent of their population. Is this amount a “point of saturation?” In comparison, Israel took in 1 million Jewish refugees who were expelled from Muslim countries or emigrated from Russia, or 20 percent of their Jewish population. By the way, Turkey is now completing a concrete wall to seal the Syrian border. In Lebanon, a failed state, the refugees just poured over the border. To a great extent, the same is true of Jordan, now using physical force to bar refugees, claiming a security risk. 

Allen admits that the wealthiest countries in the Middle East do not admit refugees. Why? These countries say they will not admit them because they are a security risk! And we are supposed to bring them here when Obama’s heads of Homeland Security, the FBI and the CIA said that they are unvettable?

Because the refugees are not sufficiently welcome in Muslim countries, they have flooded into Europe. There is not sufficient space in this article to elaborate how European countries are now coping with the huge consequence of social, economic and security problems and want the refugees to leave.

Allen claims that the refugees must repay the U.S. government for flight expenses. This is a good example of misleading facts. A much greater cost than flight expenses is the refugees’ eligibility for cash payments, food stamps, welfare and medical aid, available from 15 different federal welfare programs, all paid by U.S. taxpayers. On average, each Middle Eastern refugee resettled in the United States costs an estimated $64,370 in the first five years. http://cis.org/High-Cost-of-Resettling-Middle-Eastern-Refugees

Allen claims that 44 percent of the 13,00 Syrian refugees are Christian. Actually, the figure is only 0.5 percent (http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/patrick-goodenough/syrian-refugee-tally-fy-2016-12486-muslims-68-christians-24-yazidis). He was probably confusing this figure with the overall percent of refugees to the U.S. from all countries. Allen also claims that Levin’s “nada, bupkus” comment to be incorrect because some Muslim countries do admit refugees. Actually, Levin used these terms in reference to the Bosnian refugees, and he is correct about that. (http://www.nytimes.com/1992/07/24/world/yugoslav-refugee-crisis-europe-s-worst-since-40-s.html)

Now, let’s look at the bigger picture. There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. The top 10 Muslim countries, which Allen does not mention taking in Muslim refugees have a combined Muslim population of 1.26 billion. Thus, Allen’s facts about the few Muslim countries taking refugees in do not answer Levin’s point about the huge untapped capacity of countries, representing the great majority of Muslims, to take refugees.

Levin’s other main question was why the Jews should be ones to provide the help. There are about 14 million Jews in the world, meaning that we are outnumbered by Muslims by about 144 to 1. We face burdens like Israel surrounded by hostile Muslim neighbors, an Iran headed toward nuclear missiles, and growing worldwide anti-Semitism. We absolutely need to help ourselves first.

Allen corrects Levin’s terminology of “stealing” dollars from needy Jews, because the money is philanthropy and is willingly given. But again, he misses the larger truth. Any rational adult knows that there is not enough money for all of our needs and that we need to prioritize. Each dollar spent toward the many Muslim victims of Muslims is, indeed, a dollar that could be instead given to Jewish victims of Muslims, and is therefore lost to the latter. The Talmud tells us that we should take care of our own first (for example Rabbi Akiva Eiger, Y.D. 251:3), confirming our common sense. 

We have many examples of worthy Jewish causes. One that you may not be familiar with is Friends of Disabled Israeli Veterans (fidv.org). They provide rehabilitation services and support families of IDF members who have had arms, legs, and sometimes their insides blown apart in defending the Jewish state for the rest of us. This is a wonderful cause, which truly needs our money. I am sure that the veterans’ families would be thrilled to learn how the Jews of Kansas City are spending their time and money instead in advocating for Syrian Muslims.

Despite Allen’s attempts, there are still no good answers to Levin’s questions about these misplaced priorities. In any case, it is time to stop the insanity!

Jeff Horen is a member of AIPAC and the Unity Coalition for Israel and volunteers in a variety of Jewish and pro-Israel organizations.