The JCRC of Greater Washington: Statement on the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Dec 04, 2015, 09:01 ET from Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington

WASHINGTON, Dec. 3, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Syrian civil war has resulted in the deaths of more than 200,000 civilians, over half the population being displaced and 12.8 million people requiring humanitarian assistance. As a result, President Barack Obama has directed his Administration to allow for the resettlement of 10,000 Syrian refugees this year. We support the Administration's effort to permit entry of these refugees in keeping with our nation's centuries long-established tradition of opening its shores to the oppressed seeking refuge. This plan is also in concert with Jewish values and history. As the Torah teaches, "You shall not wrong or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."  Our history as Jews, and of repeatedly fleeing persecution, makes us sensitive to and compassionate for those who suffered similar fates and experiences and we believe that refugees should be treated with compassion and dignity.

Our compassion, unfortunately, must also be tempered by the sober reality of today's dangerous world. The overwhelming majority of Syrian refugees seeking entry to the United States are innocent bystanders whose lives have been uprooted by the civil war and we must find a way to protect them. Living in a post 9/11 era, however, means that we must continue applying the  stringent background checks now being performed on every Syrian refugee that seeks entry to the United States as a way to guard against terrorists who may seek to exploit the refugee crisis to obtain admission to the United States. 

But the need to exercise vigilance and prudence cannot be an excuse to deny all Syrian refugees sanction. Some leaders have called for denying Syrian refugees entry to their states. Others have suggested preferences for Syrian Christians, as if it were possible to distinguish Syrian Christians, but not Syrian Muslims, from terrorists. These policies are not legally defensible. But more importantly, they can play to our baser instincts.  Times of upheaval and stress can often bring out the worst in human nature.  Intended or not, these policies can fan the flames of religious hatred and we should reject them. Legislation calling for every Syrian refugee to be "certified" by the heads of the CIA, FBI and Homeland Security as a requisite for entry was recently passed in the House of Representatives.  We urge the Senate to reject it. Touted as a way to improve our security, its effect will be to take a process that already permits only a trickle of Syrian refugees to enter the country and essentially close the spigot altogether.  For Jews, in particular, this legislation has an eerily familiar pedigree. During World War II, State Department officials ratcheted up the requirements for Jewish refugees to qualify for entry into the U.S.  Hiding among the refugees (including implicitly orphans and the elderly) they warned, might be German saboteurs who could blow up military installations. As a result of the efforts of the infamous State Department anti-Semite, Breckenridge Long, rather than increasing the number of Jewish refugees entering the U.S. during the height of the Holocaust, the U.S. permitted only a fraction of the allowable quota of refugees to enter the country between 1942 and 1945. We cannot permit claims of national security again to be used to block the entry of persecuted refugees. The legislation's effect, even if not its intention, will be to sow the seeds of bigotry and send a message to the nation's Muslim citizens that they are less than welcomed in our midst.

We encourage Congress and the Executive branch to work together, in an atmosphere of bipartisanship and tolerance, to agree swiftly upon a system to admit Syrian refugees to the United States. We have faith that our nation's leaders can think creatively to ensure that Syrian refugees fleeing persecution are permitted entry to the United States while simultaneously preserving our national security. 

The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Washington is the public affairs and community relations arm of the Jewish community representing Jewish organizations and synagogues throughout DC, Maryland, and Virginia. The JCRC focuses on government relations, Israel advocacy, inter-group relations, and social justice.


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