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Syrian Refugees Now, Jewish Refugees Then: Is There A Comparison? Pt. 3. Roger Algase

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In view of the passage of a bill in the House of Representatives (with the support of 47 Democrats) that would effectively bar Syrian refugees from coming to the United States by imposing so many additional levels of bureaucracy that few, if any, would ever be able to get through the entire screening process, and the threats by at least 30 state governors (and not only Republicans) to shred the US constitution and violate federal law by unilaterally barring Syrian refugees from their states, the parallels with America's refusal to accept Jewish refugees from Hitler's concentration camps and gas chambers in the 1930's and early 1940's become even more relevant.

This is despite the protestations of right wing Islamophobes that such a comparison is not only unjustified, but even offensive to the memory of the Holocaust victims. As pointed out in one of my recent posts, the US Holocaust Museum itself, which can be presumed to have some expertise in this area, was not only not offended by this comparison, but instead endorsed it, in a statement which I reproduced in full.

However, it is not necessary just to take the word of the Holocaust Museum that prejudice against Muslim refugees from Syria (and Iraq) today resembles the prejudice against Jewish immigrants which turned hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of desperate people trying to escape Nazi persecution away from our shores There is ample other evidence.

This Part 3 of my comments will discuss a November 21 article by Peter A. Shulman, an associate professor of history at Case Western Reserve University in Fortune (not exactly known as a left wing publication, or one with either a pro-immigrant or pro-Muslim bias) called: How America's Response to Syrian and Jewish Refugees Is Eerily Similar.

Writing about the alleged security threat which many Americans thought that Jewish refugees presented at that time, Professor Shulman states:

"In part, the perceived security threat was social and economic. In July, 1939, a Roper poll...probed 'general opinion on the Jewish question.' Over half the respondents believed Jews were different from other Americans. Ten percent accepted Jews in American life as long as they 'don't try to mingle socially where they are not wanted.'

Nearly a third pointed to Jews' 'different business methods' and asked that' some measures be taken to prevent Jews from getting too much power in the business world.' Another ten per cent supported 'a policy to deport Jews from this country to some new homeland as fast as it can be done without inhumanity.'"

But, Professor Shulman explains, these feelings were not only reflections of general anti-Semitism which had always been part of American life. They were also related to perceived security concerns:

"Behind these numbers lay a toxic fear of Jewish subversion. For decades, Jews had been linked to various strains of un-American threats: socialism, communism and anarchism, of course, but also (paradoxically) a kind of hyper-capitalism. Many believed that the real threat to the United States lay from within. During Franklin Roosevelt's administration, Jews held so many influential positions that the New Deal opponents spoke of the 'Jew Deal'".

Professor Shulman also does not overlook the actual threats of possible Jewish subversion that existed, at least in the minds of some US officials:

"Jewish refugees were also seen as presenting threats to physical security. State Department officials worried tha Nazi saboteurs might disguise themselves among the refugee throngs. Or perhaps Nazis might extort refugees, under threat to family remaining in Germany, to spy for the Reich. Franklin Roosevelt himself exclaimed that 'it is rather a horrible story but in some other countries that refugees out of Germany have gone to, especially Jewish refugees, they have found a number of definitely proven spies.'"

Professor Shulman concludes with the following comparison between Jewish refugees in the 1930's and Syrian Muslim refugees today:

"Unquestionably, the two situations have their differences. Yet perhaps the biggest difference is that most Jews seeking safety from th Nazis could not escape, while today, it is not too late to help those most desperate for security."

Let us hope that the Islamophobic politicians and media figures who are trying to exploit fear, hate and prejudice against the victims who are trying to flee both Russian and Iranian -backed dictatorship and the madness of violent Islamist extremism in Syria today will take these words to heart, instead of trying to exploit the suffering of millions of innocent refugees for political gain, merely because of their religious affiliation.
Roger Algase is a New York lawyer and a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. For more than 30 years, he has been helping mainly skilled and professional immigrants obtain work visas and green cards. He does not practice in the areas of refugee or asylum law, but he believes that the rights of refugees to fair treatment and basic human rights are connected to the needs of all immigrants in every category for equal justice under law and freedom from prejudice in our immigration system.

Roger's email address is

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Updated 11-24-2015 at 01:06 PM by ImmigrationLawBlogs

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