Hundreds of Jewish Studies Scholars Urge Congress to Block Trump's Muslim Ban

'Jewish refugees from Nazi-occupied countries suffered at the hands of our country’s then-newly enacted restrictive immigration policies,' the letter reads.

Demonstrators protest against Trump's ban on refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, Chicago, January 29, 2017.
SCOTT OLSON/AFP

Professors of Jewish studies from across the United States urged Congress on Monday to take immediate action against U.S. President Donald Trump's new restrictions that bar refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

“We ask that you, our elected officials, do everything in your power to stop our country from enacting isolationist policies and fencing ourselves off from the world in which we live,” they wrote in a letter to all 535 members of Congress signed by more than 200 scholars. 

“The ‘benefits’ of isolationism will pale in comparison to the risks it poses to refugees and immigrants and to the very founding ideals of the United States of America. Those ideals – and the people brought to our country as a direct result of them – have inspired the best in all of us. Join us in protesting policies and orders that threaten these American ideals and use your positions to advance legal protections for refugees and all classes of immigrants,” the letter read.

In their call to action, the signatories note that their area of expertise makes them well positioned to warn of the dangers of such restrictions. 

“As scholars of Jewish studies, we devote our lives to studying a people defined, in part, by its experiences of expulsion and refugeehood,” the professors wrote. 

“Throughout their history, Jews have been expelled or barred from entry from countries on the grounds of their perceived threats to security and unity. While Jews found refuge in the United States throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century, in the 1930s and 1940s, Jewish refugees from Nazi-occupied countries suffered at the hands of our country’s then-newly enacted restrictive immigration policies.”

The signatories plan to share the letter widely on public platforms in cooperation with HIAS (formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) – the only Jewish organization recognized by the U.S. government and UN agencies to resettle individuals seeking refuge in America.

The letter sent to Congress is the latest initiative of this ad-hoc group of Jewish studies activists in America opposed to Trump. Barely a week after the election, its members signed a statement pledging “to wage a struggle to defend the constitutional rights and liberties of all Americans.”

Just before Trump’s inauguration, they sent a letter to the new Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer, urging the New York Democrat to help block the appointment of David Friedman to the Israeli ambassadorship. “Mr. Friedman’s rhetorical extremism is cause for grave concern on its own,” they wrote, “but it is matched, if not superseded, by the extremism of his positions on Israel, which demonstrate that he cannot be an impartial broker of peace or an effective diplomat.” 

In that letter, they noted that Friedman had referred to members of J Street, the pro-Israel, anti-occupation group, as “worse than kapos” and that he served as president of a fundraising organization for a radical West Bank settlement.

Describing the new administration’s plan to build a border wall with Mexico and to ban entire groups based on their religion as “un-American,” the Jewish studies professors warn in their latest public statement: “Just as Jews who were turned away from entrance to the United States in the 1930s and 1940s met deadly fates when our country failed to meet the most basic test of humanitarian and moral action, so might the refugees denied entry today.”