Opinion |

Trump's Xenophobic Refugee Policies Violate Jewish Values, Human Rights

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Immigration activists participate in a prayer and rally against President Donald Trump's immigration policies on January 27, 2017 in New York City.
Immigration activists participate in a prayer and rally against President Donald Trump's immigration policies on January 27, 2017 in New York City. Credit: Spencer Platt, AFP/Getty Images

As Jews, we are all too familiar with hateful statements about religious and ethnic minorities that aim to strip people of their dignity and humanity — and can lead to far worse. We understand from millennia of persecution of Jews by governments, religious institutions and populist demagogues that we cannot stand idly by while either we or other ethnic and religious minorities are under attack simply for being who they are.

Tragically, we know what can happen when a community is vilified by authoritarian powers, and we regret that President Trump does not appreciate this lesson from the darkest chapters in Jewish and world history. In his first days in office it is now incumbent upon us to speak out and teach Mr. Trump about American values and the lessons of Jewish history. 

We strenuously object to the inhumane and un-American policies announced by the White House — to put a four-month hold on allowing refugees into the United States and to temporary bar travelers from Syria and six other Muslim-majority countries. These policies violate our deepest Jewish values, including the belief that all people are created in the same image and are deserving of infinite respect. These policies also run counter to the best traditions of the United States of accepting and absorbing waves of immigrants, as well as international human rights law, which was adopted in response to the Holocaust. Recognizing the value of respect for all people, Americans from every community should vehemently object these policies, which will directly threaten the lives of thousands people who desperately and urgently need sanctuary in our country. 

Welcoming refugees and immigrants is central to who we are as Americans, and it is a characteristic of American life, which American Jews deeply value and appreciate. That’s why we object to this blockade based on xenophobia. It is nothing less than an affront to our core values as American and Jews. 

As the leader of an international Jewish organization that, for decades, has worked with Muslim organizations and Muslim partners to end poverty and advance human rights in some of the poorest countries in the world, I believe is our duty to object in the strongest terms to the demonization of all Muslims by the new American administration. 

We understand all too well what it means to deny safe harbor to persecuted people who are seeking refuge, and we believe we are at risk of returning to the days when the United States tragically acted with indifference to Jewish and other refugees from Europe during World War II. 

We must stand with our refugee brothers and sisters — those who are desperate to gain entrance to the United States and those who are here already and desperately waiting to be reunited with their family members who have yet to come to the United States. 

If the Trump Administration has any respect for human rights and dignity, it will reverse these new xenophobic policies. To the same end, we call on members of the U.S. Congress and the federal courts to do everything in their power to block the implementation of these systematically discriminatory orders. 

Denying refuge to those in need repudiates the Jewish obligation to welcome the stranger, turns the American dream into a nightmare and is a gross affront to our shared humanity with all people of every background everywhere. 


Robert Bank is the President and CEO of American Jewish World Service (AJWS), the leading Jewish organization working to realize human rights and end poverty in the developing world.

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