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April 21, 2016 Off

This Passover Let Us Remember That Once We Were Strangers, Too

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

Syrian refugee woman reacts while travelling in an overcrowded dinghy as it arrives at a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing part of the Aegean Sea from Turkey

This Fri­day night, Jews around the world will gather at Seder tables with friends and fam­ily to tell the story of the Exo­dus from Egypt. We are com­manded to tell the story as if we had per­son­ally fled slav­ery, trans­form­ing the expe­ri­ence from the sim­ple recount­ing of an ancient tale to an exer­cise of empa­thy and reflec­tion on the suf­fer­ing of others.

Today, as 60 mil­lion peo­ple have been forcibly dis­placed from their homes around the world, we face the worst refugee cri­sis since World War II. Many are caught between the ter­ror of the Islamic State and the bar­rel bombs of Assad’s regime and his Iran­ian back­ers in Syria. Oth­ers flee the ter­ri­fy­ing grip of Boko Haram in Nige­ria, or extreme gang vio­lence in Cen­tral Amer­ica. Still oth­ers flee other coun­tries where they are per­se­cuted and tor­tured because of their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or gen­der iden­tity. There is one thing that unites all these refugees: No mat­ter their home coun­try, they are flee­ing for their lives and seek­ing safety in new lands.

In place of com­pas­sion and open arms, how­ever, too often refugees have been met with hate­ful rhetoric and closed doors. More than half of U.S. gov­er­nors have either said they will not accept refugees in their states or have asked the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to shut our doors. A bill pend­ing now before Con­gress, the ill-named “Refugee Pro­gram Integrity Restora­tion Act” (H.R. 4731), would dras­ti­cally reduce and cap refugee admis­sions and cre­ate new pro­ce­dures that would sub­stan­tially delay reset­tle­ment for many refugees whose lives are in dan­ger. It would also allow state and local gov­ern­ments who “dis­ap­prove” of a group of refugees to veto reset­tle­ment in their communities.

Shut­ting our doors to those flee­ing extreme vio­lence is un-American. It flies in the face of our val­ues as a nation that has served as a bea­con of hope for those around the world seek­ing a bet­ter life. But, sadly, it is not the first time we have seen this kind of ugly response to a refugee crisis.

For those of us in the Jew­ish com­mu­nity who have fam­ily mem­bers, like my grand­fa­ther, who fled Nazism in Europe, this nar­ra­tive is all too famil­iar. In July 1938—three years after the Nurem­berg Laws had stripped Jews of Ger­man cit­i­zen­ship, deprived them of most polit­i­cal rights, and left hun­dreds of thou­sands of Jews seek­ing inter­na­tional refuge—For­tune mag­a­zine asked Amer­i­cans, “What is your atti­tude toward allow­ing Ger­man, Aus­trian, and other polit­i­cal refugees to come to the U.S.?” Shame­fully, more than two-thirds said we should keep the refugees out.

The fol­low­ing year the St. Louis, car­ry­ing 937 Ger­man refugees—mostly Jews flee­ing Nazi Germany—set sail for Cuba. Most had applied for U.S. visas. Turned away from Cuba, as the St. Louis sailed so close to Florida that the pas­sen­gers could see the lights from Miami, they appealed to Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt to give them safe har­bor. With pub­lic opin­ion opposed to lift­ing the strin­gent immi­gra­tion quo­tas or to mak­ing an excep­tion for the ship’s pas­sen­gers, the St. Louis returned to Europe. Almost a quar­ter of the pas­sen­gers per­ished in the Holocaust.

It was uncon­scionable to turn our backs on Jew­ish refugees flee­ing Europe in the 1930s, just as it is uncon­scionable today to seal our bor­ders to those flee­ing extreme vio­lence around the world.

The temp­ta­tion may be to give into fear and fear-mongering claims that ter­ror­ists will slip into our midst dis­guised as refugees, but Amer­ica has put up the high­est hur­dles in the world for refugees seek­ing entry. In fact, refugee sta­tus is the sin­gle most dif­fi­cult way to enter the United States. Refugees must pass dif­fi­cult and thor­ough screen­ings by the U.S. Depart­ment of State, the FBI, the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­rity, inter­na­tional intel­li­gence agen­cies, and the United Nations. Refugees are not ter­ror­ists. There may be even more that can be done to edu­cate refugees as they seek to inte­grate into our soci­ety, but we must remem­ber that they are peo­ple flee­ing the very same bru­tal­ity we fear.

As we gather around the Seder table, and we tell the story of the Exo­dus as if we too were flee­ing Egypt, may we also have com­pas­sion for those flee­ing bru­tal­ity today. The Passover story is the story of peo­ple flee­ing slav­ery. It is the story of peo­ple seek­ing safety abroad. It is the refugee story. This Passover, may we open our doors to refugees and grant safe har­bor to those flee­ing for their lives. For once we were strangers, too.

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February 8, 2012 Off

Boko Haram’s Capabilities Pose Threat Outside Nigeria

In the lat­est demon­stra­tion of its evolv­ing capa­bil­i­ties, Boko Haram, a mil­i­tant group seek­ing to cre­ate an Islamic state in Nige­ria, claimed respon­si­bil­ity on Tues­day for car­ry­ing out a sui­cide car bomb­ing at the Niger­ian mil­i­tary head­quar­ters in the north-central city of Kaduna and another bomb­ing at a nearby airbase.
The tac­tic employed at the mil­i­tary head­quar­ters – a sui­cide bomber dressed as a mem­ber of the mil­i­tary – may demon­strate the con­tin­u­ing influ­ence of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Al Shabaab, Al Qaeda’s affil­i­ates in North Africa and Soma­lia, on the group’s oper­a­tional capa­bil­i­ties. AQIM and Al Shabaab’s grow­ing ties to Boko Haram also raises the specter that the group may seek to emu­late their strat­egy of under­tak­ing inter­na­tional attacks tar­get­ing West­ern interests.
Although the group has not car­ried out attacks out­side Nige­ria, Boka Haram has expressed intent to expand its tar­gets glob­ally, includ­ing the United States. Fol­low­ing its August 2011 bomb­ing of a United Nations build­ing in the Niger­ian cap­i­tal of Abuja, mul­ti­ple Boko Haram lead­ers cited oppo­si­tion to West­ern pow­ers as the dri­ving fac­tor behind the attack. In a March 2010 inter­view with West­ern media, a man claim­ing to be a Boko Haram spokesman iden­ti­fied the U.S. as “the num­ber one tar­get for its oppres­sion and aggres­sion against Mus­lim nations… and its blind sup­port to Israel.”

The threat posed by Boko Haram has not gone unno­ticed. Gen­eral Carter Ham, com­mand­ing offi­cer of the United States Africa Com­mand (AFRICOM), has indi­cated that he believes Boko Haram poses a threat to the United States and U.S. inter­ests. In Novem­ber 2011, Con­gress held a hear­ing on the threat posed by the group “to the U.S. Home­land.”  West African nations have also held regional secu­rity sum­mits con­cern­ing Boko Haram’s abil­ity to act beyond Nigeria’s bor­ders, con­cen­trat­ing on its links to other ter­ror­ist organizations.

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