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June 20, 2016

LGBT Communities at Risk: Another Case for Immigration Reform

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This blog originally appeared on Medium

The assault on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Orlando last weekend that left 49 dead and more than 50 wounded in its wake was in many ways unprecedented and, in many others, far too familiar. It was the deadliest mass public shooting in American history. And it shattered sacred moments of multiple communities.

First and foremost, it violated Pride Month, designated as the time of year when LGBT people and their allies can celebrate their difference. The violence occurred during the weekend when we marked the Jewish festival of Shavuot — the culmination of a 49-day count between our festival of liberation from slavery in Egypt and the moment when the Jews remember receiving the wisdom of our holy Torah at Mount Sinai. And the attack tore at the peace of Ramadan, when Muslims seek to be closer to God and to focus on their inner selves.

All of the Abrahamic religions are rooted in texts that pave the way to peace. It is in these times that we must find those strands of faith which bind us together. Already, many faith communities have come together in cities across the country, united in grief, standing in solidarity with the LGBT community, and looking for answers as to how a lone gunman with hatred in his heart could wreak such devastation.

But even in this moment, we must take note that it is not just in this country where the LGBT community is at risk. Across the globe, LGBT people face persecution, legalized discrimination, and the threat of both state-sanctioned violence and brutality at the hands of non-state actors.

Across the globe, LGBT people face persecution, legalized discrimination, and the threat of both state-sanctioned violence and brutality at the hands of non-state actors.

We have seen the members of the Islamic State terrorist group (ISIS) literally throw individuals from rooftops, simply for being suspected of the “crime” of being gay. Hamas executes individuals without trial for the same “offense.”The Islamic Republic of Iran also has been known to hang young men suspected of homosexuality.

The violence in Orlando and the elevated risk of violence that LGBT people face around the world cannot be separated. There is some debate about the motives of the gunman, Omar Mateen. During the crime, he claimed allegiance to ISIS and his apparent homophobia is consistent with their bigoted teachings. At the same time, some have claimed he was wrestling with his own repressed sexual identity.

Whatever the cause, according to the U.S. Office for Refugee Resettlement, an estimated 3,500 LGBT refugees land on our shores every year, seeking to escape torment in their homelands. This also is true of the millions of Muslims fleeing the brutality tearing apart their homelands, such as the civil war in Syria or the destruction of Iraq. They are not alone — we also see other embattled minorities, including Christians from the Middle East and abused women from around the world coming to our shores, seeking refuge from violence and oppression.

As we pause and consider World Refugee Day, our common humanity and Jewish values compel us to hear their cries and embrace these victims.

The notions espoused by certain public figures of refusing refuge to the downtrodden, or rejecting widows and children at our borders simply because of the sins of a handful of their co-religionists, is not a policy. It’s a travesty, an affront to all notions of decency. We can do better on behalf of those who have lost everything.

To date, the trickle of such refugees permitted entry into this country pales in comparison to the scores of millions who come to our shores every year through business and tourism visas. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Stateapproved 10.8 million nonimmigrant travel visas, as compared to 531,463 immigrant visas.

Nonetheless, we should strengthen the screening processes to ensure that those who come to our shores are legitimate refugees who need our support. And individuals hailing from illiberal democracies undoubtedly need education and integration to mainstream them into our liberal democracy to ensure they embrace and understand our civic culture and common values.

On this day, as we acknowledge and elevate the plight of refugees around the world, let us root our work in chesed, the Jewish value of benevolence and compassion. Let us remind ourselves that we were once strangers, as we are told in the Torah and as we have experienced throughout history.

Let us remind ourselves that we were once strangers, as we are told in the Torah and as we have experienced throughout history.

We can anchor this approach in the enduring words of Emma Lazarus, inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor; Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free….” And we can galvanize this commitment by reclaiming what the terrorist attempted to take from us in Orlando — our common humanity.

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September 11, 2015

Anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller promotes anti-refugee rhetoric

“Immigration Jihad” is a newly minted term by anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller to describe the current refugee crisis in Europe, where thousands of refugees are trying to find a safe haven for their families away from the war-torn Middle East.

Anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller

Anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller

As wrenching images of Aylan Kurdi, a toddler lying dead on a Turkish beach after he and his family sought refuge spurred the world to take action to help save more refugees, Geller advanced her claim that the flow of refugees is a Muslim invasion that needs to be stopped. “How this new invasion will end is anyone’s guess – but it won’t be pretty. Today’s refugee is tomorrow’s jihadist,” Geller wrote on September 6 on WorldNetDaily (WND), a conservative website.

Geller exploits concern over terrorism to get an audience for her anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim agenda. She equates Muslim refugees with terrorism and promotes the idea that every Muslim wants to wage Jihad against the West.

She wrote on September 6, “The question no one is asking is why all these people, all of a sudden? Did millions of Muslims across the Middle East and Africa get a text message that said, go now? This is clearly orchestrated, and as I previously reported, ISIS warned Europe of an invasion of ‘migrants.’ This, too, is an act of war. How many jihadists are among the hordes?”

Geller also connected the refugee crisis in Europe to the United States. She wrote on her official blog post on September 7, “This is a cautionary tale for America. We must not allow these invaders into our country. This is a hijrah, a migration to Islamize a new land.”

In addition, Geller’s campaign against refugees also recycles some of her anti-Obama conspiracy theories. In August, she accused President Obama of resettling a large number of Syrian refugees as part of a plot to destroy America. She claimed, “Obama is bringing Muslim refugees into this country by the hundreds of thousands in his unceasing pursuit of the destruction of America.” She also called for an end to the U.S. refugee resettlement program

Geller has waged an anti-Muslim campaign for years by holding controversial events such as the “Draw Muhammad” contest, placing anti-Muslim ads on buses, and giving speeches claiming that Muslim immigrants pose a threat to the U.S. Her increasing anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric not only contradicts the Jewish-American values which she claims to defend but it also violates basic human decency.

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August 25, 2015

When Hateful Speech Leads to Hate Crimes: Taking Bigotry Out of the Immigration Debate

By Jonathan Green­blatt
National Direc­tor of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

When police arrived at the scene in Boston, they found a Latino man shaking on the ground, his face apparently soaked in urine, with a broken nose.  His arms and chest had been beaten.  One of the two brothers arrested and charged with the hate crime reportedly told police, “Donald Trump was right—all these illegals need to be deported.”

The victim, a homeless man, was apparently sleeping outside of a subway station in Dorchester when the perpetrators attacked.  His only offense was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The brothers attacked him for who he was—simply because he was Latino.

In recent weeks anti-immigrant—and by extension anti-Latino—rhetoric has reached a fever pitch.  Immigrants have been smeared as “killers” and “rapists.”  They have been accused of bringing drugs and crime.  A radio talk show host in Iowa has called for enslavement of undocumented immigrants if they do not leave within 60 days.  There have been calls to repeal the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of citizenship to people born in the United States, with allegations that people come here to have so-called “anchor babies.”  And the terms “illegal aliens” and “illegals”— which many mainstream news sources wisely rejected years ago because they dehumanize and stigmatize people—have resurged.

The words used on the campaign trail, on the floors of Congress, in the news, and in all our living rooms have consequences.  They directly impact our ability to sustain a society that ensures dignity and equality for all.  Bigoted rhetoric and words laced with prejudice are building blocks for the pyramid of hate.

Biased behaviors build on one another, becoming ever more threatening and dangerous towards the top.  At the base is bias, which includes stereotyping and insensitive remarks.  It sets the foundation for a second, more complex and more damaging layer: individual acts of prejudice, including bullying, slurs, and dehumanization.  Next is discrimination, which in turn supports bias-motivated violence, including hate crimes like the tragic one in Boston. And in the most extreme cases if left unchecked, the top of the pyramid of hate is genocide.

Just like a pyramid, the lower levels support the upper levels.  Bias, prejudice and discrimination—particularly touted by those with a loud megaphone and cheering crowd—all contribute to an atmosphere that enables hate crimes and other hate-fueled violence.  The most recent hate crime in Boston is just one of too many.  In fact, there is a hate crime roughly every 90 minutes in the United States today.  That is why last week ADL announced a new initiative, #50StatesAgainstHate, to strengthen hate crimes laws around the country and safeguard communities vulnerable to hate-fueled attacks. We are working with a broad coalition of partners to get the ball rolling.

Laws alone, however, cannot cure the disease of hate.  To do that, we need to change the conversation.  We would not suggest that any one person’s words caused this tragedy – the perpetrators did that; but the rhetorical excesses by so many over the past few weeks give rise to a climate in which prejudice, discrimination, and hate-fueled violence can take root.

Reasonable people can differ about how we should fix our broken immigration system, but stereotypes, slurs, smears and insults have no place in the debate.

Immigrants have been a frequent target of hate, and unfortunately, prejudice and violence are not new.  Many of our ancestors faced similar prejudice when they came to the United States. In the 1800s, the attacks were against Irish and German immigrants. Next was a wave of anti-Chinese sentiment culminating with the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. Then the hatred turned on the Jews, highlighted by the lynching of Leo Frank in 1915.  Then came bigotry against Japanese immigrants and people of Japanese dissent, which led to the shameful internment of more than 110,000 people during World War II.  Today, anti-immigrant bigotry largely focuses on Latinos.  The targets have changed, but the messages of hate remain largely the same.  It is long past time for that to end.

ADL, as a 501(c)(3), does not support or oppose candidates for elective office,but we have a simple message for all policymakers and candidates:  There is no place for hate in the immigration debate.  There is nothing patriotic or admirable about hatred and hate-fueled violence.  The only acceptable response to hate crimes is unequivocal, strong condemnation.  And the same is true for the bias, prejudice, and bigoted speech that have recently permeated the immigration conversation.

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