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Jewish Orgs. Weigh In as House Votes to Tighten Screenings for Syrian and Iraqi Refugees

Congress is heading for a showdown over a new bill that, if passed, would ban refugees from entering the U.S. until stricter security measures have been put into place

Hannah Vaitsblit
November 20, 2015
 Win McNamee/Getty Images
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) on U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., November 5, 2015. Win McNamee/Getty Images
 Win McNamee/Getty Images
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) on U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., November 5, 2015. Win McNamee/Getty Images

On Friday, in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris and amid a national debate over the admittance of Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the United States, the House of Representatives voted in favor of increased security checks on those seeking a safe haven in the United States. Speaker Paul Ryan said these ramped-up vetting measures are “about keeping American safe.” President Obama, who has vowed to veto the bill, said that such a process “would betray our deepest values.”

A number of Jewish organizations and institutions have weighed in on the matter, pledging support for the admission of these refugees. On Thursday, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Orthodox Union both issued statements, comparing the denial to grant Syrian refugees entry into the U.S. to the experience of Jews who fled the Nazis, exemplified by the fateful 1939 voyage of the SS St. Louis. This comparison has gained traction this week: An article published by The Washington Post, details, among other statistical sentiments, that “two-thirds of Americans polled by Gallup’s American Institute of Public Opinion in January 1939—well after the events of Kristallnacht—said they would not take in 10,000 German Jewish refugee children.”

The Holocaust Museum acknowledged security concerns in its statement, and called “on public figures and citizens to avoid condemning today’s refugees as a group.” The museum contextualized its position, noting its “[acute awareness] of the consequences to Jews who were unable to flee Nazism.”

The OU’s statement explicitly referenced last week’s brutal Paris attacks: “We cannot be naive in our assessment of the determination of terrorists to exploit the refugee crisis. And we should limit immigration to those individuals who share our American ideals and aspirations. However, we also must recognize that the majority of these refugees are fleeing terror themselves—violence like we have witnessed in Paris.” The statement also noted that “the Jewish community has an important perspective on this debate,” citing denial of refuge to Jews fleeing Nazi Europe, and calling for “a sensible process of reviewing and enhancing security” independent of “partisan politics [and] xenophobia.”

Many Jewish groups signed a letter from the ACLU that was sent to Congress on Tuesday, expressing their “support for the U.S. refugee resettlement program and urg[ing] Members of Congress to oppose proposals that call for the suspension of the [program] or the imposition of restrictions on funding for Syrians and other groups of refugees.” These organizations include: the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the Anti-Defamation League, the Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), Habonim Dror North America, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Jewish Labor Committee, the National Council of Jewish Women, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, the Union for Reform Judaism, and the Workmen’s Circle. A number of other Jewish organizations have released statements in support of welcoming Syrian refugees, as well, such as The Rabbinical Assembly and Jewish World Watch.

Hannah Vaitsblit is an intern at Tablet.

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