Etan Basseri

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Etan Basseri
is a cofounder of Tatweer, a Jewish Family Service initiative to prepare and place refugee professionals in career-path jobs in the U.S. He served on the JFS Board of Directors from 2009 to 2015.

Image: Sefira Ross

In Jewish law and tradition, we are taught to place the highest value on human life. As a Jewish community, we have a unique perspective on the need to provide safe haven to those in crisis.

For 120 years, Jewish Family Service has made refugee resettlement a top priority. The support for refugee resettlement — even when it is not Jews who are directly affected — is rooted in the Jewish values and narrative that guide the agency’s approach: embracing foreigners who live among us as one of our own, mindful of our own history as strangers in a strange land.

There is strong precedent for Jewish participation in global humanitarian efforts with the past few years’ examples in Haiti, Thailand, and Nepal. Since 2011, the number of Syrian refugees has ballooned to over four million, and in the last year refugees from the Middle East and Africa have risked their lives to reach safety in Europe, many not surviving the journey. Facing the worst global crisis of displaced persons since World War II, our community must rise to the challenge.

The Talmud teaches, “Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” The European migrant crisis is one of a global scale involving millions of individuals. Our local Jewish community may not play a major role in a global solution, but we can act decisively and effectively here at home. We can volunteer with local refugee resettlement
organizations to ease the strain on their existing workforce. We can lobby our local, state, and federal representatives for more refugee resettlement funding and (in the federal case) to raise the limit on refugees admitted to the U.S. annually. We can also contribute resources to assist resettlement efforts where they are under way.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks recently said in an interview on National Public Radio, “Military interventions leave behind a legacy of resentment. Humanitarian interventions leave behind a legacy of gratitude. So if I were talking about long-term winning the peace, I would say that being a home for refugees is probably the single most effective thing Europe and the United States could do.” Let’s follow his lead and each play our part toward creating a legacy of gratitude and enduring peace for all people.

Robert Jacobs

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Robert Jacobs

is the director of StandWithUs Northwest and the former regional ADL director. He has practiced human rights law in Latin America, served as counsel to Senate and House Committees and was legislative director to Sen. Barbara Mikulski.

Image: Sefira Ross

The photo of a drowned Syrian toddler, washed up on shore when his family tried to reach Europe, was an emotional explosion. Anyone who is human would be affected by that image. As Jews, almost all of our families came here as refugees. Our immediate reaction is to want to do something meaningful, now, not later, for these refugees so prominently covered in the latest news. So much of what motivates us today, especially in politics, is not rational, thoughtful analysis of the facts, but emotion. We see an image. We hear a story. Sometimes the stories aren’t true. Sometimes the pictures are not what we’re told they are. But we react.

There are millions of Syrian refugees. Most of them left because they feared for their lives. Many of them no longer fear for their lives, but want a better life. Syrian refugees are not monolithic. There are opponents of the murderous Assad government, strong supporters of Assad, open supporters of ISIS, and some who are just trying to survive a horrendous war between violent political factions. Many, interviewed after arrival in Europe or in refugee camps in Turkey, believe Israel is responsible for the misery in Syria or energetically espouse other anti-Semitic beliefs.

So…setting aside the emotions for a moment: do we let Syrian refugees into the U.S.? Which ones? How do we know who is who? And is it fair and just to bring in Syrian refugees before the hundreds of thousands of political refugees currently warehoused each year in U.S. immigration detention? Should Syrian refugees come in before the thousands of
unaccompanied Latino children held daily in U.S. INS holding cells, most of whom are deported to their countries of origin? Why aren’t we as concerned about these non-Syrian refugees? Should Syrian refugees deserve a special, higher priority? If so, why?

Before we simply open the doors to thousands of Syrian refugees, perhaps we need a rational and just political refugee policy that will make sure we don’t unfairly treat the long waiting line of political prisoners, including unaccompanied children, languishing in our detention systems or waiting outside the country, following our rules, hoping to be given refuge in the U.S. 

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