There is a story told about a Jewish Holocaust survivor who was a prisoner at the Auschwitz death camp. Every day, this man thanks G-d; each day more loudly and exuberantly than the day before. Finally, the man’s fellow prisoners become annoyed with him: “How can you thank G-d,” they asked, ”when we are in this place? When the Nazis are daily murdering us and torturing us?” The man replies: “I am thanking G-d because He did not make me like the Nazis.”
To me, this story represents a quintessential aspect of being Jewish. Even in the face of the worst evil known to man, the Jew remains true to his values, to his morality, and to his faith.
Today we live in difficult, dangerous times. The threat of terrorism looms ever present. The most visible terrorists are Muslim extremists: Al Qaida, Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Shabaab. They threaten America and the West. They threaten Israel.
How, then, should American Jews–and specifically American Jewish lawyers–respond to Muslim immigrants and refugees coming to the United States? This is an issue I face every day, as I represent many Muslims who are seeking political asylum from countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Iran.
Some Jewish lawyers have taken to attacking Islam and Muslims in the United States. The most well-known example is probably David Yerushalmi, who is behind many state laws designed to protect our country from what he calls the infiltration of Sharia law. Other Jews who are not lawyers (yes, I suppose this is to their credit) are also prominent in the anti-Islam movement in the United States. Probably most well-known among them is Pam Geller, the blogger behind the “World Trade Center Mega Mosque” controversy.
I must admit that such people inspire in me strongly negative emotions. But in the spirit of the season (and my rabbi’s Yom Kippur sermon), I will try to say my piece without criticizing them. As the rabbi put it, I will try to tell my truth with love.
First, I believe my fellow Jews’ opposition to Islam and Muslims is not consistent with Jewish values. Our people have been on the receiving end of persecution for millennium. We should not subject others to persecution, or even the implied threat of persecution, based on stereotypes. Particularly since the Muslims who have come to the U.S. are often people who faced persecution or discrimination in their homelands (for this reason, they left). As Rabbi Hillel famously said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to others.”
Second, I think such behavior is bad for the Jews and divisive for our community. Like it or not, most Jews are liberals. This stems from our religious teachings as well as our communal experience as a persecuted minority (for example, the Torah repeatedly reminds us to have one law for the alien and the native born, and not to mistreat the stranger, for we were strangers in Egypt). We tend to sympathize with other minorities. Hence, our disproportional representation in social justice movements. The strident attacks on Muslims (a small minority in the U.S.) and the implication that Jews who disagree with such attacks are “self hating,” naive or traitorous is alienating to many Jews, and will ultimately weaken our community.
Finally, the attack on Islam and Muslims is a bad strategy. Many Muslims look to the West and the United States as models for development. The Arab Spring shows that many Muslims–perhaps a large majority–dream of democratic reforms, freedom, and free economies. Closer to home, I represent many Muslims–journalists, human rights workers, advocates for women’s rights, people who worked with the U.S. military–who have risked their lives to help us in our fight against Islamic extremism. By attacking all Muslims, we potentially alienate such people and lose valuable allies in our war on terror.
Jews are an argumentative, stubborn people. There’s an old joke about a Jewish man who is stranded on a dessert island. When he is finally rescued after many years, his rescuers notice that he built two synagogues on the island. When they ask him why, he points to one synagogue: “This is the synagogue where I worship.” “And the other one?,” they ask. “That one,” says the man,” I wouldn’t set foot in.” In the new year, I hope we can be less divisive and more respectful of each other’s views. I hope we can look for the good in others, and give people the benefit of the doubt, even people who disagree with us, or who are different from us. L’Shana Tova.
Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
Jason Dzubow's practice focuses on immigration law, asylum, and appellate litigation. Mr. Dzubow is admitted to practice law in the federal and state courts of Washington, DC and Maryland, the United States Courts of Appeals for the Third, Fourth, Eleventh, and DC Circuits, all Immigration Courts in the United States, and the Board of Immigration Appeals. He is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the Capital Area Immigrant Rights (CAIR) Coalition. In June 2009, CAIR Coalition honored Mr. Dzubow for his Outstanding Commitment to Defending the Rights and Dignity of Detained Immigrants.