The UK has just announced that it will stop receiving children under the Dubs amendment to the Immigration Act of 2016, which required the UK to bring unaccompanied refugee children to the UK. While there are other means by which the UK accepts refugees, both children and adults, the ministerial statement by British Home Office is worrying. All the more so in light of past refusal by other EU countries to accept refugees, particularly from the Middle East and Donald Trump’s recent executive order banning refuges, specifically those from certain predominantly Muslim countries.
This is a cause for concern for me as a human being and also for me as Jew. It is immoral to discriminate against a fellow human being because of where they were born. It is illegal in most countries to discriminate against someone because of their faith, their ethnicity or nationality. Worse, it is not moral.
As a Jewish community, the Exodus from Egypt, what we recently read these past weeks in the Torah is our most fundamental narrative. It is one on which the sense of Jewish social justice is based. We are obligated to help the stranger, the slave, the refugee because we know what it feels like. We were strangers, slaves and refugees (economic refugees, no less) in the land of Egypt. The call that Moses delivered to Pharaoh “Let my people go” has been a rallying cry through untold generations, calling for the end to slavery and cruelty to human beings around the globe. As Jews, as human beings, we are obligated not hide from the suffering of others. And more actively, to pursue justice. We have an obligation to offer refuge and safe haven to those in need. We can do it.
Blanket bans on human beings do not help anyone. Specific concerns related to individuals are a different story. As Stephane BederPresident of Assemblée du Judaïsme Libéralsaid: “We are well aware that fears and difficulties lead people to reject ‘the other’ but more than ever we need to be at the forefront of a movement that fulfils the vision of Torah: ensuring social justice and rejecting the hatred of foreigners.”
The US, the UK and Europe are built on the rights and values of every human being regardless of their religion, nationality, ethnicity, etc. We see ourselves as tolerant open societies dedicated to freedom. Xenophobia, exclusion and hatred stand in stark contrast to the core values of our societies and the Jewish faith.
Lord Alf Dubs, sponsor of the amendment said: “The Dubs Amendment was a promise to us – to honour our proud British tradition of welcoming those most in need. I saw that compassion and courage in Sir Nicholas Winton, who rescued me as a child from the Nazi regime, along with 669 Jewish children. Acts of heroism like this define our country. They characterise the values we hold dear. Now we are faced with another such turning point in our nation’s history. Will we choose to follow Trump, or to honour our tradition of generosity, compassion and courage?”
Our democracies and our values as human beings and Jews call upon us to respond. We can make a difference. Don’t hide from your responsibility to those most in need. Contact your government and help make sure that our countries’ doors remain open to the most vulnerable, who in good faith are seeking a safe refuge.
Rabbi Ira Goldberg
February 9, 2017