Jewish history propels welcome to Syrians

September 11, 2015
Sarah Benton

This posting has these items:
1) Guardian: UK must emulate Kindertransport to aid refugee crisis, says Lord Sacks, the retired Chief Rabbi rediscovers the Judaic non-sectarian humanitarian tradition;
2) Jewish Chronicle: Refugee crisis: Community’s combined initiative draws huge support;
3) Jewish News: The Jewish community has mobilised to help refugees, raising £85,000 in 48 hours;
4) Informed comment: Jewish Refugees in ’30s or Syrians today, USA Falls Short of own Ideals, Juan Cole on a country which has not said “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” since the 19thC;
5) Forward: Jewish Groups Lead Push To Crack Open Doors to Syria Refugees, Nathan Guttman on the American response;
6) The Age: Jewish Holocaust Centre compares Syrian refugees with Jews fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe, Jews speak out in a country which doesn’t welcome more Arab immigrants.

Syrian refugees, on foot, cross the border into Turkey. Photo by Zohra Bensemra

UK must emulate Kindertransport to aid refugee crisis, says Lord Sacks

Former chief rabbi says Britain must respond to situation with gesture similar to aiding Jewish children before second world war

By Chris Johnston, Guardian
September 04, 2015

Jonathan Sacks said it was time for compassion to triumph. Photograph: David Sillitoe for the Guardian

Britain needs to make a bold gesture similar to Kindertransport to help address the humanitarian crisis engulfing Europe, the former chief rabbi has said.

Jonathan Sacks [ below] said it was time for human compassion to triumph in the same way as the scheme that saved thousands of Jewish children before the second world war broke out. He said that a “very clear and conspicuous humanitarian gesture, like Kindertransport” would help to achieve that aim.

 “Europe is being tested as it has not been tested since the  second world war … The European Union was created as a  way of saying that we recognise human rights, after the  catastrophe of two world wars and the Holocaust, and it’s  very chilling to see some of these scenarios being re-  enacted,” Lord Sacks told BBC2’s Newsnight on Thursday.

He believes that the UK could accommodate 10,000  displaced people: “It’s a figure to which Britain would  respond. The churches, the religious groups, the charities would all join in, and I think we would be better for doing that.”

Meanwhile, former home secretary David Blunkett said the UK had a moral obligation to take about 25,000 refugees – which was still a fraction of Germany’s total.

“We should concentrate on those coming through Turkey, who have been persecuted and ejected from Syria, and we should concentrate on women and children,” he said.

Safe Haven. Syrian refugees walk from the train station in Dortmund, Germany, to a reception centre on September 6th. Photo by Martin Meissner / AP

While a global response was needed, Blunkett added: “If we are going to be taken seriously by anybody as a nation in putting that programme together, we are going to have to face the challenge of taking refugees in very large numbers ourselves.”

Oxfam chief executive Mark Goldring said: “Offering to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees would bring the UK in line with other European countries who have already shown leadership in offering a haven to vulnerable refugees.” He said he hoped that the government would clarify as soon as possible the number of refugees from Syria the UK would resettle and by what date.

Refugee crisis: Community’s combined initiative draws huge support

By Rosa Doherty, Jewish Chronicle
September 09, 2015

The community united this week to co-ordinate its response to the refugee crisis.

Religious movements, charities and other bodies, led by the Board of Deputies, arranged to meet on Thursday to discuss a cross-communal aid effort.

Representatives of the United Synagogue, Masorti, Reform, and Liberal movements were due to attend. Also expected to be present were London-based human-rights charity René Cassin; the Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE); and the Jewish Leadership Council.

 The Board’s senior vice-president, Richard Verber, L, who is  also campaigns manager at World Jewish Relief, said they  would be looking at how to support any international aid  effort to refugees from Syria, Iraq and north Africa who had  reached Europe, along with what help could be offered to  those who were offered asylum in the UK.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said Britain will take  20,000 refugees from camps neighbouring Syria over the  next five years, describing the mission as “the modern-day equivalent of the Kindertransport”.

Mr Verber said: “It’s important the community know what is going on and how they can get involved to help.

“There is a lot happening at a local and individual level, but we wanted a cross-communal group to come together so we can contribute in the most useful way possible.”

The power of this photo is not because it features a baby – who we only learn is dead by reading the caption; the internet is awash with photos of dead babies and children from Gaza, Iraq, Syria. It is the tenderness with which the tall Macedonian policeman is carrying the lifeless corpse, reminding us that we too can be tender toward the desperate. Reuters

The community was moved to act after the publication of the shocking image of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy whose body was washed up on a Turkish beach.
World Jewish Relief launched an emergency appeal. More than £85,000 has been raised in three days, but Mr Verber said the sum was a drop in the ocean of what was needed.
WJR chief executive Paul Anticoni said: “Europe is facing the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War. We must act now.” The charity has promised to provide food, shelter and emergency materials to refugees in Turkey, Bulgaria and Greece who are fleeing war and persecution.

Mr Anticoni said: “Responding in the disaster zones is what the WJR knows how to do and the people who are in the camps neighbouring Syria are the most vulnerable.

“They have not been able to make the perilous journeys others have and we are working with our partners on the ground to help there.”

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has pledged his support for the appeal saying Jews have a responsibility to respond to the humanitarian crisis.

He said: “Our heritage must inform the way that we respond. This is a deep and tragic humanitarian emergency.” He urged the Jewish community to provide a “compassionate response at this great time of need.”

Rabbi Mirvis discussed the refugee crisis with Pope Francis at a private audience in the Vatican last week, describing it as “a profound challenge”.

 Reform Judaism’s senior rabbi, Laura Janner-Klausner [L]   called on the community to support the WJR appeal.

She said: “When we look across at Calais and beyond, we see  ourselves. I believe future generations will judge Britain  against its response to today’s crisis.”

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, senior rabbi of Masorti Judaism  said: “We see with horror the pictures of the drowned, the  hungry and the exhausted, and remember that only a  generation ago our parents were refugees, desperate for  somewhere to let them in and allow them to live.

“The question is therefore simply: ‘What can I do to help?’ Directed by the knowledge and skills of World Jewish Relief, we must respond with all the compassion, energy and generosity we can.”

Senior rabbi and chief executive of Liberal Judaism, Danny Rich, said: “World Jewish Relief will lead the immediate response of the Jewish community and I trust, using our unique experience, the community will follow through.”

Jews in Manchester were being directed to support the appeal by the community’s representative council.

Edie Friedman, director of JCORE, said it was important that British Jewry was seen to respond collectively to the crisis. She said: “It is hard to know what to do and, as a community, we want to do what is the most helpful, which is why we want a co-ordinated response.

“People know they can support the appeal and that will help internationally and then we will work out how we can best help refugees once in the UK.

“We don’t just want to accept these people – it is important they get the support they need to be here.”

She added that the community could have responded quicker to the problem: “JCORE have been warning about the crisis for some time. There is no easy answer but, as a community, those images should resonate with us.”

Finchley Progressive Synagogue’s Rabbi Rebecca Qassim Birk is leading a local Citizens UK campaign to get 50 Syrian refugees resettled in Barnet.

The interfaith group includes Rwandan, Syrian, Jewish and Catholic communities in Barnet who are organising homes, school places and doctors’ surgeries to support the refugees ahead of their arrival.

As part of the scheme, four Jewish landlords have offered to house refugees, 32 GP surgeries have offered to register refugees and five schools have committed to giving places to Syrian children.

Both Masorti and Reform movements held meetings on Monday. Nic Shlagman, community projects co-ordinator for West London Synagogue, told Reform members about the success of the synagogue’s drop-in centre for refugees. He said: “If anyone wants advice or help on how to set up their own one in their shul we can help with that.

“In the short-term, the camp in Calais still needs warm clothing for men, tents and sleeping bags. They also need people to help build shelters. We are co-ordinating a van of volunteers to go and help with that.”

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks led calls for Britain to respond to the refugee crisis with a humanitarian gesture similar to the Kindertransport.

He said that Britain needed to take a more generous approach to accepting refugees.
Speaking on BBC2’s Newsnight programme, Lord Sacks said: “Some of the images we have seen in the last few days have brought back images that we thought we would never see again.

“They take our mind way back to the Holocaust and it is important to remember simple humanitarian gestures like the Kindertransport, which rescued 10,000 children in Germany.

“It was only 10,000 out of six million, but it lit a light in the darkest period of history.”

Former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind said he was concerned that refuges were risking their lives trying to reach northern Europe having already arrived in a place of relative safety in Turkey.

The former Conservative MP, who is Jewish, said: “From a humanitarian point of view, I don’t blame anyone for wanting to seek out a better life in the north of Europe. But, from an asylum point of view, if you are in Turkey already you are not in danger, they are not going to lose their lives if they are in Turkey or Jordan.”

He added: “I have no doubt that we should be taking more people. It’s not just a problem for the UK. When you go back to the Second World War and the refugee crisis there, it involved large numbers of people going to Canada, Australia and the United States.

“We should be expecting other developed countries to be playing ball and there has been very little discussion around that.”

Speaking at the Holocaust Educational Trust annual dinner on Monday, Business Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Anyone who fled murderous extremism 75 years ago will find the refugee crisis we face today depressingly familiar.”

He added that it was “incumbent upon those of us who are more fortunate, to offer such men, women and children the safe haven they desperately need and they truly deserve.
“If we look the other way; if we say it’s nothing to do with us; if we say a refugee’s not welcome here because of his or her religion; then we are no better than those who tried to bar the door against Jewish refugees two generations ago.”

Labour MP Luciana Berger criticised the Prime Minister’s pledge to take in 20,000 refugees and said it lacked “ambition”.

Britain’s youngest Jewish MP attacked the slow response of the government and said, “it has done too little and taken too long to respond to this crisis”.

Ms Berger said: “It has failed to live up to Britain’s historic role as a country that offers asylum to those fleeing persecution and death.

“It has also failed to provide the leadership needed to help co-ordinate our response with other European nations.”

A banner unfurled at Northwood and Pinner shul [synagogue]

The Jewish community has mobilised to help refugees, raising £85,000 in 48 hours

The Jewish community has rallied to the plight of refugees from the Middle East, with David Cameron describing the country’s efforts as “the modern equivalent of the Kindertransport”

By Stephen Oryszczuk, Jewish News Online
September 10, 2015

Earth-shattering images of drowned children lying face down on a Turkish beach last week galvanised the community to call on the government to do more, as many sought to take action directly.

Refugees try to make their way from Serbia through barbed wire on the Hungarian border, August 2015.

An emergency appeal by World Jewish Relief -was launched on Monday to provide food, shelter and emergency materials to refugees in Turkey and Greece. It drew immediate support, with £85,000 pledged by Wednesday morning, by charity chiefs said much more was needed. Synagogue movements across the religious spectrum, as well as the major communal organisations and charities, supported the call for money.

A round-table meeting was convened for Thursday, chaired by Board of Deputies’ senior vice-president Richard Verber. The purpose it to create a “cross-communal response” to the crisis, he said.

Meanwhile, rabbis and cantors from the charity Tzelem UK wrote to the prime minister, saying: “The Jewish community will help in finding homes for shelter… We will raise funds for food, clothing and education.”

Verber, who is also campaigns manager at WJR, said: “We’ve received lots of calls and emails from supporters offering to take in refugee families.”

Synagogues of all denominations also got involved. People sought to help in practical ways, from shul drop-ins and shelters, to campaigns targeting local councils.

Among the first to react was Finchley Progressive Synagogue, which began looking for landlords for 50 Syrian refugee families in Barnet, the rent for which will be paid directly by the European Union for two years. Elsewhere, at places like West London Synagogue, Alyth Synagogue and New North London Synagogue, networks of volunteers were formed to lay on drop-in centres for asylum seekers and refugees, offering hot meals, grocery vouchers, clothing, companionship and advice.

Several members also went down to Harmondsworth Detention Centre to make initial contact, while Masorti Young Adults began collecting resources to support refugees ahead of their trip to Calais over Sukkot.

At Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue and Borehamwood & Elstree United Synagogue, banners were unfurled, reading “Refugees Welcome,” as clothing and other items were dropped off and collected at places like Mill Hill shul. Many offered their places of worship as temporary night shelters for refugees, in the event of an overflow.

Across the capital, community members mobilised in any way they could. Students took to blogs, interfaith co-ordinators liaised with Christian and Muslim communities, and different denominations came together to share expertise.

It was the same story across Europe. Across the Channel, French Chief Rabbi Chaim Korsia urged Europe’s leaders to match the actions of non-Jews who saved Jews from the Nazis by welcoming Syrian refugees, while Italian Jewish leader Renzo Gattegna urged the community to provide aid and welcome refugees, as communities in Florence and Milan worked with civic authorities to source accommodation.

Some 300,000 people have risked their lives to come to Europe this year, a phenomenon WJR chief executive Paul Anticoni described as “the greatest refugee crisis since WW2.” Liberal Judaism chief executive Rabbi Danny Rich said it was “the biggest moral challenge to face Europe for a generation”.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who initially resisted calls to take refugees, later agreed the UK would take 20,000 refugees – mainly children – from Syrian camps. He said it was “the modern equivalent of the Kindertransport”.

 Sir Mick Davis, [L, knighted in Queen’s birthday honours  and major donor to Tory Party] the head of Cameron’s  Holocaust Commission and chairman of the Jewish  Leadership Council, said Britain had a “moral imperative”  to help, and that the UK had welcomed Jews fleeing from the Nazis in the 1930s, so should not now “shut itself off”.

At the Holocaust Education Trust dinner on Monday, Business Secretary Sajid Javid said: “If we look the other way… then we are no better than those who tried to bar the door against Jewish refugees two generations ago.”

Everyone agreed that, for Jews, this issue was close to the heart. “Many Jews wouldn’t be here today without our ancestors finding shelter as refugees,” said Anticoni. “Just as the Jewish community did not stand idly by in the 1930s, our community must once again come together to take action to support those fleeing violence, war and persecution.”

Pope Francis meets the British and Commonwealth Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis on September 3rd to discuss the refugee crisis. Photo flickr

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis supported WJR’s appeal, saying: “As Jews, many of us have family members who were refugees. Our heritage must inform our response to this deep and tragic humanitarian emergency. I urge our Jewish community to provide a compassionate response at this great time of need.”

Other religious leaders added weight. Senior Reform Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner said the crisis had “touched our community in a way we have not seen before,” adding: “When we look across at Calais and beyond, we see ourselves… Future generations will judge Britain against its response today.”

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, Senior Rabbi of Masorti Judaism, said: “We see with horror the pictures of the drowned, the hungry and the exhausted, and remember that only a generation ago our parents were refugees, desperate for somewhere to let them in and allow them to live.”

North of the border, Ephraim Borowski of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities echoed those sentiments, in a letter with other faith leaders, saying: “Our faiths in their different ways are rooted in the refugee experience, in what it means to be forced to leave a place where one’s very existence is threatened in search of somewhere safer.” year.”

• To donate to World Jewish Relief’s crisis appeal, which will provide food, shelter and emergency materials to refugees in Turkey, Bulgaria and Greece, where the need is greatest, visit:

More Syrian refugees walk into Iraq at the Peshkhabour border point. The refugee camps are full. Photograph: Hadi Mizban/AP

Whether Jewish Refugees in ’30s or Syrians today, USA Falls Short of own Ideals

By Juan Cole, Informed Comment blog
September 06, 2015

Germany, a country of 80 million, will take in 800,000 refugees this year, many of them Syrians. That is 1 percent of their population. It would be like the USA taking in 3 million refugees in one year.

The US takes in 70,000 refugees a year. Last year it accepted about 400 Syrian refugees.

The United States invaded Iraq in 2003, which led to the creation of roughly 4 million Iraqi refugees out of the then some 26 million Iraqis, or nearly 1/6th of the population. That would be like 50 million Americans displaced. The US took in only a few thousand Iraqi refugees after causing all that trouble. The US invasion radicalized Iraq’s Sunnis and drove them into the arms of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which morphed into Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) at camp Bucca and then took much of Syria, contributing to making 11 million of 22 million Syrians into displaced persons. 4 million have been forced abroad, to Jordan, Lebanon & Turkey, and now thousands are trying to get into Europe.

The US politicians who voted for the Iraq War say we can’t let in Iraqis or Syrians because they might have been radicalized.

This grim landscape of racism, religious prejudice, blaming the victim and racial exclusion from immigration is deja vu all over again. In the 30s, it was the Jews that the troglodytes didn’t want.

The SS St. Louis docked in Havana, May 13, 1939. None of its 900 Jewish escapees was allowed to disembark, and the ship was not allowed to dock in any American port. In the end, it sailed back to Europe on June 7th. Negotiations secured places for most of the refugees: 228 to Great Britain, 224 to France, 214 to Belgium, 181 to Holland.

It turns out that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was not responsible for America’s refusal to take more than a few thousand Jewish refugees during the 1930s. He wanted to spend $150 million to distribute millions of Jewish refugees among 10 democratic countries. His failures were imposed on him by a Congress that wouldn’t act and a foot-dragging State Department. By 1940 it was too late, as Europe became a fortress.
But the US in the 1930s did betray its ideals as a refuge for people yearning to be free. The episode of the SS St Louis, a ship full of 900 Jewish refugees that got close enough to Miami to see its lights before being turned back to Europe, epitomized this failure. A third of the passengers were later murdered by the Nazis.

One Jewish refugee the US did take in was Albert Einstein. How would we not have been better off if we’d had more like him?

The bad economy of the Great Depression was one reason for fear of immigrants. Politicians and labor leaders worried that they would take jobs from workers already in the US. Racism was rampant. In 1924 Congress passed a basically Nazi immigration law that limited immigration on the basis of country — i.e. racial — quotas. The Semitic countries like Syria should, according to this law, keep their people (I recollect that the annual quota for Syrian immigrants was 400– even though tens of thousans of Syro-Lebanese had come from about 1880, including famed writer Kahlil Gibran. All the Norwegians could come who wanted to.)

There was a Chinese exclusion Act, i.e. zero Chinese were wanted.

So simple Aryan racism was partially responsible for the exclusion of the Jews. If the US had thrown open its doors, the 200,000 Jews who went to Palestine in the 30s would have come here and there never would have been Arab-Israeli wars or 7 million Palestinian refugees.

Jews were also seen by some US Neanderthals as having socialist tendencies and so were kept out as radicals. There was talk of the Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy. (Hatred of Jews was irrational, so that they were blamed for being bankers [they were less than 1 percent of bankers] at the same time they were excoriated for being Marxists). There was also the Society for the Defense of Christianity, so fundamentalists did their part.

All the same arguments against letting in the Jews are now being deployed to keep out the Syrians. Not Christian. Alien ideology. Would take jobs. Nobody is openly saying they aren’t Aryan but the Trumpists might as well be.

In the clip below IRA / terrorism supporter Rep Peter King, of Irish descent (i.e. refugees taken in by Protestant America from famine), warns against letting more than a handful of Syrians in. He isn’t worse than most of us, unfortunately. (The Irish discontent was justified, but terrorism never is; and King is a hypocrite.)
Steve Jobs’s father was an immigrant from Syria. We need more like him, and we need fewer children washing up dead on beaches. If we’re going to bomb Syria, we need to take care of the displaced.

Jewish Groups Lead Push To Crack Open Doors to Syria Refugees

By Nathan Guttman, Jewish Forward
June 25, 2015

Of the four million Syrians who have fled their war-torn country in recent years, at least 135,000 of them require immediate resettlement.

But America has absorbed fewer than 1,000.

For Jewish activists pushing the government to shift gears, that feeble number and the accompanying bottleneck in resettlement of Syrian refugees are troubling reminders of their community’s own experience during World War II.

“Waiting two years for resettlement isn’t really rescue,” said Melanie Nezer, vice president for policy and advocacy at HIAS, the leading communal group dealing with the admission of refugees. “As a Jewish community, we understand what it means to be refugees without getting any help. We would have been in a different place if the world had stepped up then.”

The challenge facing Jewish groups assisting Syrian refugees is more complex than their past missions, which involved helping refugees from the former Soviet Union or from South East Asia gain entry to the United States. Security checks have been ramped up significantly in the past decade, slowing the admissions process to a grind. For many refugees, the road to a new life in America is a years-long journey. A less-inviting climate now prevails, regarding all forms of immigration. And there is an extra sense of suspicion in some political circles toward those coming from Muslim and Arab countries. This has made advocacy on their behalf even harder.

“There is a politicization of the refugee issue, which is concerning,” Nezer said.
Human rights organizations often refer to the Syrian civil war, now in its fourth year, as the biggest humanitarian crisis of our generation. Brutal attacks by the Assad regime against opposition forces have been followed by equally vicious responses by forces from the group known as the Islamic State, which has taken over parts of the country. The result so far is more than a quarter of a million casualties and a country in ruins. The 4 million Syrians who have fled their homeland have found temporary shelter in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. Many more are described as internally displaced, a term used for those who were forced to flee their homes and towns because of fighting and are now living a refugee life in their own country.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the aid agency tasked with determining refugee status and identifying those in need of immediate relief, has been sifting through requests for resettlement in the refugee camps on Syria’s borders. The 135,000 already deemed by UNCHR to be at high risk in their current situations include single women or those with children but no father present, refugees suffering from illnesses, and those facing persecution, including journalists and political and human rights activists.

“I’ve seen families that are really desperate,” said Shadi Martini, a Syrian expatriate working from the United States to help refugees. “They want to survive, but they can’t work, and have to go through this very long process. They don’t have any idea when they’ll be resettled.”

Martini serves as a senior Syria adviser at the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees, an ecumenical group working to assist refugees in the camps, including those wishing to resettle.

The Multifaith Alliance, noted Rabbi Eric J. Greenberg, the organization’s director of communications, programs and interfaith relations, started off as a Jewish response to the Syrian crisis. A year and half ago the group reached out to other faith-based groups and to humanitarian organizations, inviting them to join the effort. The alliance is made up of 40 groups of all faiths, but Jewish organizations still play a prominent role in the coalition.

The alliance has deployed its funds to help Syrian refugees in camps and to raise awareness of the crisis they face among Americans. The group delivered part of its assistance through Israeli relief organizations working at the Syrian refugee camps. In an official publication, the alliance said it is “nurturing this development through transformative Syrian-Israeli civil society engagement to complement future governmental diplomatic work.”

It is uncertain how recent revelations of Israeli military assistance to Jihadist groups fighting in Syria may now impact the humanitarian assistance provided by these Israeli relief groups.

Meanwhile, back in America, the Jewish community’s efforts to resolve the Syrian refugee crisis include high-level advocacy aimed at helping more Syrians resettle here.
Traditionally, the United States has taken it upon itself to admit half the refugees worldwide who are identified by UNHCR as being in need of immediate resettlement. In the Syrian case, this translates into about 65,000 out of the 135,000 total. But so far, UNHCR, slowed by its own vetting process, has referred only 12,000 requests to the United States.

Experts anticipate that by the time the refugee evaluation process is completed, some 400,000 will be recognized as needing resettlement. This will present America with a request to absorb 200,000 Syrian refugees.

But U.S. resettlement quotas, which have not been updated in years, now stand at 70,000 people total, from all over the world, per year. HIAS and Jewish groups are asking to increase this quota to 100,000 per year, a level the United States maintained in the 1980s. “It’s not a huge number for a country the size of the United States,” Nezer said.

But even if the quota is increased — a move that could face large political hurdles — filling it will be difficult, due to the extensive vetting and security background checks now in place. The process has slowed admissions to a trickle.

Refugees identified by the UN as being vulnerable and in need of resettlement are required to fill out lengthy forms and to provide detailed information before being cleared for resettlement by UNHCR. The refugees, many of whom are dealing with health and family problems, are then asked by the United States to repeat much of the process. As a result, their average waiting time for resettlement is 18 months.

Jewish groups have been working on a model that could eliminate some of the double checks and make the process more efficient. All involved stress that they are not asking Washington to relax its security checks. The proposals include instituting coordination between the U.S. and UNHCR background checks; allowing qualified nongovernmental organizations to conduct parts of the process, and providing a quicker track for women and children, who make up 80% of the high-risk refugees.

The advocacy groups are also examining the possibility of temporary resettlement in a third country while the U.S. clearance process gets carried out.

Their efforts look likely to face political pushback. Republican Michael McCaul of Texas, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, warned recently that letting in more Syrian refugees would be a “serious mistake” because there is no way of knowing if they are affiliated with terror groups.

Not only has the lengthy process plagued Syrian refugee resettlement, it also hurt attempts to help Iraqi and Afghan nationals who worked with U.S. forces during the wars in their countries. Facing backlash after the American troops’ withdrawal, they were promised resettlement in the United States but have had to wait years for admission.

A group of Democratic senators, led by Dick Durbin of Illinois, sent a letter to President Obama on May 21, urging him to increase resettlement quotas and to speed up the background check process. “We must continue to carefully screen refugee applicants for all national security and terrorism concerns,” the Democratic senators wrote, “but we urge you to devote sufficient resources and staff to ensure that this process does not hinder resettlement for legitimate refugees, many of whom are living in difficult, even life-threatening, situations.”

While Jewish and interfaith groups are determined to push for a more welcoming approach for Syrian refugees, they are purposely avoiding any stance regarding the long-term future of Syria. Planning proposals for a postwar Syria span from a united multiethnic nation to breaking up the country into autonomous regions for the different groups. But members of the coalition deem this issue premature — and also likely to lead to the breakup of their alliance.

“That’s a political, not a humanitarian, question,” Greenberg said.

Contact Nathan Guttman at or on Twitter, @nathanguttman

Jewish Holocaust Centre compares Syrian refugees with Jews fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe

By Bianca Hall, The Age (Australia)
September 09, 2015

Melbourne’s Jewish Holocaust Centre has compared the refugee crisis engulfing Europe with the desperate and doomed attempts of Jewish refugees to flee Nazi Germany.

 In a speech on Tuesday night, curator and head of  collections Jayne Josem​ [L] said the sight of thousands of  Syrian refugees making desperate attempts to reach and  settle in Europe bore chilling similarities to the attempts of  Jewish families to flee the Nazis before and during World  War II.

Millions perished after world leaders failed to agree on a  plan to accept substantially more Jewish refugees, trapping them in Hitler’s net.

“It is a fantastic commentary on the inhumanity of our times that for thousands and thousands of people a piece of paper with a stamp on it is the difference between life and death,” Mrs Josem said, quoting American journalist Dorothy Thompson in 1938.

“I wonder, is it just me or did that make any of you think about what’s going on in Europe right now with thousands of Syrian refugees clamouring to find a safe haven for themselves and for their families?

“The news this past week has made me think a lot about Jews in Europe in the period 1938 to 1939, about the Evian Conference, and about the St Louis ‘voyage of the damned’,” she said.

United States delegate Myron Taylor delivers a speech at the Evian Conference on Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. Evian-les-Bains, France, August 21, 1938 (USHMM photo).

The Evian conference was convened by the US President Franklin D Roosevelt to bring 32 countries together to try to find a “solution” to the problem of ever-larger numbers of Jewish people fleeing Nazi persecution across Europe. Most refused to take substantially more refugees, and in 1939 the St Louis – carrying more than 900 Jewish refugees – was refused entry at Cuba, the US and Canada and eventually returned to Europe.

Ms Josem was speaking at the launch of an exhibition at the Jewish Holocaust Centre about the 20,000 Jewish refugees who found safe haven in Shanghai after Hitler came to power in Germany. At the time, Shanghai was one of the few global ports that were open.

“It is a powerful story about what happens when countries don’t have restrictions on entry,” Mrs Josem said.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced Australia would offer protection to 12,000 Syrian refugees.

Refugee Council of Australia President Phil Glendenning welcomed the commitment, which he described as “an important first step”.

“We applaud the leadership of the Prime Minister on acting so promptly once community concern became apparent, for the people fleeing conflict and persecution in Syria” he said.

It’s estimated that more than 11.6 million people have been affected by the civil war in Syria, including more than 4 million who have fled to neighbouring countries.

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