Today, Representative Steve Israel (D-NY) voted, along with 46 other House Democrats, to suspend the acceptance of all Syrian refugees fleeing terror. It was a shameful vote for the 289 members of Congress who chose fear and callous bigotry as expedient political tools. Even more so for the 47 Democrats who joined their fear-mongering Republican counterparts in an attempt to keep desperate Syrian refugees out of our country.
However, the most shameful vote was that cast by Israel, who understands intimately how Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis were turned away by the United States in 1939. See, Israel is somewhat of an expert on the Holocaust. In fact, as Director of the Touro Law Center in the late 80s, he created the Institute for Holocaust Law and International Human Rights. It’s mission reads:
The Institute For Holocaust Law and International Human Rights aims to understand, explore and evaluate contemporary mechanisms for protecting human rights and the role of law in view of the lessons of the Holocaust and its aftermath.
This bears repeating: it’s mission is to evaluate “contemporary mechanisms for protecting human rights and the role of law in view of the lessons of the Holocaust and its aftermath.”
Apparently, Israel did not fully explore “the lessons of the Holocaust” when he voted today to block Syrians fleeing horrendous violence from finding refuge upon our shores. He did not remember how Jewish refugees turned away by the United States were murdered by Hitler’s genocidal machine. He did not evaluate how those Syrian refugees unable to seek shelter within the world’s richest country will likely be murdered as well.
Israel understands that to “Never Forget” means to fight indifference in the face of such human tragedies. To never again allow the world to look away when a people are being chased and rounded up by machine-like killers.
And yet Israel looked away. Which begs the question: would he have done so to Jewish refugees ― my relatives as well as his own ― fleeing Hitler in 1939?
I believe we all know the answer.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.
Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.