British and American Jews have opposed Donald Trump’s executive order banning people from seven war-torn Muslim-majority countries, despite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heralding it.
The new U.S. president was slammed by groups such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which said Trump’s order was “a sad moment in American history, the time when the president turned his back on people fleeing for their lives”.
Following through on a campaign pledge, Trump ordered U.S. border guards to deny entry to those travelling from Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Iran, Iraq and Sudan, with agencies saying Jews from these countries have already been affected.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews president Jonathan Arkush condemned the move. He said that “bans based on national origin are indiscriminate and unjust. They would be unlawful in U.K. law. While we all understand the need to properly check those who enter our countries, this needs to be balanced with compassion towards the plight of those fleeing for their lives.
“This is a dismaying beginning to a new US Administration. Good government needs cool, rational judgments delivered professionally, not hasty policy-making on the hoof. All those who respect and admire the USA’s commitment to freedom will call on President Trump to review this misconceived executive order.”
Also commenting were Jewish human rights groups, The Jewish Council for Racial Equality (Jcore) and refugee charity René Cassin.
Mia Hasenson-Gross, Director of René Cassin said the ban “is cruel, disproportionate and runs counter to international humanitarian law.”
“The fact that this ban was announced on International Holocaust Memorial Day should be a reminder from history as to the tragic consequences of turning away vulnerable people. We stand in solidarity with those who are fleeing for their lives, separated from their loved ones and searching for a better life, as we and our families were, not too long ago.
Dr. Edie Friedman, Executive Director of Jcore added: “We in common with many in the Jewish community, both here and in the United States, are deeply concerned about President Trump’s executive orders, banning people from seven predominantly Muslim countries. We are also concerned with his orders to indefinitely suspend the Syrian refugee programme and stopping other refugees for 120 days from seeking asylum. We need to show solidarity across different communities to demonstrate not only our condemnation of these draconian measures, but also to work together to ask that our government fulfils their obligations to bring in vulnerable refugees. This would demonstrate positive values that our countries should stand up for.”
HIAS, which was founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in 1881 to assist Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe, said a Jewish Iranian man and his mother were among the first casualties of Trump’s “interim” ban.
Mark Hetfield, HIAS chief executive, said Trump’s ban – on the eve of International Holocaust Memorial Day – was a “tragic irony,” as Holocaust survivors reminded the American president that the U.S. also closed its door in the 1930s, as Jews sought refuge from Nazi persecution.
“The entire refugee convention came out of the Holocaust and the failure of the international community to protect Jews and survivors,” he said.
Another stinging rebuke came from AJC, an American Jewish advocacy organisation and partner of the Board of Deputies. In a tweet, the group said: “We are outraged by the new U.S. refugee policy, its draconian face, + its national + religious stigmatization! This is not the American way.”
In the UK, Holocaust Memorial Day Trust chief executive Olivia Marks-Woldman refused to make any direct comparison between Trumps’ ban and the Holocaust, but said: “Any anti-Semitic comments or discriminatory language just adds fuel to discourse and just adds fuel to this kind of language.”
Reform Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers led calls for the Jewish community to urge Prime Minister Theresa May to condemn Trump’s ban, saying it was “time to speak truth to power,” while Rabbi Zvi Solomons of the Jewish Community of Berkshire said Trump’s policies were “foolish”.
In Israel, however, Netanyahu wholeheartedly approved, tweeting: “President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea.”