A strange land

Joseph Aaron

If ‘merit based’ immigration, the ultimate fantasy of hateful racists like Donald Trump, had been in place after World War II, my parents never would have gotten into this country.

Yes, I am the son of people from s—hole countries.

When you so believe in doing the wrong thing, namely slamming the doors of this country in the faces of people we have traditionally let in for lots of reasons besides how useful and educated they are, there is no end to how much it eats away at your soul.

See, that’s the thing that has me so worried about Trump. It’s not his policies and executive orders, as much as they are doing to ruin the environment, allow banks to do crazy things, alienate the world, because in the end executive orders can be reversed by the next president. What cannot be so easily reversed, what damage will be permanently done is him making lying and racism and bullying and name calling perfectly acceptable, seem normal. His example of horrible behavior is sinking into the fabric of this country and won’t be soon or easily wiped away.

But this whole effort to limit immigration to Norwegians and the like hits home for me. There was no reason that this country took in my father and mother, my grandfather and grandmother after the war. They did not speak English, had no professional skills, had no money, had little education, had come from countries that were s—holes, destroyed by war, in my father’s case Hungary in my mother’s Poland. My father spent the war in several concentration camps, including Auschwitz, my mother was in Soviet labor camps, including in Siberia.

So there was no ‘merit based’ reason to let them in. And yet then, unlike in Trump’s  America now, this was the United States and that meant something, stood for something, meant we welcomed those fleeing persecution and horror, gave a helping hand to those with nothing, were a place that gave those who were stateless, were homeless, had been forced from their countries, a place in our country. Because this is America.

And so the United States took in my non-Norwegian parents, survivors of the Holocaust and gave them two things – freedom and opportunity. And they made the most of both, rebuilding their lives, working incredibly hard, sitting by the radio to learn to speak English, starting one small business after another, raising a family, being fully Jewish without fear and at the same time being fully American, feeling great thanks to this country and a great sense of responsibility to be ideal citizens.

If Donald Trump had looked at them at Ellis Island, he no doubt would have said ‘get them out, don’t let them in.’ After all, what did they have, what did they seem to offer, how would they be ‘useful’ to this country. If you had just judged them on their language aptitude or educational level or professional skills they would have seemed to be without merit, products of s—hole countries. If you had judged them on what Trump doesn’t have, namely character, you would have seen how much they would be contributing to this society.

I am a very patriotic American because this country took in my parents, when based on the values of Trump and his Republican lapdogs they seemed to have nothing to offer.  Which of all his depraved behavior is probably how he is doing the most damage to this country. Robbing us of the sense of what makes us so special and so unique. In this country, we are all Americans, all with an equal stake and an equal claim, all here because this country has values and ideals and principles and is not just about the bottom line and judging people by how Norwegian they are.

And as sad as I am to see what is being said about and done to our proud history of welcoming immigrants, I am even more sad that something similar is going on in our beloved Jewish state.

Israel, called to be a light unto the nations, has announced it plans to expel tens of thousands of Africans seeking asylum status. The Bibi government said it will force about 40,000 migrants to choose between expulsion and jail. Most are now able to move freely in the country and are able to study and do some jobs.

But Bibi, the Jewish Trump, right down to having a son who is an embarrassment, wants to send those Africans back to their s—hole countries. (Tapes recently released have the voice of son Yair Netanyahu talking about soliciting prostitutes and pimping out his girlfriend, as he was hanging out with the son of gas tycoon Kobi Maimon, Yair saying that his father had gotten the elder Maimon a “sweet” $20 billion deal to develop gas fields off Israel’s Mediterranean coast.)

To their credit, several major Jewish organizations have strongly condemned Bibi’s treatment of these migrants, his incredibly anti-Jewish values move. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella body for Jewish public policy groups, issued a statement saying “We urge the government to suspend its plan to deport Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers who entered the country between 2007-12, and develop a comprehensive policy for non-Jewish asylum-seekers that safeguards human dignity and human rights, in compliance with Israel’s obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention. We believe that such a policy would ensure Israel’s security, and honor Israel’s values as a compassionate, Jewish and democratic state.”

Separately, HIAS, which knows a whole lot about welcoming and caring for refugees, and the ADL sent a letter to Bibi which said, “As American Jews, one of our greatest concerns is the well-being and security of Israel; we want to see it prosper and overcome all of the challenges its precarious location imposes on it. We also care about our shared Jewish values and refugee heritage — a very human concern that reaches across borders and distances — and unifies us as a people.”

Some 60,000 asylum seekers from countries torn by war and suffering under repressive regimes arrived in Israel between 2007 and 2012, when Israel built a fence along the border with Egypt that ended the influx. About 20,000 of them have taken up an Israeli offer to leave for African destinations with several thousand dollars of cash. Many of these have reportedly been robbed and kidnapped into slavery, and in some cases murdered.

That being the case, you would think the land of the Chosen People would not force the other 40,000 to go back. But that is exactly what the government of Israel intends to do. Force refugees who fled hell to go back to hell, be forced into slavery, if not murdered.

That the United States of America can consider drastically cutting the number of immigrants we take in, and only take in those who are ‘merit based,’ not caring if some who want to come have family already here; if the United States is talking about sending back tens of thousands of immigrants who came here from s—hole countries, is playing games with the lives of 800,000 brought here as children, is almost impossible to believe. We have a Statue of Liberty on our doorstep, with words that tell us who we are, how we are to be.

But it is even more impossible to believe that the Jewish state is forcing out 40,000 immigrants who came because they were desperate, because they were being persecuted, who came to find a safe haven. That the Jewish state wants to send them back to countries where they are sure to suffer is too heartbreaking to believe.

Israel is supposed to stand for something. Israel is supposed to be an oasis of compassion, Jews are supposed to live by the words of the Torah to ‘remember that you were strangers in a strange land,’ not to do unto others as you would not have done unto you, to be a light unto the nations, not one as dark as Trump’s America.

I take what Trump is doing on immigration very personally because this country took in my parents not because it made sense, but because it was the right, humane, G-dly thing to do. I take what Bibi is doing on immigration very personally because I am a Jew and Israel is the Jewish state and it is supposed to act like it, to treat the stranger and the oppressed and the downtrodden not like other countries do, but like the Jewish state is supposed to do.

The Jewish people, wherever they live, are called on to act as Jews are supposed to. Which is why I am so dismayed that so many Jews are at the forefront of the disgusting men being found to be sexual harassers and abusers. Just in the last week or so, we’ve learned about James Rosen of Fox News, a Jew who would get into an elevator with women and forcibly kiss them; we learned about renowned fashion photographer Bruce Weber, a Jew who  would force his male models to undress, get into bed with him, force them to touch his private parts, put his hands on their private parts; we learned about Eric Greitens, the first Jewish governor of Missouri, who threatened to blackmail a woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair by taking a photo of her in compromising positions to use if she ever came forward; we learned about James Franco, an actor and a Jew who several women said had acted in a sexually inappropriate way toward them when they were filming a movie, including becoming angry when they did not want to take off their tops and removing plastic guards covering women’s genitals in a sex scene. One said Franco would make women think they could get a role if they performed sexual favors. And we learned that Shlomo Carlebach, a Jewish icon who did so much to bring Judaism to unaffiliated Jews, whose songs are sung to this day all over the world, whose style of praying is emulated in ‘Carlebach shuls’ all over the world, including Jerusalem, was a serial abuser of women, doing all kinds of inappropriate things with women he was introducing to Judaism, having sex with them, fondling them, claiming it was part of their spiritual renewal. We now know this because of the courage of Carlebach’s daughter who recently wrote an article expressing her shame at his behavior.

So many Jews, in addition to so many other Jews we’ve learned about the last few months, all of it, of course, beginning with a Jew, Harvey Weinstein.

When Israel harasses desperate migrants, as it is doing, the effect is to erode the Jewish character, diminish Jewish values, debase Jewish principles, and the effect can be felt all over the Jewish world in so many ways. It is no accident that in this #MeToo world, so very many of the creeps are Jews.

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