We are now in the middle of hol hamo’ed Pesach.
In Exodus 22:20 we are enjoined, “And a stranger shalt thou not wrong, neither shalt thou oppress him; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Variants of this message that appear elsewhere include “And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not do him wrong. The stranger that sojourneth with you shall be unto you as the home-born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:34) and “Love ye therefore the stranger; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)
In his Passover message, ADL national director Jonathan Greenblatt leveraged off the repeated phrase “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” to admonish Jews to welcome refugees from various parts of the world. He stated, “No matter their home country, they are fleeing for their lives and seeking safety in new lands.”
Greenblatt declared, “Shutting our doors to those fleeing extreme violence is un-American.” Of course, he uses as an example the experience of European Jews fleeing the Nazis to find the doors to the United States closed. To Greenblatt, the modern version of the Jewish 1930s experience is the Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act, a bill pending before Congress that would reduce and cap refugee admissions and create new procedures that would delay resettlement for many refugees.
When we start playing the Jewish guilt card, we have to pay attention to semantics.
We were a special type of stranger in Egypt. Deuteronomy 15:15 charges us to “remember you were a slave in Egypt,” using the Hebrew word eved, which can mean slave, bondsman, or serf.
Greenblatt uses “refugee” to refer to what the media and governments refer to as “migrants.” To be a refugee, you have to be running from an authority that would otherwise subject you to immediate death or imprisonment. This was true of Jews fleeing the Nazis. It may not be true for people trying leave areas of conflict for safer climes.
Political correctness can be a source of semantic redefinition. Our immigration statutes refer to aliens, hence “illegal aliens,” those who have not gone through proper immigration. But this was deemed too harsh to describe 13 million people who have entered the United States without obeying its immigration laws. So the term has been softened, and we now have “undocumented immigrants.” The root of immigrant is migrant, not refugee.
Looking at the biblical references, the key word in Hebrew is gar. This alternatively translates to “stranger” or “foreigner.” So the admonitions could apply to a person from the next town or from another country. In discussing the Leviticus reference, Rashi included converts. In discussing “love” as used in the Leviticus and Deuteronomy references, he gave it a negative connotation: Do not ascribe your faults to the stranger.
A major difference between the 1930s Jewish refugees and the migrants of today is that there is a significant segment of the latter group that would like to do our society and culture harm.
Greenblatt recognizes the problem when he writes, “The temptation may be to give in to fear and fear-mongering claims that terrorists will slip into our midst disguised as refugees, but America has put up the highest hurdles in the world for refugees seeking entry.”
High hurdles may exist on paper, but are they being enforced? If the immigration laws were enforced, would we have 13 million undocumented immigrants today? Testifying before Congress last October, FBI director James Comey reported that the federal government cannot conduct thorough checks on all the coming influx of 10,000 refugees from Syria.
Not all fear is irrational.
This week, the Washington Post described the trek of four ISIS terrorists sent to Europe. They arrived in Greece among 198 “seemingly desperate people seeking sanctuary in Europe.” The four were posing as war-weary Syrians — all carrying doctored passports with false identities. Two of the four would masquerade as migrants all the way to Paris, where they detonated suicide vests near the Stade de France sports complex, part of the worst attack in France since World War II.
Here is a thought experiment. You are given a bowl containing 1,000 M&Ms and told 10 of them are poisoned. Do you eat the M&Ms or throw them all away?
We have all heard “the Constitution is not a suicide pact.” This concept was applied by Lincoln when he suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War. The term “suicide pact” was first used in 1949 by Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson in his dissent in Terminello v. Chicago. “The choice is not between order and liberty. It is between liberty with order and anarchy without either. There is danger that, if the court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.”
Jackson’s warning applies equally to the current migrant situation. Humanitarian entreaties should be tempered by practical wisdom. Thus, to avoid the situation in Europe, Comey’s statement of fact should overlay Greenblatt’s appeal.
If the Constitution is not a suicide pact, neither should our immigration policy be.