The People vs. Moses
view counter
Curve Ball For Jewish Leaders On Immigration

Some wonder if American Jewry’s traditional empathy for all newcomers could be waning.

10/20/10
Special To The Jewish Week
Photo Galleria: 

One of the rare issues on which nearly all mainstream Jewish organizations agree — and on which they’ve always believed they had the backing of most American Jews — involves how the United States should treat immigrants, including those who are undocumented.

More than a dozen national agencies, including the congregational arms of all four major branches of Judaism, have publicly announced their support for comprehensive immigration reform, which would go beyond an enforcement-only policy to offer unauthorized residents “a path to citizenship.”

But this week some Jewish leaders are beginning to wonder if American Jewry’s traditional empathy for all newcomers is now waning.

Their concern follows the Oct. 12 release of a survey by the American Jewish Committee that asked respondents if they supported or opposed Arizona’s controversial new law on illegal immigration. Fifty-two percent of the 800 respondents said they supported the law, while 46 percent opposed the measure and 2 percent said they weren’t sure.

“It’s a reminder that Jews are part of America and are influenced by some of the same currents that influence other Americans,” said Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University. At the same time, he noted that the 52-percent figure remains lower than the 65 percent of Americans, overall, who’ve told pollsters they favor the law.

The query was among 29 questions in a survey that focused largely on the Obama administration, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the upcoming midterm elections. But it touched on a subject that has a special resonance for American Jews, confusing and dismaying some Jewish leaders because of the result.

“That one took us by surprise,” said David Harris, AJC’s executive director.

Noting that the result seems “to defy conventional wisdom” about the Jewish commitment to progressive social policy, Harris said he couldn’t explain, but could only guess, why respondents answered as they did.

“When Americans, including Jews, see the words ‘illegal immigration,’ that helps define their answer,” he said, referring to a term used in the question. “But we don’t have enough data to tease that out, and we didn’t expect it.”

Another AJC leader close to the issue also seemed taken aback by the result.

“When I first heard about this, my first thought was, ‘Why this question?’” said Ann Schaffer, director of the organization’s Belfer Center for American Pluralism, who wasn’t alone among her colleagues in wondering why the question was asked.

“I don’t know if we know what to make of this,” Schaffer said.

As Harris suggested, one explanation for the result may rest with how the question is worded: “A new law in Arizona gives police the power to ask people they’ve stopped to verify their residency status,” it begins, simply enough. “Supporters say this will help crack down on illegal immigration. Opponents say it could violate civil rights and lead to racial profiling. On balance, do you support or oppose this law?”

“‘Racial profiling’ is not a term that people understand, but they do know that something illegal is wrong,” said Sammie Moshenberg, director of Washington operations for the National Council of Jewish Women. Even those who support comprehensive immigration reform oppose illegal immigration, she added, suggesting that it’s possible to believe in a “path to citizenship” but still tell a pollster that you support the Arizona law.

The law, key portions of which were blocked by a federal judge in July, calls for police officers to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws and requires immigrants to carry documents proving they are authorized to be in the country. The judge agreed with critics who say the law would almost certainly lead to the harassment of citizens and legal immigrants who, because of their accents or the color of their skin, look no different than many of the unauthorized residents.

Many of the respondents to the AJC poll may have been unfamiliar with those details, Moshenberg said, affecting the result even more. The poll, conducted on behalf of AJC by Synovate, a survey-research organization, took place by phone from Aug. 31 to Oct. 5.

In fact, what looms in the minds of many Americans, including Jews, is that the country’s current system of immigration is broken and in bad need of an overhaul, a factor acknowledged by several Jewish leaders. In light of that, they said, Arizona stands out as a state in which some action is being taken, no matter how wrong or misguided the law might be.

Like others, Moshenberg said she had “faith” that if the question involved comprehensive immigration reform, rather than the Arizona law, most respondents would have sided with the immigrants.

All that is nonsense to Stephen Steinlight, the lone figure who has advocated an anti-immigration stance in talks to Jewish groups and in the op-ed pages of Jewish newspapers.

“What we’ve found is a gigantic gulf between the pulpit and the pew [on the issue], and this is true of every religion in America, including Jews,” said Steinlight, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies and a former staff member at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and AJC. “Not only is it a slam dunk that Americans don’t support illegal immigration or amnesty, but Jews are no different.”

Steinlight’s contention is that illegal immigrants are taking jobs away from Americans during tough economic times, and their presence only benefits large companies looking for cheap labor.

“When Jews talk about tikkun olam [repairing the world], they have to ask themselves a question: Tikkun olam for whom? The illegal immigrant who entered the country last night or their struggling neighbor?”

The argument is a common one in the case against comprehensive immigration reform. But Steinlight, whose center also favors a lower level of legal immigration, also carries the argument further, saying that Jews have every reason to be worried about higher numbers of Hispanics in this country.

Steinlight cited a number of polls, including one conducted several years ago by the Anti-Defamation League, showing a higher level of anti-Semitism among Latin American immigrants than for other groups of Americans.

“If present immigration levels continue, [Jews] will be outnumbered by Hispanics 50 to 1,” reducing the community’s political clout considerably and hurting such Jewish concerns as Israeli security, he said. “What do you think will happen when we’re outnumbered 50 to 1?”

Those objecting to Steinlight’s logic include Ken Jacobson, the ADL’s deputy national director, who confirms that his agency found a relatively high percentage of anti-Semitic attitudes among first-generation Hispanics — 44 percent — in a 2001 survey. That compared to about 15 percent among Americans as a whole.

But the ADL also measured attitudes among second-generation Hispanic Americans, as well as those whose families have been here longer, and discovered a “significantly lower” number, Jacobson said. Twenty-one percent of that group’s members harbored anti-Semitic attitudes, less than half the percentage for foreign-born Hispanics and not much higher than the figure for Americans in general.

“We came to two conclusions,” Jacobson continued, “one being that first-generation immigrants probably developed their attitudes in their native country, much of it while attending Catholic church in rural areas, and the second being that second-generation Latinos are exposed to American pluralism, as well as churches with more liberal teachings.

“If you want to talk in terms of being overwhelmed demographically, Jews are already overwhelmed demographically,” Jacobson continued. “We’re something like 2 percent of the population.” Rather than being an argument against comprehensive immigration, Steinlight’s inferences are “an argument that more needs to be done,” especially in working with new immigrants and educating them.

Schaffer agrees, saying that if the ADL’s survey was accurate, the Jewish response shouldn’t be “to inflame the stereotypes and create more distance. Our response should be to engage [the immigrants] and build mutual respect.”

Aided by a Ford Foundation grant, the AJC is currently engaged in just such work, Shaffer said, sponsoring workshops for emerging Latino leaders in four regions across the country: Arizona, New Jersey, Houston and Chicago. The organization is also planning to bring together Jews and Latinos in various communities to learn more about each other and break down stereotypes.

HIAS is involved in similar grass-roots work through such divisions as its Young Leaders chapters.

In Washington, for instance, Phil Wolgin, a 27-year-old doctoral student, has joined other members of the local chapter in tutoring Hispanic immigrants for the U.S. citizenship test. The chapter is now planning a Chanukah party in December where its own members and the Latinos they’re coaching will share elements of their own cultures.

Wolgin believes that Jews have a special responsibility to treat immigrants fairly.

“A lot of people talk about biblical commandments to welcome the stranger,” he said. “For me, it’s more pragmatic, connected to what Jews have experienced through history. We’re not that far away from the Holocaust and not far away from the kinds of issues that made most Jews refugees.”

Last Update:

03/30/2012 - 06:06

Get The Jewish Week Newsletter

view counter

Comment Guidelines

The Jewish Week feels comments create a valuable conversation and wants to feature your thoughts on our website. To make everyone feel welcome, we won't publish comments that are profane, irrelevant, promotional or make personal attacks.

It's time for all people of the Jewish faith, who oppose open borders and amnesty, to stand up and be heard not only as dissenting voices, but as influential voices in policy decisions in the organizations that purport to represent us.

As a group, we are judged by the actions and the policies of these organizations. When these organizations support policy that is bad for the general population and existing culture of the country, and this is obvious to the general population, than we must not only speak up but be effective in enacting the change that is necessary. It's for our own good as well as for the good of the nation.

It is time to close our borders and these so-called Jewish organizations do not represent me. We are in a recession and undocumented workers are obviously willing to work for lower wages. Contractors have been hurt very badly by this and by the recession. I am sick of hear about "healing the world" - how about the libs healing those silly heads which are filled with dumb ideas. Many Latin American countries are blatantly and viciously anti-Semitic. And let's not forget that! And let's not forget the drug gangs who also run prostitution rings. Who are these so called leaders who are quoted in this article? I did not vote them into office!
The AZ law is that it is also a security issue! 'nuff said.
I for one am tired of all the liberal Jewish hypocrisy in the United States. Many Jews that are considered liberal in America are hawkish when it comes to Israel. Israel doesn't have open borders. Israel protects it borders like its existence depended on it, and there is good reason why, but how is that any different from the US? In fact, I have never been to a country, even in Arab countries and former Soviet countries, that monitors both its borders and internal activities of foreigners more than Israel. In Israel, you can be stopped by the police and army at any time and be forced to show ID. No Jewish ACLU will be there to cry racism and bail you out. I lived in Israel and it happened to me MANY TIMES and I was never engaging in any suspicious or criminal behavior. My American passport didn't give me any special privileges or respect, that is for damn sure.
When Judaism says ""And you shall love the stranger. ..." it doesn't mean leave your doors wide open and let the stranger slit your throat, eat you out of house and home, attack your children and destroy your country. It seems (finally) at least half the Jews surveyed understand that. The rest are simply the unrepentant Obamunists, who like him, simply want 20 million new "amnestied" citizens on semi-perpetual welfare, who they can depend on to vote Democrat (and keep sucking the well dry). The same candidates who want 20 million illegals made "citizens" also want the 9/11 victory mosque next to Ground Zero, and they are the same candidates who want to cut Israel in half and hand it over to the "palestinians". REMEMBER IN NOVEMBER.
Several aspects of the illegal immigration issue, as it pertains to American Jewry, are neglected or distorted by Mr. Chandler or his interviewees. (1) The fact that so many illegal aliens have gained entry to the US implies a lack of border security. Border security is obviously an important element in protecting the country from the entry of Islamic terrorists, who, by definition, are - among other things - violent antisemites. So the question personal security for Jews and other Americans is intertwined with the illegal immigration problem. Yet it not mentioned at all by Chandler. (2) Hispanic immigrants do harbor antisemitic attitudes to a greater extent than the general American population. Rather than gratuitously blaming that phenomenon on the "rural" Catholic Church, which has made genuine efforts to combat antisemitism in its teachings since 1960s, Mr. Jacobson of the ADL should look at Hispanic nationalist and extremist groups in the US, such as La Raza, which routinely spills out vile antisemitic and anti-Israel propaganda to a receptive audience. This reinforces the antisemitic and anti-Israel messages that the Hispanic immigrant may have received from a leftist government of his native land. (3)At the end of the article, Chandler quotes a young Jewish man who tutors Hispanic immigrants for their citizenship test. Obviously, these are LEGAL, not illegal, immigrants, and this is a totally different ball of wax. In addition, the comparison made by Phil Wolgin to Jewish refugees and the Holocaust doesn't hold water. No Hispanic immigrants today - whether legal or illegal - are escaping concentration camps, pogroms, or genocide in their native countries.
I really resent these organizations, which purport to be Jewish and arrogate on themselves the pretense of being "leaders" of Jews, trying to redefine to me what being Jewish means. My grandmother came to America via Ellis Island. She was thoroughly checked for diseases and criminal history (she smuggled cigarettes to fight off starvation in Poland, but never got caught, so she got in), and contraband. It took her weeks to go through processing, and she endured it all in order to breath the freedom, religious, political and economic, that America had to offer. There is nothing "Jewish" or reflecting "Jewish values" in tacitly encouraging people who refuse to go through that process, who are looking to skip to the front of the line, and whom the Democratic Party wishes to cynically use to artificially swell its ranks. Illegal immigrants should be tossed out of the US on their ears. And yes, they have small children that ought to have, and do have, our sympathies. I truly pity them for being born to such lawless, irresponsible parents, and hope that they grow up in the country of their births to improve the lot of their fellow countrymen, by staying and fighting for a better society over there. As a Jew, I am appalled that these alleged "Jewish leaders" and "Jewish organizations" can be so callous to the people who obey the rules and go through the arduous process of coming to America legally, only to be made to feel like suckers, because the Democratic Party wants to boost its membership without changing its tune: the Internationale. America is a nation of immigrants, who come here with the belief that hard work and good behavior should be rewarded. Instead, these so-called "Jewish leaders" and their equally spurious organizations wish to make it into a nation of burglars and party crashers, who come here with the belief that America is a country to be looted and exploited, not unlike what the Conquistadors did to the Incas, Mayans and Aztecs.
Whether you call someone undocumented, or an illegal immigrant, they are breaking the law by being here without going through the proper process. They are criminals, maybe not dangerous, but criminals none-the-less. When a police office pulls someone over for a speeding ticket, and finds them to be undocumented immigrants, they have now broken 2 laws and been caught. They should be deported. If you feel that immigration law should be made less strict, find politicians who agree with you, organize people to vote them into office, and have them follow the LEGAL methods of changing the existing laws. Trying to circumnavigate the law by making other policies contrary to the law are counterproductive. I do not understand why this becomes a heated debate. The people in question are criminals, and should not be allowed to remain. If the law changes, and they are no longer in violation of the law, I welcome them with open arms. Until then, sign the guest book and follow the process.
I believe that the illegal immigrants are totally unlike our Grandparents who came to the USA. Our families immigrated to become proud citizens and build lives as Americans. The current illegal community is split into criminal organizations smuggling black tar heroin, crystal meth and cocaine for powerful Mexican Drug Gangs to our Urban and Suburban communities. We all read about the illegal immigrant crime wave non-stop in the NY Times and I am very concerned about the future of NY and the rest of our nation. The US has several MILLION LEGAL immigrants EACH YEAR. We all support LEGAL immigration. The point is that the legal immigrants are not drug dealing criminals. The last immigration Bill proposed by Congress allowed convicted drug gang criminals the ability to join the path for Citizenship. As my family has been affected by these drug criminals, I simply cannot support any type of amnesty for drug dealing illegal immigrants.
What the pro illegal immigration advocates like to ignore is that we are a nation of laws, and that Americans of all religions actually believe in equality. We have a democratically enacted immigration law, that the moneyed elite has decided not to enforce in order to profit from the inflow of cheap illegal labor.. exploitating of those who come here, and depressing American wages for those here legally. What the amnesty (aka comprehensive immigration reform) folks want is preferential imigration treatment for one group. Per the DHS and the Pew Hispanic Center, almost all illegal immigrants are Latino. Why should lawbreaking Latinos be given preferential immigration treatment over law abiding people of all races who are trying to come here legally? Why should Latino American families have a greater right to family reunification with their law breaking relatives, than Americans of all other races have with their law abiding relatives? If amnesty is granted, Latinos will get to reunite with 100 of their lawbreaking relatives as compared to one law abiding relative for Americans of other races. Those who support amnesty are promoting an extremely racist policy. Amnesty makes a mockery of our constitition's anti racism provisions as well as the provision that says we are all entited to equal protection under the law. Americans, including Jewish Americans, know right from wrong. In America, no one, repeat, no one, is above the law.
"In America, no one, repeat no one, is above the law." You are paraphrasing a quote from President Theodore Roosevelt. Unfortunately, in Obama's America, "change" has made Roosevelt's quote obsolete. We have "changed" into a nation too much resembling George Orwell's "Animal Farm," where government sees to it that some "animals" are more equal than others.
I am a Jew I AM APPLAUD by the thought that Jews have forgotten what we suffered. It is UNTHINKABLE that JEWS NOW THINK IN SUCH A WAY ABOUT HASHEMs G_Ds CHILDREN?? I DON'T BELIEVE IT. HOW LOW CAN A HUMAN MIND GO?? AS A JEW THIS IS WHAT I BELIEVE. What would you see yourself as if you were looking thru the Eyes of Almighty GOD ? BECAUSE, How you Treat others is how God TREATS You. How you Forgive others is how God FORGIVES You. How you See others is how God SEEs You. When you show Empathy for the plight of another HUMAN BEING, God takes empathy in YOUR PLIGHT. When others slight you and you ignore the call to Vengeance that burns inside, God erases all memory of your failures towards him. When you SEE THE IMAGE OF GOD in ANOTHER HUMAN BEING, Then the IMAGE of GOD Becomes REVEALED WITHIN YOU. The way You Judge other HUMANS is HOW GOD Judges You. All Humans are EQUAL, ALL Humans are created and are the same in Almighty GODS VISION. What You wish for the other is what GOD Gives YOU. Happiness keeps You Sweet, Trials keep You Strong, Sorrows keep You Human, Life keeps You Humble, Success keeps You Glowing , But Only God keeps You Going.
AMEN.

Add comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.