As Torah observant Jews, we must not remain unmoved by the tragedy of the Syrian Civil War and the genocide that is taking place in that country. Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State of the United States from 1969-1977, adopted a foreign policy based on the doctrine of “America First.” His governing principle was what was pragmatically best for America, and not what was most consistent with America’s system of values. For example, he would focus on American interests abroad even if they violated the principles of human rights that many citizens advocated. However, in contrast to Kissinger and those who shared his view, we must take a different approach. After all, “Tov Hashem lakol v’rachamav al kol ma’sav” – God is good to all and is merciful to all His creations, Jew and non-Jew. The Gemara in Gittin asserts that we must provide charity to, visit the sick of, and bury non-Jews because of “darchei shalom,” because of the values of peace. In other words, we must provide kindness to everyone and not just to the Jewish people.
That being said, I disagree with articles and posts on social media that have absolutely equated the current Syrian refugee crisis with the Jewish refugee crisis in the years preceding the Holocaust. It is true that there is a halakhic principle of “eivah,” or adopting certain practices so that we will not be hated by the other nations. If we do not advocate for America to take in Syrian refugees, then we have no right to expect America to take in Jewish refugees should the need ever arise again. However, there is a reality that Syrian refugees may raise a red flag that Jewish refugees or refugees from other regions do not. It is an unfortunate reality that present day Syrians are brought up hating Jews and Western society, simply as a result of being raised in places where anti-Jewish vitriol is poured out in television, schools and mosques. In fact, many European countries have had liberal immigration policies, welcoming an influx of a large Muslim population, only to be met by a marked increase in anti-Semitism in many of these countries.
Of course in order to make this comparison, we must look at the differences in the vetting processes used in America and in Europe. American society may also be different than European society in terms of the way that immigrants tend to assimilate and adopt the values of the host country. Whether the conditions in America are wholly different than in Europe, such that a large influx of Muslims in this country would not give rise to a marked increase in anti-Semitism, is a fair question. However, it is a question that must be asked. We must not automatically conclude that Syrian refugees must be allowed in America simply because we as Jews would want to be treated the same way.
If we were to conclude that due to legitimate security concerns we must limit the number of Syrian refugees in this country, it does not absolve us from working to alleviate the Syrian refugee crisis. As an example, someone told me of a situation where there was a particular individual who needed a place for a Shabbat meal, but the woman who was aware of this plight could not have this individual in her house because it would cause major shalom bayit issues with her husband. So she spent the next hour calling different people until she found a suitable place for this person to have a Shabbat meal, where ultimately, this individual was overjoyed with her Shabbat experience. “Tov Hashem lakol v’rachamav al kol maasav” dictates that even if we determine that we cannot alleviate the suffering of all refugees due to security concerns, we have a responsibility based on Torah values to ensure that the problem is addressed via other means. Perhaps this means that the United States should provide resources to refugees, or incentives to other countries that are equipped to accept additional refugees. It is my hope and prayer that our leaders strike the appropriate balance of taking ownership of the Syrian refugee crisis while ensuring that all of our citizens are protected in a reasonable and responsible fashion.