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Never Again: A Jewish Take On Anti-Syrian Refugee Sentiment

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The phrase "never again" has a special meaning to Jews: it's about remembering the Holocaust and using that memory to try and prevent history from being repeated with new, if smaller, genocides.

Well, we should be shouting it again when it comes to ethnic refugees desperately fleeing a new, if smaller, globally ambitious death cult with horrific means to achieving their apocalyptic ends because those anti-Semitic anti-refugee attitudes of the late-1930s have returned with a new Islamic target.

Ever since the Paris attacks, the public opinion pendulum that had headed towards humanity regarding Syrian refugees after the shocking photo of young, dead Alan Kurdi has swung back so hard as to practically fall off its pivot.

Within days, if not hours, came calls for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to "suspend" his plan to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the year's end, most notably Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall who reflected the perspective of countless Islamophobic Internet commenters, tweeters and status updaters. Over 34,000 of them even signed an anti-refugee petition.

Down south, 27 and counting U.S. governors have declared their states to be refugee-free zones even as the Republican presidential candidates try to out-hate each other.

While most said no refugees never ever, Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz joined Fox News-owning billionaire and Mr. Burns impersonator Rupert Murdoch in a Christians-only hot take, all feeling no shame in publicly declaring their prejudice rather than merely implying it. ("That's not American," responded Obama. "That's not who we are. We don't have religious tests to our compassion.")

Well, fuck you. Seriously. All of you.

I'm Jewish, and so I have a particular perspective on these anti-refugee opinions.

My great-grandparents fled the Russian Pogroms of the late 1800s that burned their shtetl villages to the ground, eventually finding refuge here in Canada where three of my four grandparents were born. My Zaida Emile, the namesake of my son, was born in Paris but arrived in Montreal by steamship as a toddler.

They made it out, somehow escaping the Soviets and the Nazis to the safety of Canada. But a few decades later they wouldn't have.

Twitter account @HistOpinion, run by Ohio history professor Peter A. Shulman, has been tweeting out some important context. Here are some U.S. public opinion surveys from 1938 and 1939 regarding whether or not America should take in mostly Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, Austria and Central Europe. They not only didn't want them, they didn't even want to save CHILDREN.

One of the main reasons used to keep Jewish refugees out, which Reason reports not only flooded the media but was even endorsed by President Franklin Roosevelt, was that they were "Hitler's Slave Spies in America."

The argument was that Jews could be acting as Trojan horse saboteurs to protect their Nazi-captured loved ones -- or that Nazis could infiltrate America posing as Jews -- and so had to be denied entry. The ascribed motivation may be different, but the fear-stoking security concerns are the same.

Oh, and in case Canadians want to get on on their high horse here, don't forget that we were just as culpable back then, infamously joining the U.S. in refusing to accept the more than 900 Jewish refugee passengers on the MS St Louis ocean liner, one of the last ships out of Germany before WWII started later that year.

A Forward magazine article reported that the head of Canadian immigration at the time, Frederick Charles Blair, "believed an international Jewish conspiracy was trying to skirt Canadian immigration policies by sneaking the refugees into the country."

Sound familiar?

Or maybe this quote from the book "The Making of the Mosaic: A History of Canadian Immigration Policy" that said even after the war, "as public-opinion polls demonstrated, Jewish refugees were regarded as an alien race, incapable of assimilating into the Canadian way of life."

Trudeau, in fact, invoked this national shame in March, prior to the election campaign, foreshadowing how it would teeter toward outright Islamophobia and racism.

"We should all shudder to hear the same rhetoric that led to a 'none is too many' immigration policy towards Jews in the '30s and '40s being used to raise fears against Muslims today," he said in a speech slamming the niqab debate as "nothing less than an attempt to play on people's fears and foster prejudice, directly toward the Muslim faith."

Irving Abella is the co-author of "None Is Too Many," which turned a government official's anti-Semitic response into a infamous phrase symbolizing Canada's pre-war Jewish refugee policy which he deemed the worst in the west. Abella wrote in the Globe&Mail two years ago that his book had since become "an ethical yardstick."

"We know, for example, that 'None Is Too Many' was instrumental in opening up Canada's gates to vast numbers of desperate Vietnamese forced out into the rough, pirate-infested waters of the South China Sea in the late 1970s. The Canadian minister of immigration at the time, Ron Atkey, later told us that in the midst of the crisis, while he was being pressured by some to allow the refugees in and by many others to keep them out, he received an advance copy of some chapters of the book. These, he said, emboldened him not to behave in the same callous way a previous government had rebuffed European Jews. His courageous decision opened up Canada's doors to tens of thousands of valuable new citizens."

Now is the time to be courageous again, to refuse to bow to prejudice and to save as many Syrian refugees as we can.

Because never again.

The Syrian Refugee Crisis In Numbers
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