Whether Jewish Refugees in ’30s or Syrians today, USA Falls Short of own Ideals

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Germany, a country of 80 million, will take in 800,000 refugees this year, many of them Syrians. That is 1 percent of their population. It would be like the USA taking in 3 million refugees in one year.

The US takes in 70,000 refugees a year. Last year it accepted about 400 Syrian refugees.

The United States invaded Iraq in 2003, which led to the creation of roughly 4 million Iraqi refugees out of the then some 26 million Iraqis, or nearly 1/6th of the population. That would be like 50 million Americans displaced. The US took in only a few thousand Iraqi refugees after causing all that trouble. The US invasion radicalized Iraq’s Sunnis and drove them into the arms of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which morphed into Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) at camp Bucca and then took much of Syria, contributing to making 11 million of 22 million Syrians into displaced persons. 4 million have been forced abroad, to Jordan, Lebanon & Turkey, and now thousands are trying to get into Europe.

The US politicians who voted for the Iraq War say we can’t let in Iraqis or Syrians because they might have been radicalized.

This grim landscape of racism, religious prejudice, blaming the victim and racial exclusion from immigration is deja vu all over again. In the 30s, it was the Jews that the troglodytes didn’t want.

It turns out that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was not responsible for America’s refusal to take more than a few thousand Jewish refugees during the 1930s. He wanted to spend $150 million to distribute millions of Jewish refugees among 10 democratic countries. His failures were imposed on him by a Congress that wouldn’t act and a foot-dragging State Department. By 1940 it was too late, as Europe became a fortress.

But the US in the 1930s did betray its ideals as a refuge for people yearning to be free. The episode of the SS St Louis, a ship full of 900 Jewish refugees that got close enough to Miami to see its lights before being turned back to Europe, epitomized this failure. A third of the passengers were later murdered by the Nazis.

One Jewish refugee the US did take in was Albert Einstein. How would we not have been better off if we’d had more like him?

The bad economy of the Great Depression was one reason for fear of immigrants. Politicians and labor leaders worried that they would take jobs from workers already in the US. Racism was rampant. In 1924 Congress passed a basically Nazi immigration law that limited immigration on the basis of country — i.e. racial — quotas. The Semitic countries like Syria should, according to this law, keep their people (I recollect that the annual quota for Syrian immigrants was 400– even though tens of thousans of Syro-Lebanese had come from about 1880, including famed writer Kahlil Gibran. All the Norwegians could come who wanted to.)

There was a Chinese exclusion Act, i.e. zero Chinese were wanted.

So simple Aryan racism was partially responsible for the exclusion of the Jews. If the US had thrown open its doors, the 200,000 Jews who went to Palestine in the 30s would have come here and there never would have been Arab-Israeli wars or 7 million Palestinian refugees.

Jews were also seen by some US Neanderthals as having socialist tendencies and so were kept out as radicals. There was talk of the Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy. (Hatred of Jews was irrational, so that they were blamed for being bankers [they were less than 1 percent of bankers] at the same time they were excoriated for being Marxists). There was also the Society for the Defense of Christianity, so fundamentalists did their part.

All the same arguments against letting in the Jews are now being deployed to keep out the Syrians. Not Christian. Alien ideology. Would take jobs. Nobody is openly saying they aren’t Aryan but the Trumpists might as well be.

In the clip below IRA / terrorism supporter Rep Peter King, of Irish descent (i.e. refugees taken in by Protestant America from famine), warns against letting more than a handful of Syrians in. He isn’t worse than most of us, unfortunately. (The Irish discontent was justified, but terrorism never is; and King is a hypocrite.)

Steve Jobs’s father was an immigrant from Syria. We need more like him, and we need fewer children washing up dead on beaches. If we’re going to bomb Syria, we need to take care of the displaced.

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Related video:

CBS New York: “Syrian Refugees Fleeing War”

22 Responses

  1. Year after year the U.S. has enabled Israel to take the homes and homeland of Palestinians. In fairness, I think that we should allow those Palestinians who want to come here to do so.

  2. Always surprising that the nation of immigrants refuses or mistreats every new wave. The 1924 Immigration Act was motivated in part by misinterpretation of the results of the first IQ tests showing lower scores of recent immigrants (S and E Europe) due to culturally relative test questions. But when a few of each new group have been known in respectable positions for a generation the group is accepted by the chimps.

    Having a large empty residential facility, I offered its use to the White House way back to house refugees from Kosovo, and offered to staff it if they paid the food and utilities etc., but they declined. They had alternatives they preferred, which turned out to be no aid at all. Always cheaper to close your eyes, knowing that the mass media agree. Just blame the suffering on the victims as a group, you know, so you can’t let them in.

    Anyone want to guess how the political gang will handle an offer to house Syrian refugees? Let them suffer and blame them; claim that ‘we are doing all we can’; let Europe say ‘No’; let Europe house and feed them; say it is cheaper to house them overseas but don’t; blame the other party; give the politicos time to express their sympathy and then simply drop the story; blame the opposition in Syria and say that we just need more weapons to spread Democracy®.

    The US has never had a humanitarian foreign policy because it is not a democracy; it is run by and for political gangsters. If the US had spent the budget of its failed foreign wars since WWII on humanitarian aid, it would have very few enemies and would have lifted half the globe from poverty. Nothing will change until we get money out of elections and mass media to reverse the right-wing revolution against the Constitution. Without those essential tools of democracy, the only means to secure them are not available. We will not have a humanitarian foreign policy until we have a generation of civil war to restore democracy. Imagine the US cowards accepting that burden just to help those funny foreigners.

  3. Roosevelt called the infamous Evian Conference of world nations in 1938 to address the Jews of Germany and Austria — and I have always read that whereas several small Western hemisphere countries like Cuba pledged to take in Jews — Britain and the US were unwilling to raise their pitifully small quotas. Hitler famously scoffed. I’ve also read that FDR was as anti-Semitic in private as any other Hudson Valley grandee of his era. Even Eleanor made snide disparaging remarks in letters to her relatives about “that Jew Frankfurter”. While what this newly published diary of McDonald’s reveals is interesting — I do not think FDR tried hard enough, and as so often in his career, hid behind “political realities” to stall on things that were distasteful or unwelcome. Later on he could easily have ordered the bombing of the rail heads and crematoria at Auschwitz and elsewhere, thereby perhaps saving several hundred thousand Jewish lives (while admittedly killing a few in the process) but chose, for “raisons d’etat” not to do so. (Waste of precious military resources etc.). Am I wrong?

    • peter foges

      “Later on he could easily have ordered the bombing of the rail heads and crematoria at Auschwitz and elsewhere, thereby perhaps saving several hundred thousand Jewish lives”

      Had the west done such a thing, we’d have been damned for helping Hitler kill the Jews. Less than 5% of those air-dropped bombs fell within a mile of their targets. They weren’t dropping laser guided weaponry, they were dropping them blind.

      Moreover, dropping bombs wouldn’t have stopped them from killing the unwanted in other locations.

      Could ‘we’ have done more to take in refugees, yes. However, nobody in 1939 expected the Holocaust to happen. Nobody.

  4. The American American Zionist Committee, led by Stephen Wise did everything possible to prevent immigration of Europe’s Jews into America in the expectation that they would otherwise be diverted to Palestine, which, rather than the Holocaust, was of central concern to the Zionist movement.

    In fact, Rabbi Stephen Wise testified before Congress opposing the bill introduced by Guy Gillette, and Will Rogers Jr which would have open the US up to wider immigration by Europe’s Jews.

    Wise said that he opposed the bill because it did not mention Palestine as an alternative destination.

  5. David Ben Gurion who told a meeting of the Labor Zionist in December, 1938:

    “If I knew that it would be possible to save all the children in Germany by bringing them over to England, and only half of them by transferring them to Eretz Israel, then I would opt for the second alternative. For we must weigh not only the life of these children, but also the history of the People of Israel.”

  6. We ought to take responsibility and help the refugees.

    The US didn’t dig the Middle East fire pit, but the US threw fuel on the embers of past colonial/tribal history and started the latest conflagration with its invasions and infusion of weapons, troops, funds, and incompetent managers.

    Our 2003 invasion of Iraq sent over 1 million displaced Iraqis into Syria—adding to the destabilization. When Syria began to come apart, we funded militancy more than diplomacy, and sent incompetent managers interested primarily in regime change as a way to access Syrian oil/natural gas with little care for how to maintain a functioning and safe Syria while getting Al Assad to either implement reforms or hand power over to a new president.

    Imagine how the United States might have been torn apart in the 1960’s if China had sent money and weapons to the student protesters and insisted that the brutality of Vietnam and of the Kent State shooting were indications that the ‘tyrant’ President Nixon must step down and leave the United States and that a new political system (shaped according to Chinese institutions) should be put into place?

    Texas alone can hold two Germanys. The population density of Texas is only 34.8 people per sq. kilometer versus Germany’s population density of 226.87 people per sq. kilometer. Wyoming and Montana also have far more room than crowded Europe.

    George W. Bush can fund a New Baghdad outside of Crawford, Texas for all the Iraq refugees.

    Donald Rumsfeld can fund a New Kabul outside of his property in Twin Bridges, Montana.

    Dick Cheney can fund a New Damascus outside of his ranch in Jackson, Wyoming.

    And Paul Wolfowitz (who recently purchased a $1 million dollar condo in St. Petersburg, FL) and all the other architects of ME disaster with billions in retirement loot can fund all the other refugees fleeing what they built.

    Let justice be served.

    • And George Bush has plenty of room on the Crawford “ranch”. Let the FEMA trailers roll right there.

      • Bush sold his bogus ranch to move into Preston Hollow in Dallas. It’s only 8,500 sq. ft.

        Maybe some could be housed in his bogus library over by SMU?

  7. The belief that Aryans and Jews could not live together was not a one-sided view of the part of the Germans or the German government of the 1930’s. It was shared with equal fervor by the Zionist Federation of Germany.

    Indeed that is the principle which still energizes the State of Israel.

  8. But America has always talked out of both sides of its mouth, even before it became the US of A. Then came the great classic about all men being created equal written by slave owners.

  9. In 1975, the United States evacuated thousands of young Vietnamese children in Operation Babylift – other than a single plane crash the mission was a huge success.

    Whatever argument there may be that accepting refugees from Syria may result in security risks, these arguments have no validity where the evacuation of small children is concerned.

  10. Robert G Kershaw

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discounted the possibility (of taking in Syrian refugees by saying, “Israel is a small, a very small country that lacks demographic and geographic depth.”
    Instead, at his weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, the Israeli leader announced that construction had started on a fence along the country’s eastern border with Jordan — a possible pathway for war-weary Syrians to reach Israel but also a way for extremists from groups such as the Islamic State to infiltrate the Jewish state. link to washingtonpost.com

  11. Colin Powell warned Bush before the Iraq war: “If you break it you own it.”

    Unfortunately, the US is not owning up to this mess.

  12. Mr. Cole’s article exposes the sad truth about US foreign policy. The situation in EU is now becoming unstable so there is every reason to be worried. I talked to my sister in Germany this morning to ask her about the situation. It is interesting to find out that there are now too many volunteers to help out. The public is yet to debate the real drivers behind the stream of refugees.

  13. Why corporate-controlled media chooses the term “immigrants” to describe mass human migrations is misleading and duplicitous.

    The Supreme Court appointed a dynastic President with limited capacity advised by a gang of “knowing madmen” in 2000. By 2003, Iraq was invaded and occupied under proven fictitious circumstances utterly destabilizing the region then, now and in the foreseeable future.

    The direct result of a falsified war is the current mass human migration seen in Europe today.

    Aside from the fact the U.S. was duped, misled and lied to by the aforementioned “knowing madmen” driving our over-medicated, undereducated, corporate-controlled media blinded country into war, the U.S. shares the blame with the UK and vested multinational interests of the region for this tragedy.

    Congress and the President must now decide and agree to choose the right course of action and mop up another mess left behind by a bunch of non-indicted co-conspirators and criminals against humanity.

    Let Detroit become New Damascus.

    No more dead toddlers face down on the beach.

  14. Mention of Germany, and the repercussions on them with a population of some 80 million taking in 800,000, makes me wonder about Turkey.

    Turkey is about the same same size as Germany, with 75 million people, and the UN has documented about 1.5 million refugees so far. These are drawn heavily to the big population centers to the west of the country. I am told those UN figures do NOT reflect people who didn’t register at major crossings. Although only anecdotal, the conventional wisdom is that the true number is closer to 3 million. In these major western cities it feels like 50% in a typical working class neighborhood.

    This plays into Erdoğan’s politics in various ways. He is doing a variety of things to integrate these people, often it is felt to the detriment of native Turks. Recently the minimum wage was cut, for example, which is attributed to a newfound excess of labor.

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