Are U.S. Jewish organizations hypocrites on immigration?

NOVANEWS

While the violence was condemned, organizations have stayed away from the hot button of Israel’s immigration policies, even as it has moved into active mass deportation of South Sudanese refugees.

Saharonim Prison - Eliyahu Hershkovitz - June 2012

Saharonim Prison.

American Jewish organizations have loudly applauded President Obama’sdecision to issue an executive order, allowing law-abiding, school-attending young illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to remain in the country to apply for two-year deferrals of deportation and for work permits.

JTA reported on the long list of groups praising the move:

– “This is a major success for advocates around the country, including many from the Jewish community, who have been pressuring the Administration and Congress to take action on this issue for over a decade,” said Mark Hetfield, Interim president and CEO of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society …

– Rabbi David Saperstein, president of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, emphasized in a separate statement that “the law-abiding young women and men who were brought to the United States by undocumented parents will now have the opportunity to thrive in the country they know as home without the looming specter of possible deportation.”

– Nancy Kaufman, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), stated in a press release that the administration’s “new policy will end the inhumane and mindless practice of deporting young people who came to the US as children, have grown up and been educated here, and who are already or soon will be productive members of our society.”

– The Anti-Defamation League called the decision “an appropriate exercise of prosecutorial discretion” and “a responsible and important step in the right direction toward comprehensive immigration reform.

– National Jewish Democratic Council president and CEO David Harris and chair Marc Stanley cast the decision as one having special Jewish resonance. “American Jews — as descendants of immigrants, if not immigrants ourselves — understand profoundly what it means to have a shot at success in America. The provisions announced by the President today provide that opportunity.”

And yet, by contrast Israel’s policy decisions on illegal immigration – culminating in today’s airlift of South Sudanese back to their homeland – has resulted in a resounding silence from the same organizations.

Even before the Obama announcement, Dan Sieradski, a leftist self-described ‘new media activist,’ a high-profile Jewish participant in “Occupy Wall Street,’ creator of “Occupy Judaism” and professional thorn in the side of the American Jewish establishment, pointed this out in a June 8 blog post entitled It’s the hypocrisy, stupid!

Over the past several days, Sieradski’s Twitter stream has been a non-stop barrage of criticism and frustration, pointing out that the organizations that have historically lobbied the U.S. government in the direction of liberal immigration policies in the United States, are not exerting the same kind of political pressure when it comes to Israeli treatement of refugees and economic migrants. Here is just a small sample of Sieradski’s tweets:

Daniel Sieradski‏@mobius1ski

Same Jewish orgs that took 48 hours to respond to anti-African violence in Israel all had same-day press releases about the DREAM Act

Daniel Sieradski‏@mobius1ski

i think u.s. jewry’s afraid to speak out against israel’s treatment of africans b/c if they tug at the thread of racism all will unravel

And in his characteristic flair for the dramatic, he added, (referring to Jewish Federations of North America)

Daniel Sieradski‏@mobius1ski

i’d self-immolate in jfna’s lobby if i thought it’d make a difference. but they’d just cover their eyes and ears, pretend nothing happened.

It was Sieradski who first attacked American Jewish organizations on Twitter for not quickly condemning the attacks on the African migrants in South Tel Aviv and the inflammatory remarks by when they began in late May. Later the same day, journalist Peter Beinart made the same criticisms a blog post entitled The Sound of Silence. Over the next few days, condemnations were, in fact, issued by the organizations. Would they have happened without the online pressure? Who knows?

But while the violence was condemned, generally, the organizations have stayed away from the hot button of Israel’s immigration policies, even as it has moved into active mass deportation of South Sudanese refugees, and the construction of large-scale detention centers. This leads us into the all-too- familiar territory of how and when American Jewry should intervene, criticize, or even comment on internal Israeli policies. If a group takes a stand on what the U.S. government should do about immigrants – who aren’t even political refugees – especially when they invoke their own immigrant history, as the National Jewish Democratic Council did, should they not also grapple with what is happening in Israel?

There are probably a few reasons why they are steering clear of the issue. Besides the obvious problem of coordinating their domestic U.S. position with their view of how the Israeli government is behaving, there’s also the question of publicity. Right now, the Israeli deportations are not a story in the United States, and it is likely the organizations fear that issuing statements on the subject would be an invitation to unflattering coverage of the story in the media. American Jews have enough headaches in the area of race relations without pictures of Israelis shipping planeloads of Africans back to their strife-ridden homelands.

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