Jewish Community

Hanukkah and Refugees

Posted on Updated on

December 10, 2015

Mark S. Anshan

Yesterday at the White House, President Barak and the First Lady hosted President Rivlin, his wife, Nechama and invited guests to an afternoon Hanukkah celebration and the lighting of the menorah  It was an inspiring event at which both Presidents spoke about the values that emanate from the story of the rededication of the Temple at the time of the Maccabean revolt.  This event in Jewish history teaches us how each of us individually and together as a community must continue to work for religious freedom and tolerance.

As the governments of Canada and the United States and private groups prepare to accept Syrian refugees and assist in their resettlement, it is an appropriate time to reflect on the lessons of Hanukkah and the principles that should guide us as we consider carefully how to successfully integrate and welcome these people into our communities.

A friend of mine today raised an important point about the expectations we should have in granting immigrants the right to settle in our countries.  He asked the thought provoking and very relevant questions:

“I assume, based on past discussions, you are good liberals who find objectionable excluding any potential immigrants on the basis of their religion, as such. Or, even based on their country of origin, without regard to “religion” as such.

What about pure philosophical ideas or religious beliefs that are offensive but avowedly and credibly non/violent?

Would it be permissible, in your view, to exclude folks who reasonably appear (based on past statements or actions) to hold “religious” beliefs that obligate them to oppose (non violently) our  constitutional system and values?  Such as preachers who are strong believers in apartheid who have fled South Africa after the end of white rule?

Can we morally demand that they disavow, say, a sincerely held religious belief that demands that the races should be separated or that gays should be jailed?”

In other words, the threshold question is how do we align the core values of our democratic societies in ensuring that those who desire to live among us from other lands, accept the principles that inform how we live before they are granted the right to settle and before they eventually become citizens (at which point they acquire additional rights, including free speech)?

Donald Trump, in his declarations regarding the exclusion of Muslims being permitted to enter the US, crossed the line and has been properly rebuked.

There is, however, an important public policy issue for both Canada and the US in deciding the basis on which those desiring to immigrant should be permitted to do so, i.e. setting a minimum standard for acceptance of the values and beliefs that form the basis for our respective countries’ existence.

In the context of the immigration of Moslems to the US, Andrew McCarthy puts forth an analysis that is worth reading –