Will Republicans Use Romney's "Jewish Test" for Syrian Refugees?
In the aftermath of the Paris slaughter perpetrated by French and Belgian nationals, the GOP's best and brightest are waging an incendiary rhetorical crusade to prevent 10,000 Syrian refugees from joining the roughly 2,300 already here. Among the 2016 GOP presidential field, Donald Trump declared his support for a database to track Muslims. Marco Rubio and Ben Carson compared the refugees to Nazis and "rabid dogs," respectively. Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush called for a religious test to allow only Christians fleeing the Syrian civil war into the United States. And even as Ohio Governor John Kasich was briefly advocating the creation of a new federal agency to promote "Judeo-Christian" values, one Tennessee GOP lawmaker proclaimed he wants to round up those Syrians emigres already in his state.
As it turns out, the GOP's last two presidential nominees are just saying no as well. While John McCain lamented, "'Our hearts go out to them, but we can't endanger the security of the United States of America," Mitt Romney declared:
"The West must stop the insanity of welcoming hundreds of thousands of people from the Middle East without knowing who exactly they are. Women, children and the elderly, perhaps, but not thousands upon thousands of single young men."
Sadly for the factually-challenged Romney, we know a great deal about the hundreds of overwhelmingly Muslim, mostly women and children who wait 18 to 24 months to be resettled into the United States. Even more appalling is that during his 2012 presidential campaign, Team Romney announced its own rule for evaluating another religious minority group in America, Mitt's own Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
As Jason Horowitz explained the Jewish Test for the Washington Post in June 2012, "Mitt Romney's presidential campaign has developed a simple method to determine whether coverage of the candidate's Mormonism has crossed a line":
"Our test to see if a similar story would be written about others' religion is to substitute 'Jew' or 'Jewish,' " Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul wrote in objection to a Washington Post article last fall about the candidate's role as a church leader in Boston.
She pointed out a passage that explained a central tenet of Mormonism. It described the belief that Christ's true church was restored after centuries of apostasy when the 19th-century prophet Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon from golden plates that he discovered in Upstate New York.
"Would you write this sentence in describing the Jewish faith?" Saul asked in a November e-mail, adding: " 'Jews believe their prophet Moses was delivered tablets on a mountain top directly from G-d after he appeared to him in a burning bush.' Of course not, yet you reference a similar story in Mormonism."
Fast forward three years to the Syrian refugee crisis and the 2012 Republican "Jewish Test" has vanished. Vanished, that is, except for many American Jews themselves.
Take, for example, the Anti-Defamation League. ADL had joined with 40 other North American Jewish organizations spanning the political spectrum to form the Jewish Coalition for Syrian Refugees. Given the shameful history of the United States in rejecting Jewish refugees before, during and after World War II, it's no surprise ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt was quick to denounce governors declaring their intention to keep the Syrians emigres out:
This country must not give into fear or bias by turning its back on our nation's fundamental commitment to refugee protection and human rights. Now is precisely the time to stand up for our core values, including that we are a proud nation of immigrants. To do otherwise signals to the terrorists that they are winning the battle against democracy and freedom.
The current refugee crisis in Europe is the worst since World War II. The Jewish community is particularly affected by the images of men, women and children forced to flee their homes only to find they are unwanted anyplace else. Many of these refugees are fleeing the same terrorists who perpetrated the horrendous attacks on Paris.
The United States Holocaust Museum similarly concurred that the analogy to the Jewish experience is a fair one.
"Acutely aware of the consequences to Jews who were unable to flee Nazism, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum looks with concern upon the current refugee crisis.
"While recognizing that security concerns must be fully addressed, we should not turn our backs on the thousands of legitimate refugees. The Museum calls on public figures and citizens to avoid condemning today's refugees as a group. It is important to remember that many are fleeing because they have been targeted by the Assad regime and ISIS for persecution and in some cases elimination on the basis of their identity."
Though the crises of European Jewry and Syrian Muslim refugees are not identical in kind and degree, the parallels are too disturbing to ignore. A Gallup poll in 1938 showed that two-thirds of Americans did not want to admit Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. The next year, 61 percent similarly said no to the relocation of 10,000 Jewish children from Germany to the United States. Now, despite the five million (or more) Muslim-Americans in the U.S., recent polling suggests "there is a growing sentiment that the Muslims who live here stand "at odds" with the American way of life."
According to polling data released Tuesday by the Public Religion Research Institute, a majority -- 56 percent -- of Americans say Islamic values are at odds with American values. Among people who identify as Christian or Republican, the number is even higher -- 76 percent of Republicans say Islam is at odds with America, while over 60 percent of white evangelical Protestants, white mainline Protestants, and Catholics say the same. Even among Democrats, only 52 percent disagreed that Islam was incompatible with American values. Forty-three percent agreed.
As Lee Fang documented for The Intercept, the pre-Holocaust rhetoric of many isolationist Republicans was rife with vicious anti-Semitic and anti-refugee canards now repackaged for the 21st century. GOP and nativist activists warned of the "insidious poison" from the "so-called Jewish refugees from Germany." Grotesque stereotypes about "refu-Jews" and "Yidisher Refugees" and "Refugees Kikes" warned that those fleeing Hitler were either a Nazi "fifth column" or Communists part of an "invisible government":
"Under these lax regulations, many Communists are coming to this country to join the ranks of those who hate our institutions and want to over throw them."
Then as now, many Americans--and not just conservatives--warned of an "alien menace" and "extreme radicals." Which is why America's faith leaders, if not its politicians, are now at the forefront leading the calls for tolerance and acceptance of largely Muslim refugees simply hoping to escape the carnage of ISIS and the Syrian civil war. As Peter Shulman, a historian at Case Western Reserve University explained:
"The situations are not exactly parallel and I'm not saying that they are. But in terms of a heavily politicized, nativist response to a refugee crisis, we have been here before. And the example of Jewish refugees fleeing Europe in the late '30s is most poignant because we know how it ended."
That's why America's faith leaders, if not its politicians, are at the forefront of the call to accept and support the Syrian refugees already in American and those still to come. Sadly, they don't have their flocks with them (at least not yet), which means that Muslims in America will continue to be objectified. As Dalia Mogahed, an expert of Muslim attitudes in the U.S. and internationally lamented after the Paris attacks, "to be suspected of doing something so monstrous, simply because of your faith, seems very unfair."
Mitt Romney should be able to sympathize with that view. Asked in 2011 about the Mormon position on homosexuality as a sin, Romney responded:
"I'm not a spokesman for my church. And one thing I'm not going to do in running for president is become a spokesman for my church or apply a religious test that is simply forbidden by the constitution, I'm not going there. If you want to learn about my church, talk to my church."
But for the 2016 GOP White House hopefuls, the double-standard has hardened as the question of Syrian refugees heats up. When NBC Meet the Press host Chuck Todd asked what she thought Donald Trump should do or read to better understand Islam, Mogahed replied:
"I don't want him to understand Islam. I want him to understand the Constitution."
That same day, a group of protesters armed with AR-15 rifles and other weapons descended upon the Islamic Center of Irving, Texas. Writing at Daily Kos, David Harris Gershon offered this familiar thought exercise:
"If heavily armed, masked men 'protested' outside a church or synagogue, it would be national news."
Indeed it would. And Republicans presidential candidates past and present would demand we "stop the insanity."