Syria Refugee Crisis Demands Action From Jewish World

On Refugee Day, Put Problems of U.S. and Israel in Perspective

Asylum Nations: The U.S. and Israel were built by refugees. While protecting the rights of present and future refugees, Jews should not ignore the plight of the victims of Syria’s civil war.
getty images
Asylum Nations: The U.S. and Israel were built by refugees. While protecting the rights of present and future refugees, Jews should not ignore the plight of the victims of Syria’s civil war.

By Mark Hetfield

Published June 17, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

To put this massive humanitarian crisis in further perspective, after the State of Israel was established, there were 726,000 Arab refugees, and 856,000 Jews who were forcibly displaced from Arab lands. Combined, the number of Arabs and Jews displaced during the War of Independence and its aftermath was 1,582,000, a number we in the Jewish community have always found troubling. The number of Syrian refugees is already nearly 100,000 higher than that.

Today in Israel, one out of every 140 people is an African asylum seeker, though this number is no longer growing due to the fence built along the Sinai. And, in the United States, for every 3,000 Americans, just one refugee and asylum seeker came here in the past year.

As overwhelming as the Syrian crisis seems, there is much we, as individuals, can do.

First of all, starting on Word Refugee Day, let’s not tolerate intolerance toward refugees and the refugee “burden” being placed on the United States and Israel. We should welcome the refugees among us, not complain about them. Let’s remember that the overwhelming majority of the American Jewish community came here, or are descended from people who came here, as refugees.

HIAS, the global Jewish nonprofit that protects refugees, is launching a twelve-month campaign starting on World Refugee Day 2013. The campaign urges Jews to show their support for refugees by pledging to implement the principles in the recently developed international inter-faith “Affirmation of Welcome,” a concept that was originally proposed by Rabbi Nava Hefetz of Rabbis for Human Rights in Jerusalem and Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, and was embraced by the UNHCR and a multitude of faith groups. Sign onto the affirmation at hias.org/welcome.

Second, notwithstanding political differences with Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, the American Jewish community should observe World Refugee Day by recognizing every day that the Syrian refugee crisis is one that these countries did not create, and that they cannot address alone. Massive humanitarian assistance is needed from the United States and the international community. For 2013, the UNHCR has appealed for $2.9 billion for assistance to refugees, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has appealed for $1.4 billion for assistance within Syria, $449 million for the government of Lebanon and $380 million for the government of Jordan. So far, Turkey has not asked for aid, though that may soon change with thousands more Syrian refugees arriving each day. Please urge your lawmaker, the President, and Secretary of State to ensure that the United States shows leadership in providing humanitarian assistance to address the crisis.

This $5 billion appeal for aid, of course, treats only the symptom and not the cause – to ensure the survival of Syrians displaced by the conflict. A diplomatic solution is immediately needed to stop the slaughter. The political posturing between Russia, Iran, the United States, needs to be replaced by a genuine effort to create peace. American Jews and the American Jewish community should show our government that we care deeply about solving what the UN High Commissioner Antonio Guterres has called “the worst humanitarian disaster since the end of the Cold War.” Urge Congress, the President and the Secretary of State to make an end to the bloodshed in Syria a top diplomatic priority.

Hopefully, one day World Refugee Day will be about the past. Sadly, however, in 2013 World Refugee Day is more relevant than ever. Sign onto, and help implement, the Affirmation of Welcome. And until there are no more refugees, make every day World Refugee Day.

Mark Hetfield is President & CEO of HIAS, the global Jewish nonprofit that protects refugees.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.