The children of Polish Jews from the region between Germany and Poland on their arrival in London on the "Warsaw." Feb. 1939. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

HIAS should return to its roots


Imagine you are an impoverished religious Jew living in Paris. You can no longer wear religious garb out of fear of being set upon by assailants from North Africa who will beat you to within an inch of your life, if not take it. Your children are bullied in school, as their teachers ignore their complaints, and might even take perverse satisfaction in their plight.

[Mark Hetfield responds:
Embracing the Jewish community’s refugee roots]

Even though French political figures make speeches condemning anti-Semitism and police are routinely sent to protect Jewish institutions, the anti-Semitism grows on the body politic with the onslaught of migrants from Muslim-majority countries who carry anti-Semitism with them as part of their cultural and religious socialization.

When immigrant mothers are angry at their children, they unabashedly call them “Jews” as if it were an invective, not caring who hears.

In 2014, a survey of 1,580 French respondents found that Muslims, who composed one-third of the interviewees, were two to three times more likely to be anti-Jewish than French people generally.

You, too, would like to leave France, but you don’t want to go to Israel, where the standard of living is more down to earth than luxurious, where there is terrorism and a state of siege, and where the language is difficult to learn.

Who will help you? In your grandmother’s day, there was the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society — the one and only agency that, with the help of private contributions, came to the aid of European Jews.

But the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society of your grandmother’s day no longer exists. It has dropped the “Hebrew” and has become simply “HIAS,” avoiding the word “Hebrew” because its clients are no longer Jewish, although the last fundraising letter I received flaunted painful scenes of Jews trying to escape Europe on the eve of World War II.

The Jewish roots of HIAS go back to rescuing Jews from the Russian pogroms of the 19th century. Its role as a lifeline for Jews who had nobody else to help them is prominently displayed in its fundraising pitches to Jews, but the word “Hebrew” might “offend” the Muslim refugees from the Middle East that HIAS is now busy resettling in America.

No longer headquartered in New York, HIAS has moved to the Washington Beltway to be near its new source of funding — the federal government.

Refugee resettlement is big business, so much so that it is difficult to parse whether the emphasis is on doing well or doing good.

HIAS is the only “Jewish” organization approved by the federal government to resettle refugees, but it is a small player compared with the other religious and secular organizations in the business of refugee resettlement.

Still, HIAS CEO Mark Hetfield, in 2014, commanded a salary of more than $318,000, plus $22,000 in benefits. In the eight years of the Obama administration, HIAS received funds exceeding $157 million, most of which came from the federal government. A small percentage of this funding is used to lobby the public at the grass-roots level and to lobby legislators. Consequently, members of the American public pay for HIAS to convince them, and their elected representatives, to continue to sustain HIAS refugee programs with tax dollars.

There are 65 million displaced people in the world, so this is not a business that is going away. And after 120 days, when organizations like HIAS that bring in refugees can no longer support them and they have not found employment, the resettlement organizations take them to the local welfare office. The majority of Middle Eastern refugees are on some form of assistance, with 90 percent getting food stamps, 73 percent getting medical assistance and some 63 percent receiving outright cash welfare. Middle Eastern refugees cost the American taxpayer more than $64,000 per person.

Now HIAS, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, is suing the Trump administration over its travel ban. From his lofty perch, Hetfield is lecturing the American public on how refugee resettlement is the fulfillment of American values. This hectoring earned Hetfield a place on Tucker Carlson’s TV show, where he was asked to explain what values are being celebrated by bringing in refugees. He could not remotely articulate what those values are.

In my value system, there are Jews throughout Europe who are living lives all too reminiscent of the pogroms that gave birth to HIAS. Yet HIAS does nothing for them. Half the Jews of Malmo, Sweden — a favorite destination of Muslim immigrants — have found life there intolerable and have left. HIAS was not there to help.

European Jews will not qualify for refugee status as it is currently defined. The American government will not provide grants to assist them. But they are condemned to lives filled with ongoing terror. The difference between the pogroms of Russia and the violence against Jews in Paris is that in France, the government still attempts to protect Jews.

But as the percentage of Muslims increases in France and throughout Europe, the pogroms launched by them — like the locking of Jews in a synagogue — will get worse. Maybe next time, the mob will burn the synagogue as the French gendarmes are overwhelmed by the sheer number of attackers.

It’s time for HIAS to rediscover its roots. If it is concerned about rescuing the most victimized of people, it should begin with the Jews of Europe who are eager to escape the anti-Semitism of Islam and for whom there is no help in the West. The organization should do this even though there are no government subsidies for these people and, perhaps, no lofty salaries in the offing.

When that is done, I will be most pleased to be lectured not only about American values, but also Jewish values. And my grandmother and mother, who fled the pogroms of Russia, would have been proud of such a version of HIAS.

Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati, and a distinguished fellow with the Haym Salomon Center. Follow him on Twitter @salomoncenter

The Arab-Israeli conflict: Time to move on


This article originally appeared on Ynetnews.com

As a result of the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, roughly 800,000 Jews were expelled from various Arab countries in which they had been living for generations. 

Consequently, they were forced, like millions of other refugees throughout the 20th century, to resettle elsewhere. Although certainly not an easy task, eventually both the initial refugees and their descendants were able to let go of the past and move on with their lives.

Unlike the Jewish refugees from Arab countries, the story of the roughly 500,000 Arab refugees created by Israel’s War of Independence has been vastly different. Rather than being encouraged to resettle elsewhere, they were turned into permanent refugees to be used as a political tool against Israel. For this purpose, a special UN agency, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), was created in 1950 for the sole intent of maintaining, as opposed to resettling, the original refugees. 

Even today, nearly seventy years later, UNRWA continues with this policy unabashedly. As they boldly state on their site “We are committed to fostering the human development of Palestine refugees by helping them to acquire knowledge and skills, lead long and healthy lives, achieve decent standards of living and enjoy human rights to the fullest possible extent.” Noticeably absent from this list is any attempt to help the refugees restart their lives in another place.

The exact opposite is the case for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), an agency that was also established in 1950 and which deals with every other other refugee population in the world. According to its site, “The agency is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide.”

In addition, it “strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another state, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country.” In other words, the emphasis is on problem resolution, a point that is proudly stated on its site: “Since 1950, the agency has helped tens of millions of people restart their lives.” 

Thus, while UNHCR is constantly trying to lower the number of refugees in the world, UNRWA is actually working in the opposite direction. By an absurd policy that is unique to UNRWA and which states that “the descendants of Palestine refugee males, including legally adopted children, are also eligible for registration.” UNRWA has succeeded in turning the original half million into five million and counting.

In addition to the detrimental policies of UNRWA, which have deliberately kept the refugee issue alive for years, the refugees themselves—both the originals and their descendants—as well as the other Arabs living in Judea and Samaria, have been led to believe that eventually they would receive their own country somewhere west of the Jordan River. By some, they were told the new country would include their former homes in Haifa and Jerusalem, while by others they were promised a more modest state side by side with a tiny Jewish one. Different variations of these assurances have repeatedly been made to them over the years by assorted Arab leaders, western/international leaders and even some Israeli leaders.

Hence although the Arabs themselves, refugee or non-refugee, are partly to blame for not letting go of the past and simply moving on with their lives, it’s obvious that their permanent statelessness is also due to the fact that they’ve been a pawn in a much larger game.

What’s more, the seemingly endless bloody conflict between Jews and Arabs is the direct result of intentionally keeping this issue alive. This is by far the most tragic aspect of all the false promises and misleading UN policies. Nevertheless and despite the fact that at the moment there appears to be no end in sight to the conflict, something must be done since Israel cannot rule forever over another population with roadblocks and security checks and the Arabs cannot live eternally in a state of limbo.

Therefore, in order to finally break this vicious cycle and to allow everyone to move on with their lives, some truths must be faced. For starters, despite all the promises that have been made it’s clear to nearly everyone today that Israel cannot allow for the creation of an Arab state in any shape or size west of the Jordan River since such an entity would pose an existential threat to the very existence of the Jewish state. Thus, despite all the headlines that the two-state solution receives, practically speaking it’s a non-starter. More than twenty-two years of the failed Oslo Process and all the accompanying wars and terrorist attacks, as well as the still unfolding events of the “Arab Spring”, makes this point self-evident.

Equally suicidal for Israel is the granting of citizenship to another one or two million Arabs living in Judea and Samaria – many of whom consider Israel an enemy state – as part of any future process of Israel declaring sovereignty over these areas. The demographic and economic problems of such an endeavor, combined with the obvious security problem of absorbing a large hostile population, would surely overwhelm the Jewish state.

The only solution therefore, and by far the most humane one, is to rectify the injustice that was done to the Arabs by both the negligent polices of UNRWA and by years of being misled by false promises of statehood west of the Jordan River. Practically speaking, the Arabs need to be financially compensated and helped to resettle elsewhere, as the Jews from Arab countries did seventy years ago and as millions of refugees have done over the course of the last one hundred years as a result of various wars and conflicts. The new host country could be neighboring Jordan or another Arab country or wherever as long as it’s part of an international agreement. Such an agreement would also need to allow Israel to fortify its long-term security by extending Israeli sovereignty up to the natural border of the Jordan River.

Although such a suggestion may sound harsh to some people, the truth is it is the only way to resolve the one hundred year conflict and to stop the pointless and never-ending bloodshed between Jews and Arabs. Moreover, the idea of financially compensating the Arabs and helping them to resettle elsewhere as part of an international agreement is the only solution that will both guarantee the continued existence of the world’s only Jewish state as well as enable the Arabs to escape their prison of false promises and to finally start building normal productive lives. For the well-being of both Jews and Arabs, the time has come to embrace the only solution that is truly capable of ending the conflict.

Yoel Meltzer, a freelance writer living in Jerusalem, has an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from New York University. He can be contacted via yoelmeltzer.com .

Opposing Bedouin resettlement


They can’t agree on the project’s goal. They can’t agree on who supports it. They can’t even agree on its name.

But when it comes to the Israeli government’s plan to relocate 30,000 Negev Bedouin, representatives and allies of the Bedouin community agree with the right wing on one thing: The Prawer Plan must be stopped.

At a meeting this week, leaders of an alliance between Negev Bedouin and several left-wing groups adopted a proposal to join with “right-wing opponents” of a bill that would relocate tens of thousands of Bedouin from their homes in unrecognized villages in southern Israel. The plan calls for moving the Bedouin into recognized towns nearby with modern services and amenities while providing them with partial compensation for their property.

“You need to have an elementary school, kindergarten and health care at the center of the modern community,” said Doron Almog, director of the Headquarters for Economic and Community Development of the Negev Bedouin in the Prime Minister’s Office. “We’d like to replace poverty with modernity.”

The plan is alternatively referred to as Begin-Prawer or Prawer after its two authors — former Knesset member Benny Begin and Ehud Prawer, the director of planning in the Prime Minister’s Office. It would recognize some of the unrecognized villages while moving the inhabitants of others.

The government says the plan is a comprehensive land reform measure aimed at providing infrastructure, education and employment opportunities to the historically underserved Bedouin population in the South. But critics of the proposal point to the 30,000-40,000 Bedouin that would be uprooted in what they claim is just the latest move by the government to strip them of their land to create space for Jewish settlement.

“We want rights like everyone else,” said Attia Alasam, head of the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages. “The state doesn’t see that the Bedouin have problems. They see the Bedouin as the problem. The state can’t put people on trucks and spill them into towns.”

The fight over the plan has been contentious. Protests across Israel have left several Israeli police officers injured and led to dozens of arrests. Several human rights groups have blasted the plan. Last week, Arab lawmakers appealed to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, asking him to block what they allege amounts to “ethnic cleansing” of the Bedouin.

It’s far from certain that the partnership proposal will come to fruition, but the effort represents a rare attempt at pragmatic compromise in a debate that has been dominated by dueling perceptions of reality.

At the meeting — representatives of the Arab-Jewish political party Hadash, the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages and the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civic Equality attended — Alasam and others sounded optimistic that they could find common ground with right-wing activists even though their ultimate objectives are almost certainly incompatible.

Alasam wants the government to allow the Bedouin to stay in the unrecognized villages. Right-wing activists believe the Bedouin have no right to stay where they are.

Moshe Feiglin, the head of the Jewish Leadership faction of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, voted against the plan because it “hands the Negev over to the Arabs.” Zvulun Kalfa of the Jewish Home Party opposes the bill because it’s too vague.

Knesset member Miri Regev, who heads the committee debating the bill, criticized Almog for not presenting her committee with a proposed map of Negev towns.

“I think the time has come to organize Bedouin settlement,” Regev wrote on Facebook last week. “It’s unlikely that the Bedouin are taking over the Negev’s lands, and given that, the solution needs to be formulated deliberatively and in a way that’s transparent to all sides.” 

Federation Matters


It is hard to say where it is more frightening to be a Jew today, in Iran or Russia. In both countries, anti-Semitic activity is escalating to chaotic levels. In Iran, 13 Jews, including several rabbis and a 16-year-old boy, sit in jail facing possible execution, falsely accused of spying for the U.S. and Israel. Throughout Russia, anti-Semitic nationalists continually bomb and desecrate Jewish institutions, and physically and verbally attack Jews.

In response, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles puts tremendous efforts into helping Jews flee these treacherous climates, creating a safe-haven for them here. The Federation’s Resettlement and Acculturation Program provides specialized services to refugees through its network of Federation agencies: Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, Jewish Vocational Service, Jewish Free Loan Association, Bureau of Jewish Education and Jewish Community Centers. This team helps refugees become productive members of the Los Angeles Jewish community. Here are the personal stories of just a few of them.

One day in 1987, in Zhitomer, Russia, five-year-old Elina Segal ran home from school, crying hysterically, “I’m not a Jew! What is this ‘Jewish’?” Elina’s schoolmates had called her zhidofka, which is Russian for “kike.” Elina’s tears sprayed daggers into her mother Maya’s heart. Maya flashed back to when she was five, when she was first called zhidofka. “It was then my husband Igor and I knew we had to leave,” explains Maya.

As the Segals awaited their exit visas in Zhitomer, the Refugee Resettlement and Acculturation Program arranged myriad details for their arrival. They coordinated with the Segals’ cousins, the Gelmans of Los Feliz, who gladly agreed to sponsor the Segals for U.S. entry visas.

The Segals arrived here with their $314 allowed out of Russia. “The Jewish Federation helped us with everything,” according to Maya, starting with cash to cover critical living expenses such as a small apartment on Formosa Street in Hollywood.

Both Maya and Igor were trained engineers, but without English skills, had no hope of working in their field. To get by, Maya cleaned houses and babysat for neighbors. “When our Jewish Vocational Service counselor, Mary Beth Straus, found Igor a $9-per-hour VCR technician job, we felt like millionaires,” says Maya.

But 7-year-old Elina did not feel like a millionaire. Now 17, Elina recalls walking miles to school in old shoes, carrying her books in a paper bag. “The other kids would whisper, ‘There’s the little Russian girl.’ My shoes and the paper bag gave me away. I was so ashamed,” reflects Elina.

Elina’s shame subsided the next year, when the Federation granted her a scholarship to Camp JCA Sholom. This was Elina’s first dose of Jewish pride, something her parents did not possess to give her, as Jewish activities were outlawed in Russia. Hebrew songs and Israeli folk dancing would have found Elina in jail, not in summer camp.

Ten years later, Elina is an accomplished Santa Monica High senior, planning to pursue pre-med studies at college. She was selected as one of 26 exceptional teens for the prestigious Bronfman Leadership Fellowship, which took her to Israel last summer. She also has a 7-year-old brother, Levi, in Hebrew school. Igor is now an electrical instrumentation manager, and Maya has her Masters Degree in Public Administration.

Wanting to give back to the community that helped her, Maya became the Coordinator of the Refugee Resettlement and Acculturation Program, where in 1999 she settled over 400 refugees.

Taking Maya’s example of giving something back, Elina and her cousin, Paul Tsarinsky, together with the Bureau of Jewish Education, have created the Russian Coffee House in Santa Monica, where Russian Jewish teens hang out and participate in cultural programs, parties and sleep-away weekends. Elina makes sure she invites newly migrated Russian teens to Coffee House events. They may not carry their books in a paper bag, but Elina spots them instinctively. She has not forgotten that she was once the “strange Russian kid.”