We are an American Jew and an American Muslim. Because our communities are well versed in the pain of discriminatory and exclusionary policies, we are fiercely committed to protecting, defending and upholding the American democratic ideals under threat by President Trump’s travel ban.
During the Holocaust, European Jews fleeing Nazi persecution found the gates of entry barred by many countries. The Evian Conference in 1938 brought together 32 countries to discuss the increasingly dire fate of Jews, but only the Dominican Republic volunteered to take in refugees. The United States, which earlier had severely restricted new arrivals in the Immigration Act of 1924, was among those who refused to absorb Jews in need. In one of the most infamous episodes, the U.S. government turned away the St. Louis in 1939 with 900 German Jewish refugees on board, sending its desperate passengers back to the Europe they had fled to face an uncertain fate.
While Jews were the chief victims of the exclusionary policies of the United States in the 1930s and 1940s, today Muslims have been unfairly singled out.
President Trump’s executive order banning entry to people from six Muslim-majority countries, which the U.S. Supreme Court will review this fall, is quite obviously the “Muslim ban” that candidate Trump swore he’d institute.
For now, the Supreme Court has barely reined in the administration, permitting the admission of only those prospective arrivals proving a “bona fide relationship” with a close family member. Adding another layer of gratuitous cruelty, the administration has inexplicably excluded grandparents and grandchildren from that standard. And there is serious concern that the Supreme Court will let the president have his way, as it did in the notorious Korematsu decision (1944) that upheld President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 to intern Japanese Americans. If it were to do so, it would overturn every other federal judicial judgment on the matter and empower the president to discriminate on the basis of religion.
Federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland amply chronicled the president’s discriminatory rhetoric during the campaign and after as evidence of the underlying bias in the ban. Existing immigration law holds that “no person shall receive any preference or priority or be discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person's race, sex, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence.” In addition, the 9th Circuit found that the administration had offered no evidence that allowing entry to citizens of Muslim countries heightened national security risks. Nor did the federal government in Korematsu, yet in the feverish wartime political environment, Roosevelt’s internment order was upheld anyway.
We call on the greatest of our country’s traditions: its openness and tolerance for newcomers, along with its commitment to justice for all. Muslims and Jews have been part of and benefited from those traditions. Setting the stage for this noble inclusivity was the treaty of peace and friendship entered into with Morocco in 1786, one of the first and longest-standing treaties that the fledgling United States signed. In more recent times, millions of Muslims have called America their homeland, including many who have served in and sacrificed on behalf of the armed services.
Meanwhile, despite some notable lapses, Jews have considered themselves welcome in America at least from the time of President Washington’s famous letter of 1790 to the Jewish community in Newport, R.I. Washington proclaimed not only that the United States gives “to bigotry no sanction,” but then added: “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants.”
Muslims and Jews together are derived from the stock of Abraham. Drawing on our shared roots, we look on with trepidation at the risks facing our country. The Supreme Court’s decision on the legality of the travel ban will not just be a holding on an administrative matter, but a stress test of the integrity and resilience of America’s democratic institutions. Confronting the gravest internal threat to our democratic tradition in modern memory, today’s Supreme Court faces a stark choice between affirming the grand American ideals of tolerance and inclusion or uprooting and betraying them.
Zev Yaroslavsky is a former Los Angeles County supervisor, a fellow at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and history department, and board member of Jews United for Democracy and Justice. Salam Al-Marayati is the president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
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