Has America’s present administration turned a blind eye to the Christian massacres in the Middle East?
Stories about this disappointing possibility have been circulating for months, but they at first seemed more like social media rumors than legitimate concerns.
Most people assumed that the United States would speak up, take positive action and prove itself – as it has historically – to be a safe haven for “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Then came a devastating report from the National Catholic Register, which recounted the Obama Administration’s indifference to what Pope Francis has described as a “third world war, waged piecemeal … a form of genocide.”
According to the Register, the Iraqi Christian Relief Council has compiled figures on the status of Iraqi Christians. Out of the 25,014 refugees from Iraq who were admitted to the U.S. between January 2014 and June 2015, only 21 percent were Christian. More than 79 percent were Muslim. Never mind that during the 2014 Islamic State invasion of Iraq’s “Christian heartland,” virtually 100 percent of the survivors who fled to Kurdistan were Christians.
The ICRC also pointed out that during the same time frame, fewer than 1,000 Syrian refugees were admitted to the U.S. And only 4 percent of those were Christian.
Meanwhile, America’s dubious hospitality has been outpaced by less prosperous and spacious states like Poland, Armenia and Belgium, who have opened their arms to Christians. Canada is also presently receiving Christian refugees, while proposals are under consideration elsewhere.
I asked my colleague Nina Shea why the United States should reconsider its denial of Christian refugees.
“First of all,” she said, “like the Jews in Nazi Germany, Middle East Christians are not simply victims of the war. They are targeted for religious cleansing by ISIS and other extremists.
“Second, they have no armies and militias of their own to protect them.
“And, finally, there is no Christian country or enclave left in the region where they can resettle, and meanwhile their own property is being distributed to others, not only by ISIS, but in Baghdad, by their own government.”
Shea’s reference to the Nazis raises an important point: This isn’t the first time the U.S. has rejected refugees during a period of grave danger.
Indeed, when I discussed this tragic situation with some my Jerusalem friends, it was evident that today’s pattern of discrimination and rejection provokes bitter memories for the Jewish community.
During the 1930s and early 1940s, European Jews became progressively aware of the dangers they faced under Hitler’s Third Reich. Violence increased and their situation grew more precarious. Many decided to flee. But instead of providing the Jews with a warm welcome, America instead closed its doors to Jewish immigration.
The U.S. Memorial Holocaust Museum described the controversial rejection of immigrants from Nazi Germany.
Influenced by the economic hardships of the Depression, which exacerbated popular anti-Semitism, isolationism and xenophobia, the refugee policy of the U.S. State Department … made it difficult for refugees to obtain entry visas, despite the ongoing persecution of Jews in Germany.
Beginning in 1940, the United States further restricted immigration by ordering U.S. consuls to delay visa approvals on national security grounds. After the United States entered the World War II in December 1941, the trickle of immigration virtually dried up, just as the Nazi regime began systematically to murder the Jews of Europe.
As I reflect on America’s dismal rejection of Jews and now Christians, I think about the radical Islamist adage, “First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people.”
Or, as a photo of a Palestinian flag in my book “Saturday People, Sunday People” says in Arabic, “On Saturday we kill the Jews, on Sunday we kill the Christians.”
Of course the Holocaust took place at the hand of Adolf Hitler and his Jew-loathing Nazi henchmen. Yet there was, and still remains, a powerful connection between yesterday’s Third Reich and today’s radical Islamism.
In 1921, a cold-blooded, anti-Semitic Arab named Amin “Hajj” al-Husseini was promoted by British Mandate authorities to a lofty and influential religious position: the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.
Husseini was ambitious and power-hungry. He was also an ideological ally of the Nazis and aggressively collaborated with them.
Husseini met with the Fuhrer at least once, and repeatedly conspired with several of his closest Nazi associates, including Heinrich Himmler. Husseini applauded the “Final Solution of the Jewish problem” and vowed to recreate it in the Middle East.
Several sources date the “Saturday people, Sunday people” slogan to anti-Zionism riots in the 1920s, with Husseini’s serving as key ringleader. With increasing ardor, he sought to drive the Jews out of Palestine or, better yet, kill them.
Husseini was enormously successful. His strategic use of blood libels, baseless rumors and rabble-rousing tactics increasingly inflamed the Arabs’ disdain for the Jews.
In my book “Saturday People, Sunday People,” I describe one of Husseini’s best-known early successes.
In mid-August 1929, following a Jewish demonstration near the Temple Mount, which involved flags and patriotic songs including Hatikvah, Arabs were incited by false reports of Jewish attacks on the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. The incitement has long been attributed to the infamous anti-Semitic Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj al-Husseini, who later collaborated with Hitler in plans to exterminate the Jews in the Middle East.
The violence stirred up by those false rumors led to the first modern “pogrom” in Israel, during which 67 Jewish residents of Hebron were murdered.
In the years that followed the Hebron massacre, Husseini and his devotees accelerated their efforts. Anti-Semitic/anti-Zionist hostility simmered, swelled and threatened to erupt across the Middle East.
Forced labor camps for Jews – imposing brutal conditions – were constructed in Morocco and Algeria. Plans to fully cleanse the Middle East of Jews were laid once Hitler’s erstwhile favorite general, Erwin Rommel, successfully completed his invasion of North Africa.
The first large-scale eruption took place in Iraq in 1941 with a massacre of Jews known as the Farhud; some described this event as a “Nazi-like pogrom.” During its 48-hour bloodletting, more than 180 Jews lost their lives and some 1,000 were injured.
Survivors of the Farhud reported that – several days before the event – many Jews’ homes were marked with a red handprint, the “Hamsa.” This eerily foreshadowed the marking of Christian houses in Mosul in 2014 with the letter “N” for Nasrani (Christians).
The Farhud was the beginning of surging violence against Jews across the Middle East, which climaxed in 1948, following the declared independence of the State of Israel.
Between 1948 and the early 1970s, some 850,000 to 1,000,000 Jews were driven out of their Muslim-majority homelands.
Like today’s Christians, those Jews were marked for death or expulsion by the crazed hatred of Muslim extremists. But unlike today’s Christians, who have been turned away by most of the world’s nations, Middle Eastern Jews had a place to go – a homeland. They managed to make their way to the newborn State of Israel.
It was a painful struggle for the fledgling nation to provide shelter and food for hundreds of thousands of penniless, Arabic-speaking refugees. And it was an indescribable agony for the displaced and dispossessed – many of who had been prosperous, well-known and eminently successful just months before.
Still, they had reached the safe haven foretold by the vision of Zionism – “to be free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.” And they had also seen their ancient prophets’ words fulfilled: Jews, once scattered to the four corners of the earth, were being re-gathered in the Promised Land.
The Saturday people had finally come home.
Which brings us to today. What lies ahead for the Sunday people?
A heartwarming story recently emerged about Lord George Weidenfeld, a 95-year-old British publisher and peer of the realm who successfully airlifted 150 Syrian Christian men, women and children to Poland, with a goal of rescuing at least 2,000 of them.
It turns out that Christians had rescued the young, Jewish Weidenfeld from the Nazis many years ago. Mennonite and Quaker groups committed to saving Jewish children smuggled Weidenfeld out of harm’s way into the relative safety of Great Britain.
Today, Weidenfeld is assisting Christians, hoping to repay what he describes as his personal “debt of gratitude” to them.
In fact, Weidenfeld may also be pioneering the next phase in today’s ongoing efforts to rescue displaced Christians. Relief and development groups and their donors are considering the option of flying Iraqi and Syrian families to safety.
Airlifts may be to be the wave of the future. On the other hand, as the saying goes, there’s nothing new under the sun.
An airlift of near-biblical proportions took place during the late 1940s. It serves as a worthy reminder of what can be accomplished – despite ongoing Islamist terrorism, despite the rejection of the nations and despite the despair of the refugees and those trying to help them.
When heaven’s work is being done, nothing on earth is impossible.
Between 1948 and 1950 – unlikely as it seems – Alaska Airlines took part in the historic and daring rescue operation of some endangered Jews. Along with charter carriers and with military help, the small U.S. airline helped transport more than 40,000 Yemenite Jews to Israel.
Alaska Airlines’ website described the company’s courageous participation in “Operation Magic Carpet.”
Known as the lost tribe of Israel, the Yemenite Jews had wandered the deserts for at least two centuries after being driven out of Palestine. Nomads, they had never seen an airplane and never lived anywhere but a tent.
Ironically, their faith included a prophecy that they would be returned to their Holy Land on the wings of eagles.
An Alaska flight attendant, Miriam Metzger, who served as a nurse on several of those rescue flights, described a touching moment.
“One of the things that really got to me was when we were unloading a plane at Tel Aviv,” Marian explained. “A little old lady came up to me and took the hem of my jacket and kissed it. She was giving me a blessing for getting them home.
“In her eyes, we were the wings of eagles!”
With that in mind, let’s not grow weary in our efforts to reach out to today’s refugees, nor lose heart when our political leaders disappoint us.
Miracles still happen, and a promise is still a promise.
They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint [Isaiah 40:31].