signs reads "we support our muslim neighbors"
A sign at the January 2017 protest of the Muslim travel ban at San Francisco International Airport (Photo/Ruben Arquilevich)

The Muslim ban is a call for American Jews to act

“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native born. You shall love them as yourself.”

So says Leviticus 19:33-34.

So said a sign held at SFO by a young woman from my community as she protested the new ban on immigrants and refugees that came down on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

What’s going on is a Jewish issue because of our values like that expressed in the Leviticus section above. It is also a Jewish issue because of our recent historical experience from the 20th century. If there is any group right now who should be raising the alarm it’s the Jews. As Jews we must find the moral courage to stand up for others, just as some brave souls stood up for us in our darkest hour.

As a rabbi, I take no comfort from the fact that the man singling out Muslims and immigrants for detention has picked a few Jewish advisors to join his inner circle. I think it’s actually irrelevant whether the man himself is an anti-Semite. If Trump’s policies and words embolden hate criminals, threaten the freedom of religion, and create structures of surveillance and punishment designed to target minority groups, it matters little if he personally has a Jewish son-in-law.

And it’s true — some Muslims practice a poisoned religion of hate and violence. There really are people full of hate for Americans and the West who are using perversions of Islam to justify their violence. They have beheaded journalists on You Tube and they have taken down towers in Manhattan before our very eyes. This issue is real and should not be dismissed. Nor is the worry about Islamic terrorism unfounded or paranoid.

Religiously justified terrorism is a problem we need to talk about. Religion can be abused and twisted to fuel hatred and violence. This is true of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and other faiths. It is never acceptable when leaders use religion or any other potent ideology to incite violence or justify targeting innocents. This is not a new problem.

But what do we do?

When I imagine how to keep America safe from global terrorism or Israel safe from Palestinian terrorism I see two basic paths.

One is a strategy of increasing control and brutality. Keep them out. Lock them up. Punish and silence and humiliate them until they are so broken and afraid they stop.

When you are angry and afraid, this idea may seem worth the cost. But make no mistake, the cost is very high. Not just in dollars spent to build walls and police forces, but also the cost of your children becoming victims and soldiers, losing privacy and other freedoms.

Even if you were willing to pay the price, this strategy actually does not work. The more you exclude and imprison and punish and humiliate someone, the more you sow the seeds of hatred. And hatred is what we must defeat. Hatred is the true source of terrorism.

A more courageous strategy would be to fight hate with love.

And I’m not talking here about some kind of fluffy, romantic, naïve mushy feeling. I’m talking about a love that recognizes the God-given dignity and worth of each human being. A love that stays the violent hand before it strikes. This love shines through the Torah as well as the founding vision of our nation, and it is strong and powerful.

If America wants to be safe from Islamist terror, America’s best bet is to stand by its Muslim citizens now and rise up and demonstrate the best of American values to the vulnerable Muslim populations of the world. We are a land of religious freedom. We are a land of equality and opportunity for white people, black people, straight or queer, men, women, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists and more.

Whether our ancestors trace their lineage on this land to a time before Columbus, or whether they came on boats from Europe, Asia or Africa, whether they fled persecution or sought opportunity, we aspire to be a land with freedom and justice for all. Let us lift up that heritage of greatness. We must not let our fears lead us to forget who we are and what this country stands for.

Rabbi Katie Mizrahi headshot
Rabbi Katie Mizrahi

Rabbi Katie Mizrahi is the spiritual leader of the Or Shalom Jewish Community in San Francisco.