We don't know each other well, but we've met a few times so I figured I'd give this a go. I'm writing to implore you, as President Donald Trump's son-in-law and a senior adviser, to oppose his immigration executive order. You are one of the few people who has the president's ear and the power to stop him, or at least register your opposition.
Given your family’s history, part of you must be uncomfortable with this policy.
You're the grandson of Holocaust survivors. You've defended Trump against charges of anti-Semitism. Your own grandmother warned in a 1982 interview of the dangers of another leader like Adolf Hitler rising to power. "For the Jews, the doors were closed," she said. "Even our good president, Roosevelt — how come he kept the doors so closed for us for such a long time?"
I'm asking you to show leadership at this dangerous moment when history threatens to repeat itself. Trump's decision to restrict immigration from seven Muslims countries, including all refugees, is an affront to the United States Constitution. It goes against who we are as Jews.
As a journalist, I've traveled to war-torn Syria, where more than 450,000 Syrians have been killed and over 12 million displaced in the deadliest conflict of this century. I've visited refugee camps in Jordan, where 1.3 million refugees have resettled since the start of the civil war in 2011.
I've seen the toll of the refugee crisis firsthand in countries like Greece. If you step onto the shores of the Greek island of Lesbos, you'll never look at a refugee the same way again. I still see the haunting images of shivering children piling out of overcrowded dinghies, screaming mothers cradling newborns in their ams, innocent teenagers suffering in agony because they've lost their siblings in a bomb attack in Syria and elderly men and women with tears streaming down their faces because they know they will never return home again.
What I learned from being in these places is just how inaccurate media depictions of refugees are. It's easy — and politically convenient — to paint them as dangerous ISIS sympathizers. But they are fleeing the very same terrorists that America is fighting. Look into their eyes and you'll see people desperate to escape war and who will do anything to protect their families. They're charming, funny, witty. They have big dreams of falling in love and making it big in America and Europe. Banning these refugees does not keep America safe. Despite all the blustery rhetoric, no refugee has carried out a major fatal terrorist attack in the United States.
If that doesn’t move you, then consider how similar Syrian refugees' plight is to what Jewish people faced during the Holocaust. Then, as now, the majority of Americans were opposed to admitting a vulnerable population into the country over fears they posed a national security threat. Anti-Semitism was prevalent, just as Islamophobia is today; polls conducted from August 1940 to June 1945 show that Jews were regarded as the greatest 'menace to this country.' Sound familiar?
In 1939, at the height of World War II, 61% of Americans said they opposed legislation that would have admitted 10,000 refugee children — mostly of whom were Jewish — from Germany into the United States. In 1940, the State Department cut refugee migration by 75%. In one incident that has become emblematic of U.S. policy at the time, 900 Jewish refugees on the MS St. Louis were turned away from the United States because of immigration restrictions. More than 250 of those passengers were later killed after they were sent back to Nazi Germany.
That moment was a major stain on our history. No one would say today that turning away Jews was the right policy.
Yet Monday, a new Rasmussen poll shows that 56% of likely voters favor Trump's blocking visa holders from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the United States. Since 2011, slightly more than 18,000 Syrian refugees have been resettled in the U.S., but that's nowhere close to many of our allies; Germany, for example, took in over 1 million asylum seekers in 2015 alone. Trump has placed a temporary ban on any Syrian refugees coming in and pledged to cut the total number who can be resettled in the future by more than half. Once again today, human lives are at stake. For them, this is a matter of life and death.
I know standing up to Trump is not easy, but doing the right thing takes courage. It's far easier to score cheap points by demagoguing against Muslims. But being president is not about doing what's popular or good for business. It’s about showing leadership, and doing what’s moral and just.
Just like you, I grew up hearing the oft-repeated mantra "never again" in my synagogue. Well, it's happening again. So, I'm asking you to condemn this executive order. Think of your grandmother's words and what would make her proud. Then use the clout you have to persuade Trump to repeal it.
The country needs you.
Correction: March 6, 2017
An earlier version of this story misstated results from the Jan. 30 Rasmussen poll. Of likely voters, 56% favored Trump’s blocking visa holders from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the U.S.
Correction: March 7, 2017
A previous version of this story misreported the context of refugee legislation during World War II. In 1939, 61% of Americans said they oppose legislation to admit 10,000 refugee children from Germany, most of whom were Jewish, into the United States. Furthermore, in 1940, the State Department cut refugee migration by 75%.