Photo Credit: Rabbi YY Rubinstein
Rabbi YY Rubinstein

UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis condemned President Trump’s attempt to clamp down on entry into America from seven Muslim majority countries as “totally unacceptable.”

To huge applause, sitting beside Prince Charles at a Jewish charity dinner, he said:


“President Trump has signed an executive order that seeks to discriminate based totally on religion or nationality. We as Jews, perhaps more than any others, know what’s it’s like to be the victims of discrimination.”

A different chief rabbi, Lord Jakobovits, wrote many times that he was often strongly attacked by Israelis if he said anything critical of their government. They would often say, “If you want to criticize us, come here to live and then do it.”

His response was that, as the UK Chief Rabbi residing in London, he had to live with the constant presence of armed police bodyguards to protect him. When he visited Israel, he needed no such protection. The actions of Israel affected his life and the lives of other Jews in the UK directly. That, he argued, is what gave him the right to be critical of Israel’s actions when he felt it appropriate.

For the past six years I have lived in the United States. Recently I’ve experienced a deluge of anger directed at me from American Jews upset by Rabbi Mirvis’s sharp criticism of President Trump. I try to explain what the Office of the British Chief Rabbi is, what it is meant to do, and the fact that Rabbi Mirvis very rarely sends what he intends to say for my approval before he says it. But it’s no good. Americans don’t get our humor or sarcasm very well.

I usually fall back on the simple statement that “He is the British Chief Rabbi and I’m Scottish!” This produces a pause and a reboot. Most Americans confuse the term British with English and they “sort of “ get that Scottish is something different and then they leave me alone.

But this echoes Lord Jakobovits’s argument that what you say or do “over there” affects me “over here, ” and so I do feel, as he did, free to comment and criticize.

The first part of what Rabbi Mirvis said – “The executive order seeks to discriminate based totally on religion or nationality” – is misinformed nonsense, although it’s certainly the fashionable view to take.

The president’s executive order “discriminates” against seven countries that have the worst terrorist problem. They are indeed Muslim lands, but that is not the reason they were selected, or the list would be much longer. Those countries were originally identified by President Barack Obama precisely for the reason that the cancer of Islamic terrorism (Al Qaeda, ISIS, etc.) has thoroughly metastasized throughout them. If you read the document, Trump ordered a temporary travel ban to freeze potential threats and assess the level of threat these states pose.

Unlike his predecessor, who refused to link the words “Islamic” and “terrorist” in the same sentence, Trump has no difficulty in that regard. It is one of the reasons he was elected.

I was intrigued at the level of anti-Semitism engendered by Rabbi Mirvis’s tweet on the subject. “Why don’t you say all that saintly ‘poor refugees’ stuff about the Palestinians?” etc. etc. etc.

That’s another thing I’m puzzled by – the bizarre bedfellows the chief rabbi has chosen for himself. American leftists who took to the streets are often as virulent in their opposition to the existence of Israel as they are to the existence of a temporary travel ban.

But the absolute worst thing in his statement was that “We as Jews, perhaps more than any others, know what’s it’s like to be the victims of discrimination.”

There have been Jews at demonstrations waving banners that identify them as such and proclaim “Jews Reject Trump.” These people, like the chief rabbi, have been quick to draw parallels between Trump’s attempt to close the door to Syrian refugees and the fact that America and the UK did the same to Jewish refugees in the 1930s and ‘40s. Of course, Rabbi Mirvis implies that British malfeasance was greatly exaggerated, pointing to the UK’s noble welcome of the “Kindertransports.”

But even a cursory examination of Britain’s unwillingness to accept Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust would show a very different and much less noble account than the one Rabbi Mirvis touts.

And the parallel is as false as it is profoundly offensive.

The British justification for refusing to take in Jews fleeing Hitler was the laughable and derisible claim that the Nazis could have insinuated spies among them claiming to be Jews.

The real motive, of course, was British anti-Semitism. As George Orwell wrote in his superb 1945 essay “Anti-Semitism in Britain,” there was almost as much Jew hatred in the UK before the war as there was in Germany.

The fact that ISIS and other Islamist terrorist groups have placed their agents among Syrian and other refugees from Islamic countries, and that they have gone on to commit atrocities in the West, is well documented.

Then there are the equally disturbing cases or rape and sexual assault committed in Germany by Syrian refugees. The Gatestone Institute think tank reported on March 5, 2016:

Sexual violence in Germany has skyrocketed since Angela Merkel allowed more than one million mostly male migrants from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East into the country. The crimes are being downplayed by the authorities, apparently to avoid fueling anti-immigration sentiments.

The full report makes for chilling reading.

In the case of the Jews refused entry to the UK before the war, the justification given was baseless and false. In the case of the Syrians refused entry to the U.S., the justification has a basis and is not false.

For the chief rabbi to draw a parallel between these two cases is either to endorse and justify the old lie that was given for the UK slamming the door in the faces of Jews trying to escape the Final Solution or to support the new lie that Merkel’s refugees posed no threat and have done very little wrong.

No Jews who were trying to get into Britain were violent predators who posed a very real risk to British women and girls. None planned violent terrorism against the British state or its population. There is no comparison to be made here at all.

As Lord Jakobovitz argued, the actions of Israel directly affected his life and the lives of other Jews in the UK. That, he said, is what gave him the right to be critical of Israel’s actions when he felt it appropriate.

Your pronouncements, Rabbi Mirvis, directly affect my life (and the lives of other American Jews), so I feel it only appropriate to criticize them.

The only remaining question is, as chief rabbi of the United Kingdom and British Commonwealth, what does the temporary halting of travelers to the U.S. from states with a chronic terrorist problem have to do with you? If you cannot convincingly answer that, then your regrettable comparison between Jews fleeing the Holocaust and the Syrian refugee crisis is simply and totally unacceptable.