Donald Trump, for those of us from New York City and State who have witnessed his antics for over 40 years, has always been a self-promoting jester. But recently he has crossed the line from his usual boundless self-aggrandizement into something with dangerous political consequences. He has announced that he wants to expel the 11 million undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central America from this country.
Trump proposes to also end “birthright citizenship” and thereby abrogate the 14th amendment, at least those parts that state that “all persons born” in the United States are citizens, and all citizens enjoy “the equal protection of the laws.” He wants to build a wall separating Mexico and Canada and to greatly tighten existing restrictions on immigrants and to use their remittances home to pay for this unethical project.
The shame of it is that Trump is doing well in the polls, and is speaking to the pervasive xenophobia of the Republican base; he is defining the discourse on immigration and his fellow candidates are falling over one another to second his indecent suggestion. These are the very same Republican candidates who eagerly shout, one louder than the next, that they are the protectors of Israel and the Jewish people. They seem to know as little about Jewish history as they know about human decency. They don’t seem to know that Jewish history has been etched in expulsions that have always been cruel, destructive, and bloody. Expulsions, of Jews and non-Jews destroy lives rob people of their rights, their property and status, turning them, at best, into refugees.
Leaving aside the mass expulsions that followed the destruction of the First and Second Temples, let us consider, in the briefest possible way, the expulsions of Jews in the 2nd millennium, starting with the Crusades. They were followed by the expulsion of Jews from England in 1290, from France in the following century, and from various German states throughout the Middle Ages. These all denied Jews basic human rights under various pretenses that were expressions of intense and acceptable racism i.e., prejudice, discrimination, and antagonism directed against a group of people based on the belief of one’s own race superiority. Racist superiority was the face of the history of expulsions.
And there was the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, following the riots and forced conversions in that country in 1391, giving rise to the Conversos, and the expulsion and forced conversion in Portugal in 1497, and then the expulsion from the Papal States (where many Sephardi Jews sought refuge) in 1569. And there were expulsions from Vienna in 1670, and from Prague in 1745. Jews could not reside in most of the Swiss Cantons and in some districts in Holland until the 19th century. In France, in 1790, a year after the French Revolution, Jews were granted citizens’ rights in only two cities, Avignon and Bordeaux. There were expulsions in Russia, up to the end of the Tsarist times from areas outside the Pale of Settlement. And this is to say nothing of the horrors of the 20th century. And although the Muslim world generally has a better record than the Christians, there were expulsions of Jews from almost every Arab country after 1948.
Of course, many other peoples besides Jews have been the objects of expulsion. A short list would include the Romani and Sinti peoples, otherwise known as the Gypsies, whose history of expulsions from different European states is as long and complicated as that of the Jews, the Crimean Tartars, Volga Germans, and Chechens forcibly removed from their homelands under Stalin, the ugly population transfers of Greeks and Turks in the 1920s and Muslims and Hindus in India and Pakistan in 1947, expulsion of Palestinians from Israel in 1948, the population transfers as Yugoslavia fell apart. And currently, there is ISIS. And so on, and so on.
Our remembrance (Zicharon) of our history is compelling us to speak up. Expulsions are destructions that must inform our national consciousness when Republicans declare with impunity their so-called solution to the illegal immigration problem.
The expulsion plan of 11 million human beings from the United States is a personal, familial, social and cultural destruction of monumental tragic consequences. The denial of citizenship to children born in the United States is a violation of the American Constitution and cries out to heaven in its gross injustice. We must not avert eyes from the real face of expulsions. As Jews, we know what it means to be treated as less than human, to be expelled from our homes, to be treated as if our lives didn’t matter or count.