Remember the movie “Gentleman’s Agreement?” The film noire picture featured a crusading non-Jewish journalist, played by Gregory Peck, who posed as a Jew to learn firsthand what anti-Semitism in America was like.
He got more than he bargained for, learning that he was banned from staying in certain hotels and living in certain upscale neighborhoods.
In Pittsburgh, we didn’t need a movie to tell us that anti-Semitism was ripe in America. Many of our readers probably recall growing up when there were clubs where they couldn’t join, schools where they couldn’t enroll, hospitals and law firms where they couldn’t practice.
Not that anti-Semitism has been eradicated, but things have changed — mostly for the better.
In America, that is.
We were saddened to learn of a city in Israel, Bnei Brak, where rabbis have ruled residents may not rent apartments to African refugees.
The American Jewish community has roundly blasted this ruling, as well it should. The Anti-Defamation League called the decrees “biased pronouncements” and urged the rabbis of Bnei Brak to “follow the Jewish tradition of tolerance and empathy toward other human beings.”
The American Jewish Committee followed suit. “Instead of emphasizing the biblical duty to care for the ‘guest in our midst,’ ” its spokesman said, the rabbinic ruling “legitimizes discrimination and stokes hostility, dangerously undermining the principles of equality and tolerance upon which the State of Israel is founded.”
Israel, like the United States, is grappling with its own immigration issues. The number of African migrants entering the country this year has jumped by 200 percent, according to the government’s Population, Immigration and Borders Authority.
In raw numbers, approximately 27,000 undocumented aliens, many of whom are practicing Christians and Muslims, are thought to be living in Israel. Men come from war torn and impoverished parts of Africa, such as Sudan and Eritrea.
To be sure, Israel needs a clearly defined position on this inward migration. Should they be allowed to stay and placed on a track to citizenship or permanent residency? Or should they be sent home?
Our own history should sensitize us in this case. If not that, then there’s something in the Torah about welcoming the stranger because we were strangers in Egypt (see Deuteronomy-Eikev).
Given the difficulties we’re having in this country dealing with these issues, we won’t suggest what Israel ought to do. As Jews, though, we will say it is wrong — clearly wrong — to discriminate against Africans, who may or may not be there legally, merely because they are Africans.