Not long ago, I was leading my normal life as a policy analyst for a Washington think tank. I was writing an op-ed I hoped this paper might publish opposing “Progress by Pesach,” a campaign by Jewish organizations promoting amnesty for illegal immigrants and ending worksite immigration enforcement. I argued that legalizing millions of illegal aliens is to be complicit in overthrowing the rule of law, and increasing immigration at a time when the economy is hemorrhaging jobs displays callous disregard for the most vulnerable among us.
But I’ve set that aside. The issue pales in comparison to another: A stealth campaign to blacklist dissenters from the goals of “Progress by Pesach,” starting with my think tank, the Center for Immigration Studies, and me personally. The objective is to silence independent thinkers in the American Jewish community who are trying to promote honest debate over our nation’s immigration policy. The embodiments of this McCarthyite effort are Gideon Aronoff, President of HIAS, and attack-dog “research” from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). The first shot in the Jewish community was a secret note from HIAS to the editors of Jewish newspapers starting off with “This note is not for publication” in bold letters and warning them against publishing anything opposing the “Progress by Pesach” campaign. An attempt to kill the First Amendment, the murder weapon, appropriately enough, was fitted with a silencer. Several editors – naturally committed to free speech and robust debate – were so appalled they alerted me to the message. Another note, signed by Aronoff himself, embroiders the screed, employing language betraying a conspiratorial mentality. He describes my speeches as efforts “to penetrate” the Jewish community. This mindset underlies Aronoff’s belief in his own press releases, which irrationally allege that my group, CIS, along with two other miniscule organizations, “stopped comprehensive immigration reform in June of 2007.” That bill lost because it was hugely unpopular with the American people, and thus with senators facing re-election in 2008. Yet Aronoff sees a Protocols of the Elders of Zion-like conspiracy.
The poison e-mails were apparently also sent to Jewish organizations, because shortly after the blacklist effort was launched, a New Jersey chapter of Hadassah cancelled my scheduled talk, and my requests for an explanation were met with embarrassed reticence by my hosts. Finally, they confessed they were “ordered to cancel by the Legal Department at Hadassah’s National Office.” Lest you think this paranoid, understand that I have spoken to dozens of Hadassah chapters across America – and at synagogues, Jewish Community Centers, at local chapters of other Jewish organizations, and elsewhere in the community – where my message is enthusiastically received. In fact, that enthusiastic reception is undoubtedly the source of the problem. The charges against CIS and me are politically motivated lies. HIAS recycles the SPLC’s claim that a retired doctor from northern Michigan, described as a white supremacist, founded and funds CIS. Both assertions are false. This individual has never played any role in CIS, officially or unofficially. End of story. The allegation that CIS is “white supremacist” is obscene, preposterous, false. Peruse the hundreds of publications on CIS’s website – www.cis.org – none contains an iota of racism. CIS’s board is headed by Peter Nunez, a former U.S. Attorney, and includes the president of the Greater Miami Urban League and the former head of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. Aronoff and SPLC can’t play anything straight. The quote their “research” attributes to me is a misquote twisted out of context. I’m supposed to have said, “Immigration threatens the American people and Western Civilization.” In fact, I was speaking of the Islamization of Western Europe and, potentially, America. The actual comment addresses Muslim immigration in an age of Jihadism, not immigration per se. The absurdity of the lies lubricating this blacklist campaign is especially apparent considering my own background. After more than 20 years as a professor of English and Victorian Studies, I embarked on a second career in public policy. I was Director of Education at the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, the first-ever Jewish Vice President at the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the National Affairs Director at the American Jewish Committee, then Executive Director of the American Anti-Slavery Group, and finally at CIS. I’m not a fearful person, but what’s happening is frightening – not for me personally, because I’ll be fine either way, but for our community. The question before us is not about which immigration policies we should support. Rather, this: Will the Jewish community be an open forum for competing ideas, or will we surrender to a new McCarthyism? If this blacklist campaign succeeds, we will have permitted cynical opportunists to destroy the intellectual integrity and vibrancy of debate within our community. We will have succumbed to lies and debased ourselves. It is a categorical imperative to defeat it. # # # Dr. Stephen Steinlight Senior Policy Analyst Center for Immigration Studies 1522 K Street, N.W., Suite 820 Washington, DC 20005-1202