HIAS chief responds to ‘Skittles’ reference by Trump son: Politicizing refugees is ‘shameful’


(JTA) — Dehumanizing and politicizing refugees is “shameful” and our leaders must know it is unacceptable, the head of a refugee advocacy group said a day after the son of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump compared Syrian refugees to the fruit-flavored candy Skittles.

“Persecution always starts with dehumanization. Often times this is done in jest, making people objects of derision while taking away their human qualities. Likening refugees to diseases or to junk food, like candy, is a particularly egregious example of how refugees could be dehumanized,” Mark Hetfield, the president of HIAS, said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Donald Trump Jr. made the candy reference on Monday, tweeting “If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you. Would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem.”

The Hetfield statement went on to say: “Minimizing the human cost of the most severe refugee crisis in history is shameful in any context. When refugees — people who leave their entire lives behind simply in search of safety — are politicized and used to fan the toxic flames of xenophobia, we have an obligation to let our leaders know it is unacceptable.”

HIAS, formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, was founded in 1881 to help Jewish immigrants fleeing pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe.

Hetfield said the current refugee crisis and world reaction to it should “resonate deeply” in the Jewish community, “which remembers the plight of Jewish refugees who were turned away during World War II when they had nowhere else to go.”

“Then, as now, refugees were falsely cast as a threat, rather than sheltered from the threats they were fleeing. We cannot allow ourselves to make the same mistakes for the same reasons.”

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