NEW YORK, New York — While delivering his opening remarks at the Anti Defamation League (ADL) “Never is Now” Summit on Anti-Semitism at the Grand Hyatt on Thursday, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt pledged to register as a Muslim if President-elect Donald Trump and his administration proceed to create a government database to register and track foreign entrants from Muslim countries in order to thwart terrorism.
In the process, Greenblatt confused foreign visitors and immigrants, on the one hand, with Muslim-Americans, on the other — and likened the proposal to the Nazis’ system of identifying Jews for segregation and extermination during the Holocaust:
There recently have been reports that the new Administration plans to force Muslim-Americans to register for some sort of master government list. Look, Islamic extremism is a threat to us all. But as Jews, we know what it means to be registered and tagged, held out as different from our fellow citizens. As Jews, we know the righteous and just response. All of us have heard the story of the Danish king who said if his country’s Jews had to wear a gold star … all of Denmark would too.
So I pledge to you right here and now, because I care about the fight against anti-Semitism, that if one day in these United States, if one day Muslim-Americans will be forced to register their identities, then that is the day that this proud Jew will register as a Muslim.
(The story of the Danish king, however inspiring, is not actually true.)
What the Trump transition team has actually proposed is something like an existing system that the George W. Bush administration used after 9/11 to track foreigners from certain countries, and which the Obama administration discontinued.
The Bush administration started the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) in 2002, following the aftermath of the devastating September 11, 2001 attacks on America. Before it was discontinued, in 2011, NSEERS had registered over 93,000 people who were seen “possible national security threats.”
The move allowed the U.S. government to record and track the movements of individuals who traveled to America from 25 countries — including majority-Muslim countries like Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Libya and Saudi Arabia.
Some of the individuals caught under NSEERS included “two suspected al Qaeda operatives who were caught trying to enter the U.S. after their fingerprints matched ones lifted by our military officials from papers found in Afghanistan caves” and “a Tunisian convicted of multiple drug-trafficking offenses, in addition to previous violations of immigration law.”
FACTS about the NSEERS registry. If you are against these sensible measures, YOU are a threat to national security==> pic.twitter.com/DqAXS8W1pW
— Michelle Malkin (@michellemalkin) November 17, 2016
Last year, Trump was falsely accused of wanting to register all Muslim-Americans. Trump later clarified that it was a reporter who had first posed the suggestion.
On Wednesday, a spokesman, and former Navy Seal, for a pro-Trump PAC suggested a registry could be recommended for immigrants from Muslim countries. “We would like to keep tabs on it until we can figure out what’s going on,” the man said during an interview with Megyn Kelly of Fox News.
The sold-out crowd at the ADL conference drew over 1,000 participants. The two-day event will continue on Friday.
In his speech, Greenblatt pointed to a history of prejudice and marginzalization the Jewish people had endured, and pointed to that as a common struggle linking the Jews and other minorities. “It’s our fight,” he said. “Just as the fight against anti-Semitism is not only the fight of us Jews. It’s everyone’s fight.”
He noted that some of his decisions would be met equally with support and resistance, saying “making powerful enemies is the price one must pay, at times, for speaking truth to power.” He added, “Now, it will not be easy. It may be extremely difficult at times. There will be those in our country and even those in our community who disagree — sometimes strongly. But I welcome their disagreement. I look forward to the debate. Because I know our mission.”
Greenblatt ended his statement by noting, “we know why ADL was created. And it was founded for moments just like these. And so I pledge to you today that I will do everything in my power — and work as hard as I can with you — so that ADL meets the moment, defends the Jewish people and fights for justice and fair treatment to all.”