Top 10 ADL #2016Highlights – #8: “We Were Strangers, Too:” Fighting for the Rights of Refugees

  • December 15, 2016

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As 2016 draws to a close, the Anti-Defamation League is counting down the major milestones we accomplished this year in the fight against hate.

As the world faces the worst refugee crisis since World War II, with approximately 65 million refugees from war and persecution seeking safety, ADL became a leading voice advocating for refugees.

For members of the Jewish community, the refugee crisis often feels familiar and personal. Many entered—or have family members who entered—the United States as refugees, fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe, Nazism in Germany, political oppression in the Soviet Union or Iran, and the list goes on. Still others remember family members who perished because the world closed its doors. ADL advocates for refugee rights not only because it is the humane and moral course of action, but because once we were strangers, too.


This past year ADL spoke out strongly against efforts by state leaders around the country to bar refugees from resettling in their states, and federal efforts to shut down or defund refugee resettlement programs.  “Shutting our doors to those fleeing extreme violence is un-American,” Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO, wrote in The Huffington Post in an op-ed timed to the Jewish holiday of Passover. “It flies in the face of our values as a nation that has served as a beacon of hope for those around the world seeking a better life.”

Many ADL regional offices spoke out about the anti-immigrant rhetoric that was featured as part of the 2016 presidential campaign. And ADL signed on to an effort by the Interfaith Alliance in support of the Freedom of Religion Act of 2016, a bill that would ban religious discrimination in the context of immigration.

On Passover, a time when Jews around the world recount the story of how Jews fled slavery and oppression in Egypt and remember that once we were strangers too, ADL teamed up with the Creative Action Network – an artists’ collective – to raise awareness about the plight of refugees.

The result was an unprecedented effort by artists from all over the world to illustrate refugee stories from across time and geography. Launched in April 2016, the gallery of art, which continues to grow, features 89 pieces, including designs from artists in Costa Rica, Canada, Romania, Ireland, Italy, Ethiopia, Greece and the United States. Syrian children also contributed their own emotional drawings.


All of the designs are available for sale as prints and more to support the artists involved, with a portion of the proceeds going to ADL to support its ongoing work on behalf of refugees.

The artwork was shared with members of Congress and featured in pop-up galleries in Cleveland, Houston, New York, Omaha, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and other major cities across the U.S.


Around the world, one in every 122 people is currently a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. There are refugees fleeing Syria, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Nigeria, and dozens of other countries. ADL advanced the fight for the rights of refugees to resettle in America and in other countries that could provide a safe haven, reminding the world of the mistakes of history when refugees were turned away from our shores.

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