I live in Tucson, Arizona, which is sixty miles from Mexico so I’m in the epicenter of today’s immigration crisis. I’m also a Jew so anti-Semitism is something I’ve been dealing with my whole life.
After last year’s Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, I was mad as hell and just couldn’t take it anymore, so I was compelled to make a film about hate in America. I found the rise in American hate crimes, fueled by the Trump presidency, disgusting. I grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust and have always struggled to understand how it could have happened. And now, right before my eyes, it was happening all over again.
In 1995, I wrote play called the Pariah about writer Ben Hecht’s efforts to awaken America during the early 40s, to the massacre in Germany. When I first learned that many Americans knew nothing was happening to the Jews, I was a bit surprised. And that those who knew, from Roosevelt and the Pope and Churchill to the Hollywood studios, to the New York Times, were largely silent. That really shocked me.
Then I found out the extent of anti-Semitism in the US during the 30s and early 40s, and its effect on immigration quotas. Many European Jews could have been saved, if they had been able to relocate, but no one wanted them in the US, or any other country.
Immigration quotas were nothing new in America. Anti-immigrant sentiment gave birth to the Emergency Quota Act of 1921. The objective of this act was to temporarily limit the numbers of immigrants to the United States by imposing quotas based on country of birth. This legislation restricted new immigration to 3 percent of the number of residents per year from their country of origin already living in the United States, based on the 1910 census.
Today, nearly one hundred years later, it’s not the East European immigrants that are front and center, it is our Latino brothers and sisters from south of the border. Those chants of “go back to where you came from,” and, ‘you’re not really an America,” have returned.
And so that is the basis of this film.
There’s a common theme in this film that goes all the way back to the founding of America, and that’s the resentment and suspicion of strangers. In fact, that’s a popular theme throughout human history going back to the caves. “Hey, watch out for that guy in Cave 11, he’s a little weird.”
America is a nation of immigrants, except for Native Americans. Their five hundred nations lived, for the most part, in peace and harmony with each other, and the planet, until the European settlers came and decided to take over. The first thing they did was massacre Native Americans, a genocide on American soil.
Once they got comfortable, another wave of immigrants arrived from Europe, initially treated with skepticism and scorn, but they were close enough ethnically to the pilgrims to assimilate. But after several of these immigration waves, settlers began to arrive from other parts of the world. That’s when things stated to get rather dicey. That’s when the bias began to increase dramatically. Each group, the Chinese, the Italians, the Irish, the Eastern Europeans, were all considered to be a threat.
And that carries forth to this day, when immigration issues are tearing at very fiber of American democracy. We’ve never really confronted immigrations issues in a way which could resolve them. Instead it’s always been the me vs. them approach. Trump’s personal racism has been the catalyst for a return to violence in America over our differences. That scares me.
From my perspective, what happened to the Jews in Germany isn’t that much different that’s what’s happening to brown skinned people in America today. Trump isn’t Hilter, and there is no mass extermination. Instead, Trump has empowered a cultural genocide that will have lifelong implications on all young people and only further serve to divide this nation.
However, all is not lost.
The last segment of the film is about Never Again Action, a Jewish political action organization in the United States that uses civil disobedience and nonviolent methods to protest Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The organization derives its name from the slogan 'never again' which is often used in reference to the Holocaust.
The fact that a group of largely young people are taking action and standing up for what’s right gives me hope. They are speaking the truth no matter the cost, without fear of getting arrested. And that’s what it’s going to take for change on these issues. People willing to stand up and do what’s right.
I continue to do research here in Tucson, and in Washington, D.C. In late October, 2019, I will be attending J Street’s 2019 Conference where I’ll be joining thousands of pro-Israel, pro-peace leaders and advocates to discuss finding a way to put an end to the horrors of the Palestinian occupation.
My film, They Will Not Replace Us, is an amalgam of archival footage, historical photographs, graphics and interviews with historians, journalists, religious leaders, activists, government officials, and children, woven together in a seamless tapestry designed to produce an emotional reaction so that a dialogue can begin.
During this pre-production phase, archival footage and historical photographs will be located, and the necessary contracts will be negotiated to secure the rights to use this material in the film.
The process of finding the right people to interview also begins. Although doing on Skype facilitates the process, the technology is too unpredictable to use Skype videos in a finished film.
Accordingly, given the production budget limitations, as many interviews as possible will take place in Tucson, with one trip to Washington, D.C, and New York City.
The plan is to secure archival video and photos, and produce the necessary interviews by the end of 2019. Editing will begin in January, with the goal of finishing the film by early Spring.
The one-hour documentary, produced by Arcadian Arts, is the first part of an ongoing project, which includes screenings of the film and Q&A sessions with students in middle schools, high schools and college across the United States.
Although the film will be shown at film festivals and featured on several online streaming platforms, the goal is to reach as many young people as possible through local screenings and presentations.
It’s important these stories be told now so that they won’t be forgotten. In a few years, there will be no more living holocaust survivors. Our younger generations need to learn from history so they won’t repeat the same mistakes. They can and will make a difference. But first they need to know the truth about the dark forces that have always been at play in America. Those same dark forces that have enabled the Trump presidency.