What We Want To Do As Americans: Jewish Political Activism and United States Refugee Policy, 1969-1981

Fedeski, Amy, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Loeffler, James, AS-History (HIST), University of Virginia

This dissertation explores the work of Jewish American Non-Governmental Organizations from 1969 to 1981, focusing on the advocacy efforts of the Jewish American activist groups most involved in migration issues during this period: Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), and the Council for Jewish Federations (CJF). It argues that in advocating for effective mechanisms for refugee admissions and resettlement funding, these NGOs effectively remade American refugee policy in ways which still resonate today, while simultaneously remaking Jewish American political culture. The migration policy activism of Jewish American NGOs had transnational implications, creating an international network which connected national governments, communal activists and migrants across the Iron Curtain and the world.
The historiography of Jewish American politics during this period has focused either on domestic or foreign policy issues like Israel advocacy, or else has examined the history of the Soviet Jewry Movement through the lens of emigration. By bringing immigration back into the story of Jewish American policy advocacy, this dissertation recovers a vital historiographical narrative. It also intervenes in immigration historiography in its exploration of the role of Jewish American activists in shaping American refugee policy in the decade prior to the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980, a role which has been overlooked by immigration historians. This dissertation concludes that the Refugee Act of 1980 effectively demonstrates the central place of Jewish American activists in US migration politics, a place developed through a decade of work at the heart of American political life.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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