Last week, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proved once again that she has the ability to define terms for the entire Democratic Party by labeling the detention centers where asylum seekers are awaiting trial with the term “concentration camps.” Instead of agreeing that the border detention facilities should be addressed in terms of improvement, and those facilities in no way mirror the atrocities of the Holocaust, a large swath of the political left rushed to Ocasio-Cortez’s defense. Many of those defenders pulled out their Jewish credentials when saying that the “concentration camp” label is correct. These Jewish defenders are willing to minimize the atrocities of the Holocaust for the opportunity to appease a freshman congresswoman and attack the Trump administration.
Jonathan M. Katz, writing for the Los Angeles Times, actually compared the detention centers to concentration camps a few weeks ago, prior to Ocasio-Cortez. He wrote about the conditions in the centers, saying that they were cramped and lacked medical aid. Those points could garner sympathy, if not action, from both political parties. Then he went on a tirade about how racist the Trump administration is, accuses the authorities of torture, hiding atrocities, and refers to the centers as concentration camps. “You might balk at my use of the term,” he writes. “That’s good – it’s something to be balked at.” His claim is that he’s trying to get ahead of the next Holocaust by the comparison. “Even the Nazis’ camps started out small, housing criminals, Communists, and opponents of the regime,” he says. “It took five years to begin the mass detention of Jews. It took eight, and the outbreak of a world war, for the first extermination camps to open.”
This argument is predicated on the notion that we are on the verge of mass extermination of asylum seekers. The major difference is that asylum seekers are coming into this country and awaiting a hearing. If they are granted asylum, they are released into the United States. If they are not granted asylum, they are released to their home countries. Nazis rounded up their own citizens, and if it were not for the brave actions of the Allied forces, nobody would have been released.
Brant Rosen, writing for Newsweek, pulled out his credentials within the headline: “As A Rabbi, I Agree With AOC: Trump Is Running Concentration Camps On Our Southern Border.” Rosen, who is a founding member of the pro-BDS Jewish Voice for Peace’s rabbinical council, includes in the core values of his congregation that they are “non-Zionist, openly acknowledging that the creation of an ethnic Jewish nation state in historic Palestine resulted in an injustice against the Palestinian people.” This is the person that Newsweek elects to speak for the Jewish People. Rosen’s advocacy for the border does not lead him to the Democratic controlled House of Representatives, which provides funds for these centers. Rather he chooses to blame Republicans, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York for “pounc[ing]” on Ocasio-Cortez’s remarks. He goes into the history of the term “concentration camps,” including the Boer War and Japanese internment camps in the United States, before declaring, “We Jews do not own this term.” He then continues on and says that “Never again” is not Holocaust terminology. “On the contrary,” he writes, “‘Never Again’ means never again for anyone, or else it doesn’t mean anything at all.”
Quite the contrary, in fact. When six million Jews died in concentration camps, and 3.5 million survivors tell the tales of the atrocities that occurred there, Jews own the term. When Jews say, “Never again,” it is a reference to a country turning its back on its citizens, rounding them up for mass slaughter. While the conditions at the border may be bad, this is not a round-up and extermination maneuver. It is a desperate attempt to quell a massive influx of immigration into the United States, with a process that, while failing, is attempting to keep up with the demand.
Tae Pheonix, writing for The Forward, writes an article entitled “I’m a Latina Jew. My People Are in Concentration Camps Today – Just Like They Were During the Holocaust.” After beginning by saying, “My mom is Latina and my dad is Jewish,” thus making her not Jewish under Orthodox Judaism, she lays out her credentials to speak about the atrocities of the Holocaust because she “knew which members of our congregation were survivors” and “The first comic book I ever read was Art Speigelman’s two-volume retelling of his father’s Holocaust narrative, MAUS.” She tries to explain away Ocasio-Cortez’s use of the term by saying that the detention centers “bear a resemblance to Nazi concentration camps prior to 1941, when the first mass executions occurred,” before fully accepting the apocalyptic future that Ocasio-Cortez intended to outline when invoking the term. “While none of us can predict the future, these human rights violations could lay the groundwork for the kind of “final solution” approach that played out in Hitler’s camps. Human rights violations don’t go from zero to gas chambers overnight. They happen in a progression, with each step serving to prepare the public for the next.”
This is the slippery slope argument, which completely breaks down, because the people held in detention centers came into this country voluntarily. While not saying that bad conditions are a deterrent for less illegal migration (which would mean that the United States is incentivized to provide poor conditions rather than compelled to provide adequate conditions for humanitarian purposes), the fact remains that if the detention centers were truly early-stage Nazi concentration camps, people would stop coming to this country.
Anna Lind-Guzik, writing for Vox, also unleashed her Jewish credential in the headline of her article, “I’m a Jewish historian. Yes, we should call border detention centers ‘concentration camps.’” “This week,” she says, “conservatives weaponized Jewish suffering to divert discussion from the massive human rights abuses occurring at our border.” According to Lind-Guzik, it was conservatives who weaponized Jewish suffering, not AOC and her defenders who weaponized the Holocaust to attack the Trump administration. She calls out the hypocrisy of the blowback of Ocasio-Cortez using the term when the Trump administration, via US Assistant Secretary of Defense Randall Schriver, referred to the Chinese detention of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. This would be a strong point, if the Chinese weren’t rounding up their own citizens by the millions based on their religion (Islam) and detaining them without trial. In that context, perhaps the term “concentration camp” is more appropriate, but still not comparable to the events in the United States. However, that is exactly what the communist Chinese government is doing.
She continues by saying, “‘Never again’ means we must work to deescalate before atrocities rise to the horrors of Auschwitz,” insinuating that the direction the Trump administration is going in is massive labor and death camps. She attacks Yad Vashem, which took a strong stance against Ocasio-Cortez’s characterization for, “opt[ing] to chasten a young woman” while “embrac[ing] visitors like Viktor Orban, the anti-Semitic, ethno-nationalist Hungarian prime minister.” (The left considers Orban anti-Semitic because he opposes George Soros’ open borders immigration policies. Orban’s Soros opposition is backed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.)
These Jewish writers, and many more who are defending the classification that Ocasio-Cortez popularized, are conflating “detention centers” with “concentration camps” because it is a line of attack on President Trump. During the Obama administration, these same detention centers were operating. According to records from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), 66 people died while in their custody during the Obama administration. While Trump’s tenure yields a higher proportional rate (24 people in a quarter of the time), the influx of illegal immigration is significantly higher, as well. Only a few years ago, the average illegal border crosser was a young male, looking for a job to send money home to his family. Now, children are being brought across because of the political landscape, as it is well known that entry to the United States can be granted via asylum requests. Dragging children for thousands of miles yields disastrous results, despite the efforts of ICE to save as many lives as possible. The left is comfortable labeling detention centers “concentration camps” now, when they haven’t in the past, because they’ve already labeled President Trump “Hitler” for years.
The same problems exist with either of these labels. When the uninformed view two different things with the same label, like detention facilities and death camps both being labeled “concentration camps,” they would sooner think that the death camps were closer to the detention facilities than vice versa. They would see recent pictures of too many bunk beds, medical facilities with inadequate supplies, and a lack of activities, and believe that those were the problems in the Holocaust, as well. In reality, during the Holocaust there were no beds, only shelves for as many as could be crammed in. There were no medical supplies, only death. There were no activities, only attempts to survive another day. There was no food, only starvation.
Calling detention facilities housing asylum seekers “concentration camps” is not only wrong, it’s immoral, it minimizes the suffering of millions, and demeans the crimes of the Nazis. A message to the defenders of the term: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is not worth it.
By Moshe Hill