(June 18, 2019 / JNS) Outrage from pro-Israel and Jewish groups is growing at U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) for her remarks on Monday on her Instagram account that the United States is “running concentration camps on our southern border,” in reference to the Trump administration’s policies regarding illegal immigration.
“AOC should ask Holocaust survivors and ex-GIs who liberated Dachau what that charnel House was like,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the SWC’s associate dean and director of global social action for the leading international Jewish Human Rights NGO, told JNS. “She is insulting victims of genocide.”
“AOC and others should stop demonizing Trump as a Nazi and instead forge bipartisan fix to disastrous humanitarian situation at our Southern border,” he continued. “Otherwise, all members of Congress will share responsibility for failing to stop the suffering and even deaths.”
In her social-media remarks, the freshman congresswoman said she wants to talk to those “who are concerned enough with humanity to say that ‘never again’ means something.”
“The fact that concentrations camps are now an institutionalized practice in the Home of the Free is extraordinarily disturbing, and we need to do something about it,” she continued.
Ocasio-Cortez warned, “We are losing to an authoritarian and fascist presidency.”
“I don’t use those words lightly,” she continued. “I don’t use those words to just throw bombs. I use that word because that is what an administration that creates concentration camps is. A presidency that creates concentration camps is fascist, and it’s very difficult to say that.”
On Tuesday, the Democrat, who has compared Israel’s actions to protect its border with Gaza from violent protesters “a massacre,” and that reducing U.S. assistance to Israel “should be on the table,” doubled down on her remarks.
“This administration has established concentration camps on the southern border of the United States for immigrants, where they are being brutalized with dehumanizing conditions and dying,” she posted in a Twitter thread.
“And for the shrieking Republicans who don’t know the difference: concentration camps are not the same as death camps. Concentration camps are considered by experts as ‘the mass detention of civilians without trial,’ ” she continued. “And that’s exactly what this administration is doing.”
Historian Gil Troy told JNS, “There is a long tradition of members of Congress saying dumb things; nevertheless, this comment belongs in the Hall of Fame. It’s not anti-Semitic. It’s too sloppy for that.”
He continued, “Anyone who compares the complicated set of tensions both Democrats and Republicans have been forced to make around immigration—as leaders of a complicated democracy—with the evils of Nazi concentration camps is both deeply ignorant and instinctively anti-American, shockingly unaware of the moral difference between democracy and dictatorship, and probably unable to distinguish between the two.”
Yossi Klein Halevi, an American-born Israeli author and journalist, said that “it’s tricky.”
“ ‘Concentration camps’ has become a generic term, not only about the Holocaust. (I would argue that “death camps” is unique to the Holocaust.),” he emailed JNS. “I think this is more an American than a Jewish issue. I am outraged at her slander of America.”
‘I would suggest that she visit Auschwitz’
Several other pro-Israel and Jewish groups condemned Ocasio-Cortez’s remarks, while some left-wing Jewish groups defended her statements.
“Six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. It is disgraceful for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to compare our nation’s immigration policies to the horrors carried out by the Nazis. We would hope that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez knows better, but sadly, she does not,” said Republican Jewish Coalition on Tuesday.
“Before Representative Ocasio-Cortez makes a statement like that, I would suggest that she actually visit Auschwitz, and try to understand what actually took place there,” Endowment for Middle East Truth founder and president Sarah Stern told JNS. “Her statement devalued the horrors of the Holocaust and of the 6 million who were systematically and purposely murdered. Statements such as these are ill-informed and flippant, and simply illustrate her vast ignorance.”
National president of the Zionist Organization of America Mort Klein said “the real story is that the U.S. government ran out of space and has to temporarily house minor teenagers who crossed illegally into the U.S. at an army base—something that former President [Barack] Obama also did. Comparing this to the horrors of the Holocaust death camps is a sin. AOC must be censured by her colleagues for this mindless and moronic analogy. She doesn’t belong in Congress making decisions on behalf of her fellow American citizens.”
However, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action defended Ocasio-Cortez, saying that the real outrage should be directed at the Trump administration and not the congresswomen’s language.
“Whether we call them concentration camps, mass detention centers or cages for children, they are a moral abomination,” said Bend the Arc: Jewish Action in a statement.
“The real question is not what we call these mass detention sites growing all over the country, the question is: What is every government official and citizen doing to stop this evil? Our government is scapegoating, demonizing and terrorizing immigrants,” continued the group. “These policies echo the worst of Jewish history and the worst of American history.”
“Anyone distracting from these clear facts with manufactured outrage is subverting Jewish history and trauma, and that is shameful,” it added. “Jewish Americans overwhelmingly reject the hateful, anti-immigrant policies being perpetrated by the very people pretending to be offended on our behalf.”