There is a basic rule in American politics that was broken too many times in the past week: don’t compare anything to the Holocaust, Hitler, or Nazis.
First of all, it’s hyperbolic and demonstrates a lack of understanding of the Shoah; secondly, it indicates a lack of the verbal agility to produce a more accurate comparison. Nothing except the Holocaust can be compared to the Holocaust. I have never seen a politician successfully convince another of their opinion with a tawdry Holocaust citation.
Usually, when a politician makes an inappropriate Shoah reference, they face criticism from the mainstream media and politicians on both sides. They tend not to receive support from people saying the comparison was appropriate. Until now.
In a now-famous incident, rookie member of Congress Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez made a gaffe by comparing the detention centers currently housing some illegal immigrant children to concentration camps. One of the places, Fort Sill, was the location of a Japanese internment camp — itself a shameful chapter of American history — and housed illegal immigrant children during the Obama administration, though no one complained then. Neither administrations housed the children in the same part of the fort where Japanese-Americans were once held.
The kids are being kept in an array of locations due the overwhelming influx of migrants illegally crossing our border with Mexico, and the lack of adequate funding by Congress to house them as they and their attorneys wait to present their asylum cases to a judge.
Here’s how Ocasio-Cortez began her comments: “The United States is running concentration camps on our southern border, and that is exactly what they are. They are concentration camps. And if that doesn’t bother you, I don’t — I got nothing … I want to talk to the people that are concerned enough with humanity to say that ‘never again’ means something, and that the fact that concentration camps are now an institutionalized practice in the home of the free is extraordinarily disturbing, and we need to do something about it.
“This week, children, immigrant children, were moved to the same internment camps where the Japanese were held in the earlier 20th century. And this is not even about a crisis, this is not just about the immigrant communities being held in concentration camps being a crisis, this is a crisis for ourselves. This is a crisis on if America will remain America in its actual principles and values, or if we are losing to an authoritarian and fascist presidency.
“And so I think that, you know, I don’t use those words lightly, 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. And a presidency that creates concentration camps is fascist.”
After a day of criticism, Ocasio-Cortez doubled down, saying that not all concentration camps are death camps and that she had checked her reference with a supposed “expert on the Holocaust” who worked at Esquire magazine. She added that the critics were “shrieking Republicans” who don’t know the difference between concentration camps and death camps.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, in an op-ed on the FoxNews website, agreed with those who thought the statement was inappropriate.
“President Trump’s policy of cracking down on illegal immigration on the border with Mexico and detaining some migrants is certainly a legitimate topic of debate. The conditions under which the migrants are being held can be debated as well. But comparing U.S. detention facilities operating today to the Nazi concentration camps where millions of innocent men, women and children were tortured, starved, beaten and murdered during World War II in the Holocaust is breathtakingly absurd.
“The truth is that the burgeoning disaster at our southern border is not the result not of a monstrous plot by President Trump to build concentration camps, but of a real humanitarian crisis overwhelming the federal immigration bureaucracy and a deep and toxic national political divide.”
Rabbi Cooper closed with the message to politicians: “The images of incarcerated kids and adults who fled other countries desperately trying to gain entry into the U.S. should generate action — not false and incendiary rhetoric. It behooves a divided Congress to rediscover a bipartisan way to solve our immigration crisis, rather than using it for political warfare.”
Sadly, too many politicians did not listen. For example, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, whose 10th Congressional District covers parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan, and, at 37.6% Jewish, is one of the most Jewish districts in America, continued his alienation from the Jewish community that began with his support for the Iran deal. He broke away from his investigations of the president made senseless by the contents of the Mueller report to retweet Ocasio-Cortez’s strange comparison, adding this comment:
“One of the lessons from the Holocaust is ‘Never Again’ — not only to mass murder, but also to the dehumanization of people, violations of basic rights, and assaults on our common morality. We fail to learn that lesson when we don’t call out such inhumanity right in front of us.”
At the “camps” Nadler and Ocasio-Cortez are talking about, the children receive three square meals a day, toys, activities, and, at many of them, even TVs. Auschwitz didn’t offer any of those to the Jewish children.
It is not an ideal situation. Some children don’t have beds and sleep on metallic blankets on the floor. But when the press and activists show photos of these kids, they are generally old pictures. Most of the images I’ve seen in the media were taken in 2014 when, sadly, President Obama was forced to make similar housing arrangements for the children of illegal immigrants.
The big difference is that in more recent times, a more significant number of adults are coming over the border, bringing children — and not always their children. A pilot study by DHS revealed that up to a third of the kids brought over the border are not related to the adults taking them into the country. Adults know that if they have a child with them, it is more likely they will get to stay in the U.S.
Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) said, “This is not meant to be any kind of disrespect or trivialization of the Holocaust — far from it. We’re actually concerned about the slippery slope toward even worse human rights conditions, and it’s already pretty bad.”
That “slippery slope” must be the size of Mount Everest. For the detention facilities to become concentration camps, they would have to deteriorate an incredible distance.
House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was also asked about the comments. She simply said that members of Congress share their point of view and take responsibility for the statements that they make.
Long Island Republican Peter King ripped Ocasio-Cortez’s comments. “Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s refusal to retract her ‘concentration camp’ and ‘never again’ remarks are indefensible. It is terribly offensive to Holocaust victims and survivors and totally at variance with truth and morality.”
Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Long Island Republican who has become the de facto protector of Jewish interests in Congress, called for Ocasio-Cortez to “stop trying to draw these crayon parallels between POTUS & Hitler!” He added, “Try working WITH your colleagues on BOTH sides of the aisle to secure our border & fix this rather than desperately trying to promote mass hysteria with this disgusting & woefully false comparison.”
A search for comments or press releases on Google, YouTube, and the websites of Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand turned up nothing. But they deserve some leeway. After all, Gillibrand is running for the Democratic nomination for president. To appeal to the party’s far-left base, she cannot appear to support the Jews. And Chuck Schumer is extra busy. For the past seventeen months, he has obstructed everything President Trump has done and criticized everything he has said. He doesn’t have time to deal with a minor issue like a member of Congress diminishing the horror of the Shoah.
As for Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, I do not believe her comparison was meant to be anti-Semitic. Her comments came out of the same general ignorance she has displayed since she came into the public eye, along with an ignorance of what Hitler’s concentration camps were actually like.
She may soon get the opportunity to correct that. Two days after she made her comment, Dominik Tarczynski, a member of the Polish Parliament, extended an “olive branch of education,” inviting her to visit concentration camps in Poland and learn why it is so wrong to inappropriately use the Holocaust for political purposes.
Ocasio-Cortez should have jumped at the chance, but as of this writing, has yet to respond.