Sometimes it feels like every day brings yet another issue where Jews, Jewish history and antisemitism are at the forefront of American politics. Partly this is due to the ease with which comments flow across social media. But it also is a rising problem of American politicians, actors, professors and commentators constantly making bad, insensitive and sometimes hateful comments against Jews or Jewish history.
The latest example is US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asserting that US border detention facilities are akin to “concentration camps.” On Wednesday she refused to back down, claiming the “US ran concentration camps before, when we rounded up Japanese people during WWII. It is such a shameful history that we largely ignore it. These camps occur throughout history.”
The “concentration camp” discussion was set off by her June 18 tweet where she claimed “this administration has established concentration camps on the southern border.” This is not hyperbole she claimed, it’s expert analysis. It was based on an article in Esquire that labelled the US policy a form of concentration camps.
Instead of listening to the concerns of some who felt the term “concentration camps” conjures up images of the Holocaust, Ocasio-Cortez doubled down by tweeting numerous Jews who agreed with her. One Rabbi said that it was “time to learn the difference between concentration camps and death camps.” Germany had started with concentration camps in 1933. The Congresswoman then explained to Jews what concentration camps really are. For those who “don’t know the difference: concentration camps are not the same as death camps.”
Ocasio-Cortez educated her followers by explaining that experts consider concentration camps “the mass detention of civilians without trial.” I had always thought they conjured up images of barbed wire, men with dogs and rifles and watchtowers keeping members of a minority in camps and then working those people slowly to death. But apparently not. I wondered as I read her explanations, if someone would do the same to African-Americans about the term “plantation” or slavery and lecture them that “not all plantations are the same” or tell them “a noose is not always a symbol of lynching.” Isn't it best to err on the side of being sensitive with charged terms?
The debate didn’t end there. In a battle with Liz Cheney on social meida the Congresswoman asked Cheney what she called “building mass camps of people being detained without trial.” I could suggest “detention camps,” but I didn’t say anything. Then AOC retweeted several people who claimed to be Jewish as evidence of her being correct. One wrote “Jew here.” Then the person explained that “the Holocaust did not begin with the murder of 6 million Jews,” it began with dehumanization and other aspects that we see today. “Don’t speak for me or my Jewish ancestors,” wrote Jennifer Taub, a law professor, in reply to Liz Cheney’s tweets. Another writer named Marisa Kabas felt that “the Holocaust didn’t come out of nowhere, it was a slow build, like now.”
More “concentration camp” references followed. It is hard to keep track of all the concentration camp tweets on AOC’s Twitter feed now. The Congresswoman has 4.4 million followers so what she says has a major impact in the US. By defining US immigration detention facilities as concentration camps, she has added to the lexicon.
Many people do not agree. Yad Vashem tweeted to AOC that “concentration camps assured a slave labor supply to help in the Nazi war effort, even as the brutality of life inside the camps helped assure the ultimate goal of ‘extermination through labor.’” MSNBC host Chris Hayes had tweeted on June 19 that a better term might be “detention camps.” Professor Ian Bremmer notes that “US detention facilities are not concentration camps.”
The discussion already looks like all the other cycles of well-known people making insensitive comments directed at Jews and then either walking them back with some lame excuse like it was a “mistake” or doubling down and saying that some Jews agree with them and that they have no re-defined something that was hitherto more offensive. So now “concentration camps” have been taken from the Holocaust and re-rooted in another history where we are told that actually concentration camps were used in the Boer War and against Japanese Americans and Native-Americans and others.
Technically it is correct that concentration camps were used in the Boer War. In fact Nazi supporters pointed this out as an excuse when they first built them for Jews, arguing that it was hypocritical for other countries to critique the Germans for doing what others had done. Now the logic is reversed. We are not told that concentration camps are acceptable, because the British did it too, we are told that Jews shouldn’t mind a term that is almost always associated with the Holocaust to be repackaged to spotlight US immigration policies.
In the US and the West in general Jews are targeted almost every day. Whether it is the American professor telling Mizrahi Jews that they are not really Mizrahi but Palestinians, or the other professor claiming the Rothschilds created AIDs, or the cartoonist in Portugal claiming a Star of David on a dog is just “critiquing” Jews, or the actor using a Star of David to imply Jews crush and silence people, or the city councilman in the US capital claiming the Jews control the weather, or a US Congresswoman claiming “it’s all about the Benjamins” when discussing Jews and Israel, or the left wing Facebook group in the UK referring to the Holocaust as the “Hollowcost,” every single day Jews are being singled out.
Why can’t people just stop. Stop always needing to repackage the Holocaust. For instance Native-Americans were put on reservations, maybe the US is keeping immigrants in a reservation, or maybe a “Bantustan” or a Gulag. Gulag could be a good term. One could even speak of America’s “gulag archipelago” if one wants to borrow from history. Those who use the term concentration camp first pretended that they merely meant the 1930s type and that this is to highlight the “never again” nature of opposition to US President Donald Trump. But wait, then they claim that actually the term pre-dates the Holocaust or refers to Japanese internment camps. So which is it? Are you trying to argue that the US is now in 1933, or that the US is simply doing to migrants what the British did to the Afrikaner Boers in South Africa?
We know what’s really going on. Everything that happened to Jews is repackaged to be watered down for modern American talking points. Former National Security Advisor Michael Hayden put a photo of Auschwitz on Twitter in June 2018 and claimed “other governments have separated mothers and children.” In October 2018 a Holocaust historian claimed the US was now like Nazi Germany. There is a way of talking in the US and the West so that the Holocaust is the point of reference for everything. In some ways this honors Jewish suffering by making it the result of historic evil. On the other it turns everything into a new Holocaust, leading people to wonder what the actual Holocaust was. After all, if Auschwitz was similar to US immigration policy, then that means no one was killed there.
Most of those who use these memes and comparisons don’t really care about the Holocaust. They care about the here and now. They need to shock us and they want us to listen. SO they say “Nazi, nazi, Holocaust Holocaust” in order to make us listen. But you can only cry wolf so many times and call something “Nazi” before people probably stop listening. If the US immigration detention centers were really a prelude to a new extermination, then shouldn’t people be doing mass civil disobedience in front of them. People claim to be part of the “resistance” on Twitter, but they don’t seem to take any time out to actually do anything to “resist.” Tweeting is not resisting. If the only thing that was done to stop Hitler in 1933 was tweeting, then it’s no wonder he kept marching. It was Soviet tanks that stopped Hitler, and bombs and paratroops and riflemen. Ironically those who talk about the “resistance” in the US generally oppose gun ownership, so if the time comes that they actually needed to resist they wouldn’t have the tools. That’s because secretly they know there are no concentration camps in America. There may be a miserable immigration policy, but no one is going to lay down on the roads to the camps the way Bulgarians threatened to stop the Nazi deportations. There are no Bulgarian-style heroes in Congress or partisans who went to the forests of Belarus, there are just people who like to talk on Twitter.