I have always been a proud Jew. Proud of who I am and proud of the legacy of accomplishments of the Jewish people. It’s always been an intrinsic part of who I am.
No antisemite has ever been able to shake me from my faith. I was raised to respond to antisemitic remarks with (in so many words) “I’m your huckleberry.”
It took a Rabbi to make me want to stop being a Jew.
The Comments made by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, that the immigrant detainment centers on our southern border are concentration camps is evil. Plain evil.
People rushed to defend her comments, with arguments about the concentration camps of the Boer War in Africa, Japanese internment, or “not all concentration camps were death camps.”
They can point to the dictionary definition of concentration camp all they want, the fact is that the idea, the mental image, the concept that Americans have of the word concentration camp is places like Auschwitz or Dachau, Nazi concentration camps that worked, starved, or gassed to death six million Jews.
Ocasio-Cortez’s use of the phrase concentration camp was deliberate, to invoke the visceral emotions that people have about the Holocaust in regards to immigrant detainment.
To say “well technically she’s right because she said ‘concentration camp’, not ‘death camp’ is deliberately disingenuous.
So much so that various Jewish and Holocaust memorials condemned this rhetoric, including the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Auschwitz Memorial, and Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center.
I couldn’t understand how Ocasio-Cortez’s comments didn’t receive near-universal condemnation.
Then I read this OpEd in the Washington Post from Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg.
The Holocaust was suddenly in the center of U.S. political discourse early this week. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) referred on social media to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detention centers as concentration camps, which provoked a backlash from conservatives and then a flood of support from liberals. And #Kristallnacht trended on Twitter on Monday night after President Trump tweeted that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will soon step up its work “removing the millions” of undocumented immigrants, seemingly signaling an escalation of his administration’s tactics aimed at migrants.
Are these analogies just? Is it really reasonable to compare what’s happening with immigrants under Trump to the Third Reich? Or should the Holocaust be off-limits for comparisons to current events?
As a big believer in Never Again, absolutely we should be able to compare things to the Holocaust. However, the moral imperative is to do so honestly, not for the purpose of ginning up outrage with inflammatory rhetoric. We need to have standards, preferably objective standards, to use in this comparison.
Otherwise, Holocaust comparisons just become a tool for hacks to use to browbeat their opposition with outrage from a position of false superiority.
If done with caution, those analogies can be useful. Looking at Holocaust history — thoughtfully, carefully — can help us to see the parallels between then and now. It can also help us to understand when those parallels are not apt, and what that does and doesn’t mean about news as it breaks.
What Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez and her followers have done is neither thoughtful or careful.
Of course, analogies are imperfect, and every situation has its own nuances and context, but looking at monstrous events of the past can help us understand where we are in ways that can be difficult to see in the day-to-day.
The problem is this Rabbi and the people calling the detention centers concentration camps are going to nuance these differences into irrelevance.
Some who criticize drawing parallels between the United States today and Germany of the 1930s suggest that doing so demeans the memories of the Jews, political dissidents, LGBT, disabled and Romani people and others targeted by the Nazis — that not every instance of oppression is genocide, and using this kind of language diminishes the suffering under Hitler.
Yes, it does. Absolutely it does.
But the Holocaust didn’t begin with gas chambers, and it’s not business as usual in America right now. We already know that the path to atrocity can be a process, and that the Holocaust began with dehumanizing propaganda, with discriminatory laws, with roundups and deportations, and with internment. Those things are happening in our country now, and they’re known as some of the stages of genocide first articulated by Genocide Watch in 1996.
This is exactly what I was saying about nuancing this debate into meaningless terms.
Show me one, one cartoon published on Fox News that looks anything like how Der Strurmer. depicted the Jews. Show me one cartoon from any major US media outlet that shows immigrants from Central America as rats or octopuses, or as ugly and grotesque caricatures.
The term Illegal Immigrant is not dehumanizing, it is a statement of fact as per someone’s immigration status. “No person is illegal” is a thought-terminating cliche. Identifying someone’s immigration status is not equivalent to the word the Nazis used for the Jews, Untermensch, which translates to sub-human. Absolutely nobody on the mainstream right is accusing these migrants of being genetically inferior or polluting the superior American race.
Yes, Trump and other Republicans have talked about the dangers illegal immigrant gang members pose to the American public. That is not a topic of ethnic superiority. That is an issue of people taking advantage of our border situation to smuggle in narcotics that contribute to the 70,000 overdose deaths per year.
Show me the Jewish gangs in Weimar Germany smuggling in narcotics or stabbing and dismembering teenagers in Berlin.
On the one hand, we have people targets because of their religion, portrayed as subhuman parasites, and targeted for extermination.
On the other, we have people who are identified by the fact that they knowingly broke the laws of this land and are to be arrested and held until a trial determines their punishment.
This is the same for #Kristallnacht trending on Twitter. Kristallnacht was not carried out exclusively by German police. It was a pogrom.
Show me the mob of MAGA hat wearing patriots looting Latino owned business, burning the homes of Latinos, raping Latina women and beating Latino men. Show me anything that looks like a pogrom taking place in any Hispanic community in the United States.
Kristallnacht is a far cry from law enforcement arresting people with warrants for violating Federal law, not for their skin color or ethnicity.
To nuance away the differences here is pure evil.
Having a historical reference point can help us understand our own moral obligations in this story and to make sense of it as it unfolds. Whether it has or ever will reach the stage of ultimate atrocity is not the question. What we should be asking is how articulating parallels can help us to see where we are, with clarity, now.
Not just are we not at the stage of ultimate atrocity, we’re not even close to the beginnings of it. Absolutely nobody is even remotely suggesting we remove all people of Hispanic heritage from the United States. The people being detained are not being detained because of some intrinsic characteristics. They have every right to apply for asylum in the United States but in accordance with our laws. Not in the fashion they are doing.
Is CBP running concentration camps? Several recent articles have made the case that they are, using a definition from Andrea Pitzer, author of “One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps”: “mass detention of civilians without trial.”
These are literally people waiting for a hearing.
But it is important to note that Nazi concentration camps — which, in Germany, began in 1933 — and the Holocaust’s death (or “extermination”) camps, which began in 1941, are not the same thing, though they’re often conflated in American discourse. And what we now know of the CBP camps does not include many of the hallmarks often associated with Nazi camps — forced labor, for example, or the detention of U.S. citizens. But it’s also true that the earliest camps — known as “wild camps” — were makeshift centers that did not have the infrastructure of later state camps.
So the Rabbi here can tell that there is a difference but dismisses it anyway.
Concentration camps have a history beyond just the Nazis, too. Pitzer’s definition also puts CBP centers in the context of other such camps in France, South Africa, Cuba, the Soviet Union and, of course, here in the United States during World War II, targeting Japanese Americans. (Those who quibble that “internment camps” are not “concentration camps” might note that both President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harold Ickes, his secretary of the interior, referred to U.S. camps as the latter.)
I doubt that most of the people backing up Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez knew about the Boer War before it became a “well actually” talking point. We’ve seen people in the Left defend Gulags. Most Democrats fall over themselves to praise the Progressive nature of FDR. Senator Bernie Sanders and Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez themselves modeled their platforms after FDR’s New Deal. If George Washington or Thomas Jefferson can be unpersoned from American history for owning slaves 200 years ago, why do the Democrats get a free pass to invoke the greatness of FDR even though he signed the executive order to inter the Japanese?
The point of using the phrase “concentration camp” in America was to create outrage by making people equate border detention centers to what they saw in Schindler’s List.
And the Holocaust isn’t the only analogy that can or should be in play now; it’s a chaotic, complicated time, and we need a lot of lenses to make sense of it. As the writer Kelly Hayes argues: “The U.S. doesn’t need foreign models for manufactured conditions that dehumanize and bring about premature death. From slavery to death marches, Native reservations and the prison system, this is all very American.”
Still, Tornillo doesn’t have to be Auschwitz — a death camp — for it to be a concentration camp. Analogies don’t have to be perfect to be instructive. Here, they help us to see how grave and urgent the situation is.
They don’t have to be perfect, but they also can’t be apples and hockey pucks.
Most of the time, we start making references to the Holocaust only when a conflict has already escalated to full-on genocide — Rwanda, Kosovo, Darfur, the recent massacre of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. But now we’re not reacting as we watch authoritarianism escalate halfway around the world, but rather feeling the water heat up while we’re sitting in the pot.
I agree, but again, there have to be objective standards.
“Enter the country legally, there is an established process, follow it” is not a prelude to genocide.
That still doesn’t mean that every analogy is equally fitting. Was “the next Kristallnacht” really announced on Twitter? Probably not. Among other things, reporting this week indicates that it’s unlikely that operations as large-scale as Trump suggested are ready to launch in the coming weeks, or that ICE has the staff or budget to carry out what he indicated.
But even if we — God willing — never get anywhere near the later stages of genocide, never reach the monstrosity of the Third Reich, these analogies can and should serve as our moral compass. We have long asked the question about why good Germans didn’t intervene earlier, when it was “just” about discriminatory laws, detention, boycotts. Before things got murderous.
“I don’t like this guy so I’m going to call him Hitler” is not on our moral compass. Major voiced in the Democrat party and on the Political Left have been crying “Hitler” for three years. This concentration camp travesty is an extension of that.
Now we have to ask ourselves: Why aren’t we?
Because nothing, from the rhetoric to the actions, is similar to what happened in Nazi Germany. Anne Frank had to hide in an attic to avoid being sent to a concentration camp. Her German neighbors would have been shot if they were found to have been harboring Jews.
Illegal immigrants in California are given in-state tuition and scholarships to California state colleges.
It’s not the same situation at all.
There was massive public outcry against the Department of Homeland Security’s family separation policy last summer, but the policy has nonetheless continued. There have been some protests against the detention camps, but they haven’t been loud or sustained.
We know that some Border Patrol agents refer to immigrants as “tonks” — defined in court documents as the sound heard when agents hit immigrants in the head with a flashlight and “that it is part of the [Tucson Border Patrol’s] agency’s culture.”
That’s bad if true.
We know immigrants are being held in “dog pounds” and “freezers,” that detainees are being held in facilities meant for one-fifth the number of people, in soiled clothing and with limited access to showers.
Freezers being air-conditioned buildings kept at 72 degrees. Just because the people there are not used to AC doesn’t make it a crime against humanity.
The conditions, as bad as they might be, are the result of a lack of funding and policies that attract over 100,000 people per month into a situation designed for a tenth of that number. That is different in every way from the deliberate starvation of the Jews in concentration camps, or the Boers in Africa, or the Arminians in Turkey.
We know that at least 24 people have died in ICE custody under the Trump administration so far, and at least six children under the care of other agencies have died since September. We know that ICE has stopped updating its official “List of Deaths in ICE Custody” page, and we know of at least one child death that wasn’t reported to the public at the time it happened.
This is the worst of the distortions. Sick people have crossed our borders and died while in custody, after receiving medical care. Our law enforcement can’t be blamed for the conditions that people, including children, experienced on the trek across the Sonoran Desert to get to the United States.
Every situation is different. But thinking about the Holocaust now can remind us of the urgency of this situation, fuel us to protest, to donate money to organizations on the front lines, to call our members of Congress and demand that they slash the budget for ICE and CBP, to center this as the human rights emergency that it is.
Slashing the budget of ICE and CBP will hurt more people, not help them.
That is the biggest difference here. Every other genocide or human rights violation was the result of maliciousness and evil directed at the victim group. The Nazis hated the Jews and wanted to exterminate them. The Turks hated the Armenians. The English wanted the land the Boers settled.
The migrants are not being targeted out of malicious hatred.
This is not a program of ethnic cleansing. This is a reaction to a crisis of hundreds of thousands of people trying to enter the United States in violation of our laws.
Anyone unable to tell apart an intentional genocide from a cash strapped response to a humanitarian crisis has lost their moral compass.
Recalling the terrible lessons of the Holocaust does not disgrace the memory of that atrocity, does not harm the victims of it decades later. Quite the opposite: One of the best ways to honor the memories of those murdered by the Nazis is to take profoundly to heart the Jewish community’s long-held mantra: never again.
It disgraces the memory of that atrocity if the two situations are nothing alike and political partisanship is the only metric for telling good from evil.
Many survivors know the analogy is apt. Never again means never again. And never again also means now.
The analogy is not apt, no matter how much one might hate President Trump.
As a believer in Never Again, this is offensive beyond words.
A moral compass that does not account for the truth is a moral compass that is broken. If the purpose of Never Again is to address the threat of a potential dictator or genocidal madman, then we must consider the facts critically.
This is not that.
Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg is a popular Rabbi. She’s written several books. She had a social media following. She’s a syndicated columnist.
She has been hailed as the future of the American Rabbinate.
Her moral compass points to “Orange Man Bad.”
Frankly, I don’t give a shit about Trump. He got elected, he might get elected again, he will be done in four or eight years, and that’s it.
What I care about is the truth. I care about being able to analyze situations based on facts, intentions, and rationality.
Biblical teachings tell us that, despite what Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez says, it is not possible to be factually wrong and morally right.
This is how we get the Rabbinate that looks at an overwhelmed response to mass violations of the law and sees Naziesque concentration camps, then defends a Muslim member of the House engaging in antisemitic rants.
Judaism is a religion based on certain values that have held our people together for almost 6,000 years. In a very short time, Rabbis like Danya Ruttenberg has turned it into “Intersectional Progressives who don’t eat pork.”
If that is the future of Judaism, if abandoning a search for truth over partisanship what we are to become, I can’t be a part of that.