Guest Post: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: antisemite or just young and yet to learn?

This is a guest post by frequent contributor Brian Goldfarb. He has a look at the sayings and doings of the (very) young Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She has caused a stir, to say the least, with her stupid comments on all kinds of matters, from education to the economy to the latest immigrant crisis in America But what has stood out for us, the Jewish community, has been her ignorant comments which border on antisemitism. Brian has taken it upon himself to analyse them, and try to draw some conclusions as to whether she is simply stupid or an antisemite (or both).


I’m rather late getting around to this, and the world has largely moved on. But…later developments suggest that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in a common practice among those who are either inexperienced in the world of politico-social matters and/or those who feel affronted that the rest of the world doesn’t fall over in shocked recognition of the absolute truth and wonder of their assertions, appears to find herself in a hole and seems to think that the best way to get out of it is to keep digging. Given her relative youth (see the next paragraph), I’m inclined to believe that it’s both of those reasons.

https://static.timesofisrael.com/jewishndev/uploads/2019/06/Alexandria-Ocasio-Cortez-640x400.jpg

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, at 29, is the youngest person ever to be elected to the US Congress. This in itself may explain quite a bit, but by no means everything. And, let’s face it, we were all young once, even if we all (should we survive what the world may throw at us) eventually grow out of it. That AOC (as she is often known – it’s easier and quicker than writing out her full name every time) is a radical (i.e., left-wing: read “acolyte of Bernie Sanders, Independent & self-labelled Socialist” Senator for Vermont) also explains more about her. The final element in this is that she represents the 14th Congressional District of New York, which comprises part of the eastern Bronx and north central Queens Boroughs in New York City, which will explain why her views may be more acceptable than in other parts of the US which also elected Democrats in the “blue wave” which swept the House of Representatives in the 2018 elections.

Whether the radical views she has recently expressed will get her re-elected, or even through a primary race, in 2020 is another matter, and isn’t, or at least only in a small part, the focus of this article.

And here we come to the heart of the matter: AOC’s recently (June 2019) expressed views and labelling of the detention centres for undocumented migrants across the southern border of the US as “concentration camps”. Please note that I am not asserting that these migrants are illegal: that is for the appropriate US authorities to determine. Merely lacking appropriate documents does not, necessarily, make such people “illegal””, whatever the US President may say (usually without bothering to consult those members of his Administration he appointed as experts in the area he is currently pontificating about).

Not surprisingly, the use of this term immediately raised hackles in many quarters, by no means all them Jewish or even philo-Jewish. My immediate personal reaction was that the term “concentration camps” might well be accurate. After all, the British (and I’m a Brit) invented them in the modern world. During the Second South African Boer War of 1899-1902, in the later phase of the war, when Lord Kitchener took over, the British initiated plans to:

“flush out guerrillas in a series of systematic drives, organised like a sporting shoot, with success defined in a weekly ‘bag’ of killed, captured and wounded, and to sweep the country bare of everything that could give sustenance to the guerrillas, including women and children … It was the clearance of civilians—uprooting a whole nation—that would come to dominate the last phase of the war.” (Wikipedia)

The Wikipedia article also notes that the conditions in these camps were, to say the least, unsanitary and there were many deaths. This is not to argue that this was the intent of the British, but it hardly reflects well on the them and even the racist mores of the times are no excuse as the people so confined were of “white” European origin: the Afrikaner Boers.

There are other precedents in the modern era, not all of them, by any means, in Europe. There were the camps in which US citizens of Japanese origin were confined from 1941 to 1945, mostly in the Western US, without any evidence of any anti-US animus on the part of those so confined. Again, the British repeated their behaviour of the Boer War period when they “interned” many Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria on the grounds of their German and Austrian nationality, despite the fact that they would all have been delighted to have been allowed to renounce such citizenship and for those of an appropriate age to have joined the armed forces. Fortunately for me, my parents were born in the UK and so not subject to such suspicions and those of the previous generation seen as too old to be a threat. However, my wife’s parents had to move away from the coast or face internment as her father had been born in Poland (an occupied country, for goodness sake!) and so was only naturalised, unlike his younger brothers, both born in the UK and one of whom served with distinction in the RAF.

And while I’m on the subject, how should we classify those “temporary” refugee camps on the West bank, in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria…of those who chose to refugee out in 1947/48 from you know where, in order to return once those you know who were thrown into the sea…? And which were NOT created by the Jews/Israelis.

But then bureaucrats have never been noted for their ability to think clearly and logically, to say nothing of politicians of any and every stripe.

The main point here is that the Nazis were far from the first to confine people in concentration camps – and they called them, anyway, and euphemistically, labour camps, as though that, somehow stripped them of their real intent: to work the inmates to death, very often literally. And AOC is not arguing that any deaths in the detention centres she labels as “concentration camps” is the likely or intended result of these internment centres. Indeed, in subsequent statements, Ocasio-Cortez tried to make it clear that she was not drawing an analogy to Nazi-era death camps. And in this article from the History News Network, the following statement is made:

“A concentration camp is a place where people are imprisoned not because of any crimes they have committed, but simply because of who they are. Although many groups have been singled out for such persecution throughout history, the term ‘concentration camp’ was first used at the turn of the century in the Spanish-American and Boer Wars.

 During World War II, America’s concentration camps were clearly distinguishable from Nazi Germany’s. Nazi camps were places of torture, barbarous medical experiments, and summary executions; some were extermination centers with gas chambers. Six million Jews were slaughtered in the Holocaust. Many others, including Gypsies, Poles, homosexuals, and political dissidents were also victims of the Nazi concentration camps.”

This was an agreed joint statement between an organisation representing Japanese-Americans and one representing Jews concerning a 1998 exhibition on the confinement of many Japanese-Americans during WW2.

I said at the beginning of this that AOC appeared to be increasing the size of the hole she is digging. Shortly after the video in which she made her original statement went viral, The Algemeiner, in this article  had this sentence: “Is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez an antisemite? Does she care one iota about offending Jews?” Further on in the same article comes this:

“This is hardly the first time that Ocasio-Cortez has upset the Jewish community. In February [of 2019], she spent an hour on the phone to Jeremy Corbyn, the controversial leader of the UK Labour Party, who has been dogged by accusations of antisemitism and was branded by the UK’s former chief rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, as a “dangerous anti-Semite.”

Following her conversation with Corbyn, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted: “It was an honor to share such a lovely and wide-reaching conversation with you, @jeremycorbyn!”

Even a number of her Jewish supporters complained about this and she, apparently, promised to make amends, but, given the subject of this article, 4 months later, they might begin to doubt her protestations about not drawing analogies to the Nazi era.

We need also to remember that some 15% of the population of New York City is Jewish, and, like many other ethnic and religious minorities, Jews tend to cluster close to communal facilities. I have no idea of the ethnic/religious make-up of her District, but if it contains a high proportion of Jews, this could spell trouble for her in 2020.

The controversy deepened when the Jerusalem Post dived into the argument with this article from June of this year, with its headline calling the controversy “the latest attack on Jewish history”: that is, we Jews aren’t even allowed to tell our own story any more, others are claiming to know better than us what our history is. We’ve been here before, many times, and I’ve, again many times, here and elsewhere, argued that when certain UK trade unions refused to accept an earlier version of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, they were saying that they knew better than the victims when an antisemitic “event” had taken place: something they wouldn’t dream of doing, nay, dare do, if the victim were a member of an ethnic minority or a woman. But a Jew? What do they know about antisemitism?

And as to when Rabbi Shmuely Boteach gets in on the act…! This article from Jewish News/Times of Israel mentioned a full page New York Times ad from the said Rabbi, towards the end of the article, headlined “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Stop Desecrating the Holocaust” and includes the following text:

We must fix the humanitarian crisis on the border. But comparing it to the genocide of six million Jews desecrates the memory of the victims and the…commitment against genocide.”

The article talks about AOC refusing to go to Auschwitz with a survivor, partly because of the dubious associations of the Republican Congressman who issued the invitation (you need to read the whole article to see what that’s about).

So, it’s now a month or so since this first surfaced in the US media. And I have to ask the vital question of myself: do I believe that AOC is antisemitic? Let me start an answer to that by referring you back to an article of mine that Anne posted here on 7 August last year (2018): an open letter to (non-Jewish) friends of ours on the subject of whether Jeremy Corbyn is antisemitic: my reply to the question then was that, essentially, while by no means all members of the far or hard left (of otherwise democratic political parties) fell into this category, many did come under August Bebel’s aphorism that “antisemitism is the socialism of fools”. I’m not going to repeat those arguments (which is why the link is provided), but I do suspect that AOC, whether she realises it or not, may well fall into Bebel’s group. The defining clue often comes when we look at who their “friends” are: in Corbyn’s case, he casually, but repeatedly, refers to Hamas and Hezbollah as his “friends”.

Need we say more, in his case?

However, in the case of AOC, it may well be more complicated: Corbyn is 70 – if he doesn’t know better by now, he never will, and the only cure for his (my!) political party is his political demise. As far as AOC is concerned, the hope may well be that, given how young she is (and 29 is very young for a politician), there is hope for her.

But then, I’m not a US citizen, let alone a registered voter in her District, so it’s all very easy for me to say. We have to wait and see what her constituents say in 2019 (primary season) and/or 2020 (election season).

Watch this space!


Anne adds:

Brian, thank you very much for this informative analysis of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (“AOC”) and her rather idiotic pronouncements.  You have highlighted the problem of “casual antisemitism” that has arisen through the identity politics which is so prevalent at the moment in American politics (and in many other countries). There is no nuance any more. You have to take the whole package deal: if you are a leftist (and there should be nothing wrong with that) then according to identity politics you have to be anti-West, anti-capitalist, anti-white male, anti-Zionist (or at least anti-any right wing Israeli government), and more often than not that comes bundled together with antisemitism.

As you say, AOC might very well not be an antisemite, but by her digging in and refusing to accept any correction, especially if it comes from a Republican (Heaven forfend!) she might as well be one for all practical purposes. There might still be hope, but in the atmosphere of extreme divisive and polarised politics in America today I won’t be holding my breath.

The stupidity of AOC’s attitude is that she is undermining her own argument by insisting on calling the detention camps “concentration camps”. By digging in and refusing to apologize or change her terminology, the focus of discussion has shifted to semantics rather than the actual conditions in those migrant camps. If AOC was really so concerned about improving those conditions she would stop offending the Jewish community and concentrate on improving the situation for the migrants that she claims to be so concerned about.

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17 Responses to Guest Post: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: antisemite or just young and yet to learn?

  1. Pingback: Guest Post: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: antisemite or just young and yet to learn? – 24/6 Magazine

  2. Debby says:

    Ann, I wish I had time to read this blog more thoroughly, but I did read through your response. That said, AOC was caught in a lie when she described conditions at the border. She just outright lied. I would argue that she is not concerned about conditions at the border but lacks the character to seek honest discussion and is not motivated from misguided compassion but motivated by hatred for America.

    • Debby says:

      Sorry… my grammar in my response was pretty mutilated… I think you can get the idea of what I mean to say… My phone is broken and difficult to type on it… 😊

    • anneinpt says:

      I agree with you Debby. I think Brian was being much too polite and gave her the benefit of the doubt. But he is an English gentleman after all 😊.

      AOC does not make her arguments in good faith, that’s the conclusion I have come to. We shall see how it turns out in the next elections.

  3. hewhotypes says:

    AOC, a Democrat, has found an issue which can honestly be used to tar and feather the Republicans. The 2-party system “Works” by having each group dig up dirt on the other, reducing outright corruption, autocracy, and evil (we hope). The situation on the border is a genuine scandal. AOC used inflammatory language to describe the situation. This was proper and good; There are good uses for inflammatory language, this is one of them. She made a political mistake in choosing which inflammatory language to use. Given her background, she did not quite understand the sensitivity of certain Jewish groups. This has had a divisive effect.

    I propose AOC should have said, “The condition in these camps is massive government-sponsored child abuse”. This is quite provocative and tends to unite people rather than divide them. As such, her claim would have generated a more effective and united response, would have been more helpful to the children imprisoned at the border, and been a stronger indictment against Trump and the Republicans.

    • Brian Goldfarb says:

      I was hinting at this when I wondered if it was her youth (and she is very young for a front-line politician) that caused her to first use this language and then fail to find an acceptable means of back-pedalling; indeed, to dig deeper when refusing the invitation from the Republican Rep. to visit Auschwitz with a survivor. The Rep in question has dubious contacts (apparently). However, AOC could have either used back-channels to contact the survivor directly or said yes, but not with you because…

      Inexperience again?

      Many’s the time when (on another web-site) confronted by a troll or a fair facsimile of one, I’ve forced myself to take a mental deep breath and go away and meditate for an hour as to how to respond without losing my cool. Not that I always succeeded. If you go to the article of mine I linked to in this article, you will find a comment (the second one, I think) that attacks Anne and me in the strongest terms.

      Anne drew my attention to it and asked if I wished to respond to it or should she delete it? I asked for time to consider this and went out to keep an appointment. Then I came back and wrote the reply you see there: much more temperate than anything I would have written on first sight,

      That, it seems to me, is what AOC didn’t do.

      • MelPom4 says:

        The Republican Rep Steve King is an outright Antisemite and racist who has supported white nationalism. He’s a fool who was censured and removed from ALL his committee assignments in January by his own party. However, he is not the one who made the invitation. Ed Mosberg made the invite, as did The Auschwitz Museum (they were the first, in fact). Rep Steve King simply asked on Twitter days later if she would accept the invitations of multiple Holocaust museums and survivors. That’s when she made her flippant “right wing” comments on twitter which, regardless of how abhorrent we all know King to be, was uncouth given Mr. Mosberg was in the replies.

        • MelPom4 says:

          Pardon me. Prior to Mr. Mosberg, the Auschwitz Museum seconded an initial invite by a Polish MP named Dominik Tarczyński. Then came the invitations from Auschwitz Museum, Mr. Mosberg and many others.

          https://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/AOC-invited-by-Polish-parliamentarian-to-see-concentration-camps-593175

        • MelPom4 says:

          Pardon me. Polish MP Dominik Tarcynski was the first to invite her to visit the camps. Auschwitz Museum concurred and also joined his invite, with Mr. Mosberg and others following suit in short order. She declined them all in a terse and uncouth reply to Rep King, who was not one of those offering invitations, whilst invoking “right wing” tropes and such. Those who offered her invitations to be their guests deserved personal and proper response, not through a racist man who had nothing to do with this.

          • Brian Goldfarb says:

            Mel, exactly the point and thanks for your care in getting the sequence exactly right: this beautifully illustrates the point of engaging one’s mouth before (in this case such a long way before as to be “never”) engaging one’s brain.

            AOC just kept digging.

          • anneinpt says:

            Thank you Mel for your comments which throw extra light on the stupidity of AOC. She is young enough to learn from her mistakes but is she intellectually and ideologically capable? I have strong doubts.

  4. Brian Goldfarb says:

    Meanwhile, the Labour Party’s & Jeremy Corbyn’s troubles mount:

    Firstly, some of the whistleblowers interviewed in the Panorama programme (see Anne’s article above this one) are threatening to sue for defamation of character, that is, they are saying the Partyy, their former employer, is accusing them, in public and on the record, of lying in their interviews in that tv programme (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/jul/13/whistleblowers-to-sue-labour-as-antisemitism-row-deepens)

    In the same online article (to be found in the current [today’s] issue of Honest Reporting (found online) are two further important items: as the headline suggests, Jenny Formby, Corbyn acolyte and Labour’s General Secretary, attacks Tom Watson, the elected and thus unsackable Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, for his continued insistence that Labour REALLY does have a problem with antisemitism in its ranks and is failing to deal with it.

    Further down the same article (https://www.theguardian.com/news/2019/jul/12/jennie-formby-hits-back-tom-watson-in-labour-antisemitism-row-corbyn), it is noted that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is planning to interview 100 Labour Party “figures”, including the Panorama whistleblowers.

    Couldn’t happen to a nicer antisemitic political party leadership.

    And the cherry on the cake is that (I noticed in passing in an online headline) Tommy Robinson, the former leader of the English Defence League, is to be imprisoned (again! – he clearly both never learns and is determined to be portrayed as a martyr, at least on the far right) for contempt of court.

    2 wins in one day for the good guys!

    • Brian Goldfarb says:

      And just when you think it can’t get any worse for Corbyn’s Labour Party, it does, of course!

      This article (https://www.algemeiner.com/2019/07/14/jordanian-mp-who-called-israel-a-jewish-tumor-feted-at-british-houses-of-parliament-by-labour-shadow-minister/?utm_content=news1&utm_medium=daily_email&utm_campaign=email&utm_source=internal/) – note how the first few words of the title – from The Algemeiner – turns the screw effortlessly.

      Three quotes from it sums up the situation very well. The first, “A Jordanian member of parliament who has referred to Israel as a “Jewish tumor” and expressed approval of the religiously motivated murder of Jews was feted last week by a UK Labour shadow minister at the British Houses of Parliament”, is bad enough, but we have come to expect no less from the Labour Party these days.

      But it gets worse, much worse: the article goes on to note that “[a]ccording to The Daily Mail, Yahya al-Saud, a strong supporter of Palestinian terrorism, was welcomed to Portcullis House in the Palace of Westminster by Fabian Hamilton, currently Labour’s shadow minister for peace and disarmament. Hamilton is Jewish.” Three words at the end that really turn the screw, as far as The Algemeiner is concerned. But we all know, at least by name and repute, Jews like that today, sadly.

      Finally, we have this: “Al-Saud’s antisemitic statements were documented and conveyed by the Jordanian writer and dissident Mudar Zahran to Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who was also asked why the MP had been permitted entry to Britain.”

      Hopefully, The Algemeiner will let us know if, and if so, what, reply Zahran will receive from the Home Secretary.

  5. Brian Goldfarb says:

    And I have to keep adding fuel to the flames: those of you who have access to the UK print press may well have seen (either on Saturday or today) reference to an attack on Tom Watson (see my comment of 14the July, two above this one) for attacking Jenny Formby when she is receiving treatment for breast cancer.

    Okay, I’m sorry for her medical condition: I am aware of the pain and suffering this condition brings in its wake. BUT: if she interfered with the disciplinary process, as alleged in the Panorama documentary and elsewhere, then her physical health is irrelevant. If it is as bad as suggested, then she should;d be on paid sick leave and not, under any circumstances, be undertaking work of any sort.

    That’s what sick leave is for.

    If she didn’t do it, then instead of attacking Tom Watson (and without a detailed rebuttal, this suggests that she might well have so interfered), her supporters should be offering a detailed rebuttal.

    Their failure too do so is highly suggestive that this a smokescreen operation.

    Makes AOC’s situation seem peanuts in comparison, especially after Trump’s racist attack on her and 3 colleagues: apart from anything else, it distracts attention from AOC’s activities that are the subject of the original article here!

  6. Brian Goldfarb says:

    For anyone still reading this comments thread, I got an email today from the local labour Party (yes, for my sins, I am still a member, mostly on account of our local, non-Corbynite, Labour MP, trying to convince me that all was, really!!, well in the Labour Party.

    I’m quite (but only quite) interested in whether the sender of the email will reply to my anti-Corbyn rant.

    Watch this (or elsewhere on this site!) space.

    • Brian Goldfarb says:

      For those bothering to follow the news on the UK Labour Party, they, just today, announced a possible fast-track expulsion policy for those displaying antisemitic actions or tendencies. The email referred to just above was from my local party inviting me to follow the steps to see what the Party is doing (or going to do…who knows these days?) to stop antisemitism in the Party.

      This is the reply referred to in that last comment (and you may well see it elsewhere, if appropriate):

      Alex

      Please explain, in words of only 2 or 3 syllables (even though I have 2 degrees [one B.A. & one M.Phil] in social science) why I should make the effort to plough through this verbiage, when Corbyn consistently refuses to confirm that:

      a) there is antisemitism in the Labour Party;

      b) people expressing it do not need to be expelled from the party (until the evidence becomes overwhelming and embarrassing);

      c) someone who STILL calls Hamas & Hezbollah his “friends” & who calls for Sheikh Salah to be admitted to the UK, despite the latter’s constant repetition of the blood libel isn’t, somehow, an antisemite;

      among much else.

      Corbyn is decidedly NOT the reason why I remain a member of the Labour Party (and I have been, on and off, a member since I was 18 and I have worked in most General Elections [& some local ones) over the past 60 years]).

      If Corbyn really meant what he said about antisemitism, in and out of the Labour Party, Williamson would never have been readmitted, before being expelled again; Ken Livingstone would have been expelled long before he finally was; those Labour MPs who left wouldn’t have; terrorist organisations wouldn’t be embraced as Corbyn’s “friends”; the IHRA definition on antisemitism would have been adopted unaltered without a fight; and the EHRC wouldn’t be investigating the Labour Party for institutional antisemitism. And this doesn’t start to deconstruct the implications of the Panorama programme on the Party – and please don’t insult me by trying to argue that it was biased and the Party wasn’t allowed to refute it: it should never have been in the position of having to make such efforts in the first place.

      This is the party with a (formerly) unblemished record of fighting racism (and antisemitism is a form of racism).

      What happened to its heart and soul?

      Go on, Alex: try to convince me.

      I’m waiting, but I’m not holding my breath.

      And I suspect that I won’t get an answer that isn’t full of Corbynite platitudes.

      Or, possibly, an answer of any sort, this side of hell freezing over.

      Just because it’s mine doesn’t mean it’s wonderful, but I’m pleased I wrote it – and sent it!.

      Comments on this welcomed

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