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.
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!
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.