Freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) took to Instagram Live and Twitter to call the detention centers holding migrant children “concentration camps.” The references has sparked up a fresh controversy over the separation and detention of migrant children by using this unwarranted historical reference.
Ocasio-Cortez falsely claims Trump is operating concentration camps, compares the situation to the Holocaust: “The U.S. is running concentration camps on our southern border and that is exactly what they are. … ‘Never Again’ means something … we need to do something about it” pic.twitter.com/F2MmZ8y2dT
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) June 18, 2019
In response, Holocaust survivor Edward Mosberg extended an invitation to AOC to visit Auschwitz with him. As president of From the Depths, Mosberg offered to travel with AOC for an educational tour during summer Congressional recess.
The tour would include visits to Auschwitz-Birkenau, Mauthausen and Majdanek concentration camps from WWII Nazi Germany. The open invitation was penned by Jonny Daniels, founder of From the Depths, an organization that looks toward “connecting with the Past to build the Future.”
Daniels also noted that he had no reason to believe the comparison between migrant camps and Nazi-era concentration camps were made out of spite, but that AOC’s comments were misguided from a proper lack of knowledge about the Holocaust.
The trip to visit an actual concentration camp was favored by Republican Representative Steve King via a Twitter exchange.
The last time you went on this trip it was reported that you also met w/ fringe Austrian neo-Nazi groups to talk shop.
So I’m going to have to decline your invite. But thank you for revealing to all how transparently the far-right manipulates these moments for political gain. https://t.co/TQkaPEESoD
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) June 23, 2019
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post, Mosberg said,
“At 93-years-old, like most survivors, I won’t be able to go on these trips for much longer. Now is an opportunity that won’t repeat itself, where one can visit German-Nazi concentration camps with a witness of these atrocities. This is the last generation that will be able to speak and learn from survivors.”
AOC’s comparison of detention centers with the concentration camps of WWII invoked condemnation from prominent Jewish public figures and organizations, including Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Anti-Defamation League.
Reconciling the Concentration Camp Debate
Around the same time as the concentration camp remark, the provocation around concentration camp analogies has escalated in just a week along with the issue itself. Days before AOC’s Instagram Live, the Department of Health and Human Services confirmed reports released by the Associated Press that the administration is planning to house to up 1,400 unaccompanied migrant children in a former WWII Japanese internment camp.
Most recently, statements coming forward include claims that the Taliban treats its captives better because at least they provide a toothbrush.
The spiraling accusations and condemnations doesn’t move the needle when it comes to developing solutions that benefit all interests, including the interest of protecting migrant children against trauma and abuse. It also doesn’t benefit public dialogue to reduce the argument to comparisons between a border crisis issue (spanning multiple presidencies) with cut-throat terrorists like the Taliban known for systematic abuse of women and children under a dark ideological flag.
First, it’s important to acknowledge that the same practices of detaining migrant children and trying to move them to internment camps was taken up under the Obama administration, as was the practice of putting children in cages. It just didn’t get the same media attention and subsequent public backlash.
Being able to recognize that fact helps de-escalate the conflict away from anti-Trump propaganda and back toward what deserves our critical attention: the children.
Furthermore, AOC’s invocation of Holocaust references — while refusing an invitation to visit Auschwitz — damages reconciliation efforts amidst a hostile political environment. First, it nurtures Holocaust denial and reinforces the anti-Semitic tropes freely peppered by her fellow Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.
Many of those who have applauded Omar for her Jew-hating rhetoric since she has been in Congress will be pleased by the sentiment of Holocaust denial and disregard and the message that AOC sends by declining an invitation to bear witness.
Second, AOC’s cold and ungracious refusal to accept the invitation is a dog whistle to her followers that we do not need to listen to each other.
The healing power of narratives is what drives meaningful change. If AOC is not willing to use her platform to be the bridge a divided America needs by being willing to listen and learn, then she is no better than the attacks she and her party throw at President Trump.
Compassion needs to be given before it can be expected to be returned in kind. In the realm of politics, AOC could have accepted the invitation to visit real concentration camps and delivered a counter-invitation to Republican leaders to join in visiting detention centers along the border.