AOC is Wrong – Don’t Defend the Indefensible

I read Varda Spiegel’s AOC is right — never again! with astonishment. I feel compelled to speak up about this defense of the indefensible.

The writer initially expresses understanding and perhaps agreement with the condemnation of Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’ misguided remarks. Ms. Spiegel writes:

Of course, I get why Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s use of the term concentration camps’ offends many Jews who feel that she is comparing the internment camps on the US Southern border to death camps in which the Nazis murdered 12,000 Jews a day… (C)omparing atrocities is unwise and insensitive to all concerned. Each person’s pain is individual – as is their ability to withstand it and find meaning in their suffering…

Ms. Spiegel then proceeds to defend AOC’s remarks:

AOC or anyone else in a position of power has the right and in fact the obligation to invoke ‘Never again’ to spare children from a fate like that unfolding on the US border – whether or not their pain falls short of that experienced by our parents or others.

Ms. Spiegel concludes with praise of AOC’s remarks, claiming that they were made in the spirit of Elie Wiesel:

Elie Wiesel said, ‘I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.’ Whether awkwardly implemented or not, didn’t AOC’s warning fulfill Wiesel’s oath?

Aside from the contradictions in Ms. Spiegel’s post, there are a few critical points that must be made.

Ms. Spiegel writes that “I find it hard to stomach the swift attack on AOC to make political hay…” This is not a matter of making “political hay” – it is a matter of diluting and distorting the Holocaust. Liberals such as NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders condemned AOC’s remarks, as did NBC’s Chuck Todd. While I am not fan of these men’s politics, their position on this matter should be lauded, as they realize that the issue is apolitical and that a serious wrong was committed by AOC. Just as we find the use of the term “Feminazis” abhorrent, even if we oppose the feminist movement, so too must we disdain other misuse and cheapening of Holocaust references.

Elie Wiesel wrote that he will never be silent “whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation.” He did not write that people should invoke Holocaust comparisons and imagery for all forms of suffering and humiliation. To claim that AOC “fulfill(ed) Wiesel’s oath” is very misleading.

I would be remiss not to mention this final point. I live in New York City – the city that contains the world’s largest Jewish population and more Jewish institutions than anywhere outside of the State of Israel. Nearly every politician here realizes that concern for Jewish sensitivities is a norm and a must. This goes for both local and national political leaders, who are careful not to offend NYC’s Jewish communities and uniformly support Jewish interests, irrespective of politics.

AOC has been a glaring exception. Her public comments about an Israeli massacre in Gaza and an Israeli occupation of Palestine, as well as her defense of Rep. Ilhan Omar when the latter was criticized for anti-Semitic remarks, indicate that something is quite seriously wrong.

Let’s please stop defending the indefensible.

About the Author
Rabbi Gordimer is a kashruth professional, Chairman of the Rabbinic Circle at Coalition for Jewish Values, a member of the Rabbinical Council of America, and a member of the New York Bar.
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