AOC Says Jewish Constituents Agree With 'Concentration Camps' Description

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez drew criticism from some Jewish groups and Holocaust researchers for using term to refer to detention camps in U.S.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks during a hearing in Washington, May 15, 2019.
REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

NEW YORK - Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defended her use of the term "concentration camps" to describe American border detention facilities, claiming that her Jewish constituents agree with her, in a comment made to Jewish Insider on Monday. 

Controversy over whether or not Ocasio-Cortez was minimizing the Holocaust with such comments began last week when the congresswoman —seen as a heroine by many on the left and as a lightning rod for controversy on the right — posted an Instagram live video in which she claimed that “the U.S. is running concentration camps on our southern border, and that is exactly what they are.”

She continued: “If that doesn’t bother you … I want to talk to the people that are concerned enough with humanity to say that ‘Never again’ means something.”

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She later doubled down on her comparison, tweeting, “This administration has established concentration camps on the southern border of the United States for immigrants, where they are being brutalized with dehumanizing conditions and dying,” along with an article on the subject. “This is not hyperbole. It is the conclusion of expert analysis.”

The congresswoman's opponents in Congress, as well as a long list of Jewish organizations and Holocaust academics, condemned her remarks which some deemed “uneducated and insensitive.”

In her comments to Jewish Insider, however, Ocasio-Cortez said her Jewish constituents are “in agreement that this has been a striking point of solidarity.

“And although it has certainly struck its own debate, I am confident that in the long run people will see the moral argument that we have made and how many of my constituents back home, who I am concerned with and whom my job is to represent, believe that what we did was the right thing,” she added. 

“As someone whose parents survived the horrors of the Holocaust, I have been repeatedly uneased by the willingness of our politicians to invoke comparisons to this stain on humanity in an attempt to jar the public,” Jack Rosen, president of the American Jewish Congress, wrote in a statement.

“To say that what is occurring within our immigration system – as awful as it may be – is remotely comparable to mass murder on the scale of the Holocaust is a cheapening of the atrocities and their place in history, as well as of the power of the words we use to capture its unique inhumanity and violence,” Rosen wrote.

Jewish 2020 presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez’s fellow progressive, also distanced himself from her reference.

“I didn’t use that terminology,” noted Sanders, subsequently repeating twice in the interview that he had “not used that word.”

Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt also told Haaretz that invoking the Holocaust was a “strategic mistake” for opponents of the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

“Instead of talking about the horrors of the policy, we are debating whether it’s akin to the Holocaust,” Lipstadt said in an email. 

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum too said it “unequivocally rejects efforts to create analogies between the Holocaust and other events, whether historical or contemporary.”

Ocasio-Cortez has even been invited by Jewish groups to tour concentration camps in Poland after the comments were made. 

Allison Kaplan Sommer contributed to this report.