Words Have Meaning

Words Have Meaning


Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and some of her progressive followers or leaders need some serious education. The round-up policy being perpetrated by the Trump Administration against those being apprehended illegally crossing the Mexican border or being found to be illegally in the U.S. is outrageous and inhumane, but these immigrants are not being put into concentration camps. In the same vein, as was also alleged, the Japanese internment camps that F.D.R. permitted to be established in the United States during World War II were also not concentration camps; although they too disgraced and persecuted Japanese Americans.

Ocasio-Cortez and those who defended her are misusing and co-opting the progressive agenda. Some terms do not fit into this neat dichotomy. The term concentration camps is certainly one of them.

Unfortunately, this misuse of the term concentration camps, as with well as the misuse of the word “holocaust” has reached a point of trivializing the most brutal attack ever perpetrated by as a matter of government policy against a single people. The organized round-up of Jews into camps was the designated policy of the Nazi Government to exterminate an entire people bears no resemblance to what the Trump Administration is doing as a matter of policy, regardless of how abhorrent its approach toward illegal immigrants might be.

There are political leaders in the U.S. who have called the defenders of a woman’s right to abortion as being responsible for committing a holocaust.  While there are many who oppose abortion, those who support the right to have an abortion are not disobeying the law of the land or perpetrating a holocaust, as some “pro-lifers” have alleged.

Even in Israel, there are those critics on both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict who disgracefully misuse the term holocaust. Some attack Jews who murder Arabs, and some Arabs who kill Jews, suggest that the other is repeating the horrors of the Holocaust. Certainly, there are those on both sides of the issue who dislike the other side, but no one is rounding up groups, putting them in camps, and exterminating them.

Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives do not have any sense of the power of language and the need for nuance. They are either ignorant, uneducated, or bigoted when it comes to Jews. Everything Jews or Israelis seek to accomplish are not wrong, although there are plenty of issues—even BDS– on which Jews and Israelis themselves have disagreements. The problem is that words have meanings and if concentration camps is used so casually, as did A-O-C, then it will join holocaust in no longer having the powerful meaning that it must maintain.

It is the job of public officials, elected leaders—in a non-partisan manner—to condemn this type of speech. Likewise, it is the task of clergy of all faiths and denominations to publicly attack this type of language. Ultimately this must be a moral and ethical question, not a political one.

Six million Jews were rounded up, as a matter of Government policy, put into concentration camps, gassed, and exterminated in ovens which were created for the express purpose of eliminating the Jewish people. If the history of the Holocaust loses its uniqueness and if public figures anywhere in the world can trivialize these terms than civilization will have truly lost its moral compass.

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