ICYMI: Invoke the Holocaust if you must: Teitel

A variant of Godwin’s law and Teitel makes a convincing case that it is appropriate in the current political climate:

Is it ever OK to invoke the Holocaust in a discussion about modern political events, and if so when? This question has a way of surfacing again and again and again in the era of U.S. President Donald Trump and its answer is almost always the same.

If you’re a person condemning the dehumanization of marginalized groups, the answer is a hard yes: Hate and violence do not manifest overnight. There are signs. Invoke the Holocaust if you must.

But if you’re someone on the other side of the debate, someone with a tendency to defend the dehumanizing tactics of the Trump administration, your answer to this question is a hard no: the Holocaust should never be invoked because this (the recent tear-gassing of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, children among them) is not that (the systemic mass murder of millions by the Nazis during WWII).

By now, you’ve probably seen the photo (captured by photojournalist Kim Kyung-Hoon) of Honduran migrant Maria Lila Meza Castro running away from tear gas at the border this month, holding onto her small daughters, both of whom are barefoot in diapers. However, it’s Castro’s state of dress that’s most striking. The 39-year-old mother is wearing a T-shirt bearing the faces of characters from the blockbuster Disney film Frozen; i.e. an American movie whose core lesson is learning to accept other people’s differences.

So much for that. Needless to say, the photo has shocked and enraged a lot of people, among them U.S. Congressmember-Elect, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In fact, it was Ocasio-Cortez, a rising star in Democratic politics, who brought the aforementioned invocation debate back into public discourse this week, when she tweeted the following, advocating on behalf of migrants trying to enter the United States and condemning an administration that routinely vilifies them: “Asking to be considered a refugee & applying for status isn’t a crime. It wasn’t for Jewish families fleeing Germany. It wasn’t for targeted families fleeing Rwanda. It wasn’t for communities fleeing war-torn Syria. And it isn’t for those fleeing violence in Central America.”

Ocasio-Cortez may have invoked several atrocities to make her point but it was her allusion to the Holocaust in particular that offended Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. He clapped back on Twitter: “I recommend she [Ocasio-Cortez] take a tour of the Holocaust Museum in DC. Might help her better understand the differences between the Holocaust and the caravan in Tijuana.”

What happened next is the only proof you need that social media can be a source of great good in the world. Guess who entered the debate (albeit indirectly) after Graham? None other than the Auschwitz Memorial itself. The official account of the Polish concentration camp memorial tweeted the following only a few hours after Graham and other outspoken Republicans took Ocasio-Cortez to task for her remarks. “When we look at Auschwitz we see the end of the process. It’s important to remember that the Holocaust actually did not start from gas chambers. This hatred gradually developed from words, stereotypes & prejudice through legal exclusion, dehumanization & escalating violence.”

It’s hard to believe this was a coincidence. Assuming it’s not — assuming the staff of the Auschwitz Memorial itself are of the belief that Ocasio-Cortez was in the right — Lindsey Graham and other like-minded Republicans should probably be alarmed that a memorial and museum dedicated to preserving the history of a horrific event does not appear to share their view. When a Holocaust memorial seems to suggest your opinions about the event in question are incorrect it may be time to step back and re-evaluate those opinions. But defenders of Trumpian policy are not known for their introspection nor for their interest in facts. Indeed, what’s so infuriating about this reoccurring Holocaust invocation debate is that it is precisely the keepers of facts who appear to not only condone but also encourage invocation and yet they are consistently ignored. As Orthodox Jewish writer and activist Elad Nehorai points out, again, on Twitter, “Holocaust scholars, Holocaust museums, Holocaust survivors … they all want us to be able to apply the Holocaust to modern-day situations, even if they don’t 100% align. And yet, somehow, there has been a widespread idea that *nothing* is comparable. So much for “Never Again.”

Nehorai is right. What’s happening at the U.S.-Mexico border is vastly and profoundly different from any of the atrocities mentioned in Ocasio-Cortez’s tweet but the common thread through every one of these events — from Rwanda, to Germany, to the modern United States — is the dehumanization of certain people. Invoking the Holocaust is appropriate in this moment because the president of the United States regularly dehumanizes refugees with rhetoric that sounds at times like it was written by a Nazi propagandist. Will someone in the Trump administration be the architect of the next Auschwitz? I seriously doubt it. But wherever dehumanization begins, it’s not a bad idea to point out where it can end.

Source: Emma Teitel: Invoke the Holocaust if you mustInvoking the Holocaust is appropriate in this moment because the president of the United States regularly dehumanizes refugees with rhetoric that sounds at times like it was written by a Nazi propagandist, Emma Teitel writes.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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