concentration camp: a guarded compound for the detention or imprisonment of aliens, members of ethnic minorities, political opponents, etc., especially any of the camps established by the Nazis prior to and during World War II for the confinement and persecution of prisoners.1
The people seeking a new life in the United States are mainly an ethnic group commonly referred to as Latinos. Many of these migrants/asylum seekers are being fenced in detention centers with decidedly spartan conditions. Ergo, the affixation of the term concentration camp to the ICE detention centers seems unassailable according to dictionary definition. As to why Dictionary.com would inexplicably state “especially” Nazi camps is puzzling given that the Brits set up concentration camps during the Boer War at the end of the 19th century and the United States broke treaties and interred Indigenous peoples. In fact, many countries, Canada included, operated concentration camps contemporaneously with or prior to Nazi Germany.
To argue about which camps are/were concentration camps and which camps are/were most horrible is nugatory. To be explicit, all concentration camps are an abomination, including the ICE detention centers filled with outside-the-US arrivals.
On 18 July, the Real News’s Mark Steiner interviewed Molly Amster of Jews United for Justice (JUFJ) about “Jews across the country” organizing and protesting the detention of the people entering the US.
That is commendable. Equally commendable are the other people who identify just as people and not a particular religious, gender, ethnic affiliation and who demonstrate and speak out against injustices.
A fundamental principle of respect for human rights must be freedom of movement. National borders impinge on such a right. Everyone is a human being. For a nation to deny other human beings2 onto what it claims is its territory is fundamentally a rejection of the humanity of the Other; but more fundamentally, at its core, it is an overt denial of the rejecting nation’s own adherence to humanitarian principles.
This video, though, hints at a possible wider ethnocentrism. One might wonder why identify as “Jews United for Justice” and not “People United for Justice” or on a national level as “Americans United for Justice”?
At first blink, people concerned about the hideous treatment of those held in ICE detention centers will praise these Jews for their courage to protest. Because as one JUFJ protestor exhorts his cohort in the TRNN video, “We are calling on our people to put their bodies on the line to stop ICE.” (emphasis added)
Our people? Does that mean other people, non-Jews, are not invited to join and “put their bodies on the line”? JUFJ informed me by email that non-Jews are welcome to join their organization.
Absolutely, never again should one group of humans treat another group of humans inhumanely. Hence, anyone who identifies as a human and who believes in human rights should stand up for human rights applied to all humans.
On the homepage of Jews United for Justice is a slogan: “THINK JEWISHLY. ACT LOCALLY.” What does “Think Jewishly” mean? Do Zionist Jews think Jewishly? Do the rabbis think Jewishly? Does Benjamin Netanyahu think Jewishly? Does Noam Chomsky think Jewishly? Why not “Think humanely?” It is quite clear in its meaning: think like a human by showing compassion for other humans.
Rebecca Ennen of JUFJ replied:
For us, ‘Think Jewishly’ means that we’re driven, individually and organizationally, by a variety of Jewish traditions, identities, values, and commitments, as diverse as the range of people in our community. We draw on those traditions and values to motivate our local action and we show up proudly as Jews and a Jewish community. Obviously, ‘thinking Jewishly’ means different things to different people and we welcome the creativity and vitality this brings. For some (non-exhaustive!) examples of the Jewish that motivate our community, see pages 5-6 of our 2018 strategic plan (https://jufj.org/strategic-plan/), co-created by our leaders.
There is nothing inherently wrong with identifying with a group as long as the group one affiliates with does not discriminate against or denigrate out-group people, and as long as the in-group acts according to moral principles. The principles laid out in the strategic plan of JUFJ come across as well-intentioned.
So JUFJ acts on principle by demonstrating against the ICE detentions of non-Americans.
What about the Palestinians?
I asked, “I know your slogan is ‘Think Jewishly. Act Locally,’ but has Jews United for Justice a stated position regarding the Israeli occupation of Palestine, especially in light of the ‘Never again’ (which I agree with) spoken at the demos against ICE detentions? If not, shouldn’t Jews United for Justice press the US government on this issue because it is deeply an American issue as well?”
JUFJ works at the local and state level in DC and Maryland on issues of racial, economic, and social justice. People in our community have a very wide range of views on the issues of Palestine and Israel, and many of our community members also take part in a wide range of other organizations that work on those issues.
For me, Ennen completely skirted the occupation of Palestine issue. Among the Jewish Values listed on page 5 of the strategic plan is “Emancipation from Oppression.” The occupation of historical Palestine is rooted in racism towards the indigenous people of Palestine. Professor Noam Chomsky wrote, “Contempt for the Arab population is deeply rooted in Zionist thought.”3 Chomsky is also clear that one should above all agitate against the violence of one’s own state.4 However, JUFJ identify overtly as Jews and not as Americans. Acting locally seems to provide an out for JUFJ. But at the local level, the JUFJ could, for example, pledge support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, or oppose the US government’s embassy move to Jerusalem in violation of UNGA 181, or oppose the US billions of dollars going to support an apartheid state.
Similar things happening
Molly Amster of JUFJ seems unaware of the atrocities being committed against Palestinians by Jews. Amster said of the ICE raids, “But to see these things happening that we actually really never thought would happen again to another group of people, and seeing it be so similar — the messages of other, the messages of, you know, these are not only other, but not human.” (emphasis added)
How can an otherwise informed Jew be unaware of state-sanctioned Jewish settler encroachment upon more and more Palestinian territory, destroying Palestinian agriculture, poisoning the water, etc.? About the illegal separation wall, much of it built on the Palestinian land? About the tens of thousands of Palestinian children imprisoned by Israel since 1967?5 About the intentional, indiscriminate killing of Palestinians?
These similar things have been happening ever since the drive to form a Jewish state in historical Palestine. By all means stand up and speak up for the humans arriving at the US border. But when Jews are mute about war crimes committed by a group that also identify as Jews, by a people living in the Jewish state, then it appears as if the good deeds performed under the same group affiliation serves as propagandistic and as a distraction from the occupation and horrific oppression heaped on the Other.
If you are opposed to oppression, then the principled stand is to oppose all oppression; especially, one has a duty to oppose oppression carried out in the name of a group one chooses to affiliate with.
- There are certainly grounds for keeping certain individuals outside a society such as a record of having committed dangerous crimes.
- Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians (Pluto Press, 1999): 481.
- “My own concern is primarily the terror and violence carried out by my own state, for two reasons. For one thing, because it happens to be the larger component of international violence. But also for a much more important reason than that; namely, I can do something about it. So even if the U.S. was responsible for 2 percent of the violence in the world instead of the majority of it, it would be that 2 percent I would be primarily responsible for. And that is a simple ethical judgment. That is, the ethical value of one’s actions depends on their anticipated and predictable consequences.” In Noam Chomsky, On Power and Ideology: The Managua Lectures (South End Press, 1987).
- “Israel is the only government in the entire world that detains children through military courts with a near 100 percent conviction rate.” See Whitney Webb, “50,000 Palestinian Children Imprisoned by Israeli Kangaroo Courts Since 1967,” Mint Press News, 29 April 2019.