(June 19, 2018 / JNS) The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights NGO that teaches the lessons of the Nazi Holocaust, has denounced the “wholesale misappropriation” of the Holocaust amid on the ongoing outcry over the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of separating children from migrant parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“To be sure, like millions of Americans on both sides of the political divide, we want our leaders to solve the humanitarian crisis at hand. No matter what the divisions are over immigration policies, it is unacceptable to separate little children from their parents. That isn’t what America stands for. Those are not our values,” Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper, dean and founder, and associate dean and director of global social action of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, respectively, said in a statement.
“We urge immediate steps to ameliorate this situation, and for the administration and Congress to finally take the necessary steps to end this problem long-range,” they continued. “But we denounce the alarming wholesale misappropriation of the the Nazi Holocaust by critics of current policies.”
Last weekend, Michael Hayden, a retired four-star general and former director of the CIA and NSA, tweeted an image of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp with the caption of “other governments have separated mothers and children.”
Other governments have separated mothers and children pic.twitter.com/tvlBkGjT0h
— Gen Michael Hayden (@GenMhayden) June 16, 2018
Hayden later backtracked and issued an apology for the tweet, telling CNN that “if I overachieved [sic] by comparing it to Birkenau, I apologize to anyone who may have felt offended.”
MSNBC morning host and former Republican politician Joe Scarborough similarly invoked the Holocaust, comparing border-patrol agents to “Nazis,” which drew a strong White House condemnation.
“It is appalling that Joe Scarborough would compare sworn federal law-enforcement officers, who put their lives on the line every day to keep American people safe, to Nazis,” White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said in a statement. “This is the type of inflammatory and unacceptable rhetoric that puts a target on the backs of our great law enforcement.”
Cooper told JNS that the statements by Scarborough and Hayden, as well as comparisons to Nazi Germany on social media, are “very damaging to collective memory.”
“I think it winds up dulling people to suffering,” he said. “If you can’t tell the difference between what was done to 1.5 million Jewish children during the Holocaust, and what is going on today with the horrible situation on the border, then you have no reason to be in a position of leadership.”
Cooper added that he feels this type of imagery will only push people on both sides further apart on the issue.
“Deployment cynically of this type of imagery delays and deflects from getting us closer to consensus on how to fix this [in the] short term and long term,” he said. “We have to learn lessons from the past, but one of the fundamental lessons is that not everything is an Auschwitz—and that’s the whole point.”
Last week, more than two-dozen Jewish religious and communal organizations issued a joint letter condemning the Trump administration’s policies along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The letter, which included groups such as the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Orthodox Union, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Union for Reform Judaism, said that the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their migrant parents “undermines the values of our nation, and jeopardizes the safety and well-being of thousands of people.”
“Our own people’s history as ‘strangers’ reminds us of the many struggles faced by immigrants today and compels our commitment to an immigration system in this country that is compassionate and just,” the joint letter read.