by Adilifu Fundi
“Into the deep annals of Black antiquity … Fellasha Hebrew Village … reports that the horrible treatment of Black Jews in modern Israel forced their beleaguered immigrants to prematurely return back to Ethiopia.” – “Trouble in Black Paradise, Chapter 2: A View From the Cradle of Civilization,” Page 41
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – / Because I was not a socialist. / Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – / Because I was not a trade unionist. / Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – / Because I was not a Jew. / Then they came for me – / And there was no one left to speak for me.” – “First They Came” by Martin Niemöller
Greetings, savvy readers!
Trouble in Black Paradise sees a so-called cultural bedfellow (to people of color) caught in a bizarre wrangle: placing priority on their own badge of oppression. The loud voices intending to protect Jewish cultural interests have instead squandered a powerful opportunity.
While freshly primed ICE agents subject the nation to terror and raids, fallout from another quite publicized brouhaha still has many shaking their heads. Corporate media wasted no time sensationalizing claims that Jews cried foul – zeroing in on comments made by firebrand Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., popularly noted as AOC.
AOC joined a long official line condemning the government’s way of handling recent Central American refugees who continue surging toward the border – men, women and children fleeing murderous conditions and hopelessly corrupt homeland officials.
We’ve all gotten details of severe maltreatment by border officials and seen the images in reports. Children separated from parents are now scattered across the country and lost in a vacuum.
People crammed in hugely overcrowded cages, denied basic services, languishing in disease-infested environments; people of all ages dying in captivity, waiting for what’s supposed to be “limited time” in standard process procedure.
What are widely underreported are the natural disaster conditions refugees are fleeing: widespread flooding and famine. Now, there are reports of sexual abuse by officials at a Yuma, Arizona, border setup. Heinous situations only get worse.
So what was AOC’s horrendous offense? She dared to declare that Trump’s border setup was no less than “concentration camps,” tagging her message with the slogan, “Never again!”
Pushback was immediate. Those reacting implied that the entire Jewish Diaspora was horribly insulted. Using the term “concentration camps” was deemed so offensive that the actual current inhumane treatment of vulnerable Hispanic escapees was suddenly jettisoned to the backseat.
It’s well worth pausing here to let this soak in: Journalism that had prioritized commenting on the “life and death” circumstances of desperate exiles fleeing for their lives (now being severely maltreated at U.S. borders) got totally commandeered. Journalistic urgency then shifted, rushing to blow up accusations that Jewish pride had been wounded.
Corporate media’s grabbing and running with the ball can’t be taken lightly. Its action gives emotional credibility to any attention grabber’s claims of offense – and it’s enough to hijack any show.
Here’s the first insidious dynamic in this situation that shouldn’t be missed: To give weight to someone’s assumed emotional insult when that insult supposedly pushes aside another’s tragic situation actually gives the offended party the authority to make harmful judgments of the other group’s tragedy.
Legislators, clergy and other powerful groups using the same insidious tactic should ring clear memories into the minds of those still battling severe oppression: Unarmed Blacks killed by cops; people of color in general; the LGBTQ spectrum fending off radicalized Christian attacks (Black trans folks bearing the brunt of these); and, historically, someone else – Jews.
The impact is never as great when the oppressed turns the situation around to actually hurl valid accusations of offense towards higher ups, including the media itself. So, did media sources address concerns from credible Jewish representatives, or merely fan the flames from trolling right-wingers in disguise?
And, is the basis of all the upset itself credible? One response backs up my own suspicion: Conservative trolling interests are at work here, with some of them actually working from within.
Jewish historian Anna Lind-Guzik wrote a June 20 article specifically addressing this uproar. Her headline stated that calling the U.S. border detention centers concentration camps “isn’t just accurate. It’s necessary.”
Lind-Guzik makes many powerful points and observations, pointedly addressing the condemnation of AOC by the Holocaust memorial in Israel, Yad Vashem.
The irony here is in Yad Vashem’s own material: “Concentration camps for undesirables, including Jews, Poles, Communists, gay people and Roma, opened in 1933, while the death camps were opened starting in 1941.” Lind-Guzik says Yad Vashem’s illogic continues since it “embraces visitors like Viktor Orban, the anti-Semitic, ethno-nationalist Hungarian prime minister.” It’s a startling contradiction.
Right-winged U.S. outrage did come from Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, daughter of none other than the notorious Dick Cheney. Dick guided many a Republican president whose administrations were riddled with human rights violations.
Cheney actually said AOC needs to take a history lesson – this, in the face of her father’s calling torture “enhanced interrogation.”
And, of course, Harvey Levin of TMZ used his “Jewish card” when he summarily rejected AOC. Levin with great irony (as an “openly gay” celeb) has shown highly conflicted response to issues of LGBTQ abuse. He also gets constant scrutiny from Black co-host Van, demonstrating regularly a position more aligned with privileged white male club response.
Levin wouldn’t even concede when admitting to his guest George Takei that the historical context of concentration camps technically does apply to this situation. Takei (of Star Trek fame) was compelled to speak out for AOC, having himself been subjected to Japanese-American internment camps during World War II.
Said Takei: “I know what concentration camps are … I was inside two of them, in America. And yes, we are operating such camps again.”
Takei continued: “At least during the internment, when I was just 5 years old, I was not taken from my parents … At least during the internment, my parents were able to place themselves between the horror of what we were facing and my own childish understanding of our circumstances.”
Hearing this Levin still dug in – relentless! Levin loved that the term “concentration camps” was to exclusively be applied to Jewish “death camps.” Ownership of it was what Levin actually drooled over – admitting the novelty itself is what “he” didn’t want to give up!
Did Levin and Liz Cheney miss history lessons revealing that clergy, communists, trade unionists, gypsies, Poles, people with physical deformities, mental illness and “others” –like homosexuals – were also in those camps, with Jews placed atop a macabre type of hierarchy there?
Martin Niemöller was a German Lutheran pastor – one of the first to end up in Dachau. Are any of these “other” groups scrambling to lay highest claim to that term “concentration” to gain a tragic sort of badge of honor?
Obviously, Jews still get the hierarchy’s priority spot in Levin’s and Cheney’s judgment as none of the camp’s others even warranted their mention.
This raises the second insidious dynamic: Under the banner of defending the need to continue to confront unresolved discrimination – how terribly easy it is for a brutally persecuted group to succumb to classic egomania.
Elevating one’s “badge of oppression” over others who are in the same boat smacks of behavior born from another classic set-up: It is a “dog-eat-dog” reaction better known as “divide and conquer” – an age-old tactic employed by those who have the power or opportunity to oppress.
It’s the very tactic employed by Nazis dividing and classifying groups in those “camps.”
Time and observation verifies that “oppressed and damaged people will oppress and damage others.”
A variety of examples abound: White women’s lib excluding women of color; Blacks passed over for “lighter” people of color; white gays snubbing the general Civil Rights movements; Blacks condemning and excluding LGBTQ people from the Civil Rights table, etc.
Yes, it’s important to identify just who is at the very bottom, in order recognize the most vulnerable so as to target the emergency crisis areas of those that need priority relief and to end damaging patterns that make us blind to the vulnerable.
Thus, the challenges of being under attack become the impetus for oppressed people to unify.
But, first and foremost, the goal of persecuted people is to heal!
Recognizing one’s own brutal past and reviewing current persecution challenges is the starting point in the healing process – not the stepping stones to building on empty ego bragging rights.
Healing the many types of wounds from oppression is always the ultimate goal. Being stuck on the need to be the biggest victim indicates something that’s very tricky: It implies not only that people have not healed, but that celebrating in the euphoria of “victimization” has become the real goal.
Hence, a third insidious dynamic – the powerful opportunity squandered by Jews attacking AOC.
Jews who genuinely fight to keep death camps from existing ever again (starting in America) would make broadcasting this crucial goal far more powerful by actively seeking alignment with Hispanic refugees – people concentrated by Trump in those inhumane border detainment camps!
All the dastardly ingredients are stewing there: violation of written policy; separation of families; containment in isolation; denial of standard provisions; and the recipe item congealing it all – criminalizing legal refugees.
But most troubling is this: I neither heard nor read of any Jews (who loudly decried AOC) making reference to U.S. white nationals marching on the University of Virginia campus, carrying “tiki” torches (KKK style) chanting among other things, “Jews will not replace us” – as recently as 2017!
Was this not alarming enough for all Jews to see as a sign of ominous reemerging patterns building on the diabolical situation brewing at our border?
It only makes sense that conservative, right-wing Jewish factions are those who join Republican trolls, distracting from brown people being caged like animals, claiming injured Jewish sentiments rise above other persecuted people’s similar plight.
Lest we not forget who Trump’s biggest Middle East supporter and personal fan is: Extremist, right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israel recently reelected “Bibi,” the tyrant (who is plagued by corruption), for a record fifth term. His vows to quash any recognition of legitimate Palestinian self-governing homelands – and human rights – speak volumes about Israel’s social fabric.
The civilized world sees an age-old Palestinian civilization’s unlawful and brutal governing by Israel as a crime against humanity – let alone Israel’s own appalling racial hierarchy that keeps other “migrants” from the Jewish Diaspora locked in line, with European Jews riding high at the top.
Now, brown people being locked in U.S. border cages, with standard refugee policies again coming under methodical attack, are caught in repeated history: Central Americans have been seen by Jews and right wingers as being “others” – the same invisible plight given to the “others” who also succumbed in those Nazi death camps.
But we do know this: Progressive Jews are already loudly aligned with oppressed peoples, rallying on the human rights frontlines, working to ensure one thing – that grassroots Hebrews do absolutely recognize the basic steps leading to potential holocaust. They know that many groups have and any group can experience holocaust reality, and it’s a perspective that won’t be hijacked.
Renaissance man describes the professional singer, actor, dancer, educator, historian, spiritual advocate and published author Adilifu Fundi, a 25-year resident San Franciscan and native of San Diego. Trained in cross-cultural and general social repair, Fundi spent the past 42 years utilizing lectures, workshops and performance in the social trenches, aiding the Black and general American mainstream gay and lesbian, gay people of color and Black LGBTQ segments with creating viable community. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story first appeared on his blog, Adilifu Fundi, Renaissance Man.