An Open Letter to ‘America’s Rabbi’

Central Americans at the immigration prison in Los Fresnos, Texas. (Brad Doherty file photo for Courthouse News)

The self-proclaimed “America’s Rabbi,” Shmuley Boteach, blew $104,000 of someone else’s money last week for a full-page ad in The New York Times, accusing Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of “desecrating the Holocaust,” because she called the Trump administration’s immigration prisons “concentration camps.” Well, rabbi, since you’re quibbling about definitions: You can’t desecrate something unless it’s holy. Is that how you really feel about the Holocaust?

For starters, my name is Kahn. So please don’t call me anti-Semitic unless you can prove that I hate my family, which I don’t.

Two, I know a lot more about U.S. immigration prisons than you do, having done legal work in six of them, and having written the first book-length history of U.S. immigration prisons.

Three, if we call today’s squalid border ghettoes “internment camps,” or “facilities” or “shelters,” would that make you happy? And if it did, would that change reality?

The Talmud says: “He who saves a single life saves the world entire.”

The Quran says: “Whoso saves the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind.”

America’s rabbi said in his pernicious ad: “How dare AOC trivialize the gassing of 1.5 million Jewish children?”

Pardon me, rabbi, but I don’t think AOC was trivializing anything. She was bringing it to our attention.

Human rights is not a pinball game, rabbi, where you “win” by running up the score against your “opponent,” be it points or dead bodies: 6 million to 500,000 — so you win!

The governments of Central America and Mexico and their death squads have murdered at least 500,000 civilians, with help from the United States, since President Ronald Reagan tossed aside human rights and the Geneva Convention like used Kleenex.

Did it ever occur to you, “America’s Rabbi,” that Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez was trying to save human lives?

If it did not occur to you, then what’s wrong with you?

If it did occur to you, but you blew that $104,000 anyway, what did you hope to accomplish — other than to glorify your name, and your ridiculous slogan? Or shall we call it a brand?

I worked for lawyers in six immigration prisons in the 1980s. We had clients with scars of torture all over their body who were denied political asylum — as though a man could, or would, inflict dozens of razor scars upon his own back.

One client deserted the Guatemalan army after refusing to torture peasants. Among the evidence we presented was a photo of him in Guatemalan army uniform, proudly holding a machine-gun in front of an army barracks. The immigration judge told him: “I don’t believe you were in the Guatemalan army at all.”

As though anyone else could even attempt to take such a picture.

What’s happening on the border today is not a “crisis.” It’s business as usual, writ large. It was happening a generation ago and it’s happening now. It happened then because the United States had supported murderous dictatorial regimes in the Americas for two generations and more. It’s happening now because the United States has not done a damn thing to ameliorate the repression, tortures and murders that we’ve supported for more than a century, with money, guns and lies.

Sponsors of the death squads that drove my clients into U.S. immigration prisons 35 years ago now sit in powerful positions in the governments, police forces and armies of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. Anyone who doesn’t know that has not been paying attention. Any U.S. government official who denies it is lying.

It ill behooves a rabbi who claims to support human rights to smear a progressive young congresswoman for telling the truth. Why don’t you get off your big fat foundation, rabbi, and go visit the concentration camps on our border? You might learn something.

(Courthouse News editor Robert Kahn is America’s columnist. Rabbi Shmuley’s ad ran on page A5 of the Saturday, June 22 issue of The New York Times.)

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