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Thousands of Jews protest ICE raids across U.S., 44 arrested in NYC

A growing movement of American Jews is mobilizing against U.S. immigration policy across the country. ‘We’re fighting for the soul of our country, for our very humanity.’

Hundreds of American Jews protest against ICE raids at an Amazon store in New York City, August 11, 2019. (Gili Getz)

Hundreds of American Jews protest against ICE raids at an Amazon store in New York City, August 11, 2019. (Gili Getz)

NEW YORK CITY — Hundreds of American Jewish demonstrators staged a sit-in at one of Amazon’s flagship stores in New York on Sunday, to protest the company’s ties to the big-data firm Palantir, which contracts directly with Immigration and Custom Enforcement forces. The action resulted in the arrest of 44 people, including a New York City councilman, several rabbis, and high-profile public figures like Eli Valley and Molly Crabapple.

The protest, organized by a coalition of Jewish groups including T’ruah, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), and Never Again Action, as well a number of synagogues, was organized in solidarity with immigrants threatened with deportation by ICE and who are vulnerable to attacks by white nationalist terrorists. It was one of many protests involving thousands of American Jews in cities across the United States planned to coincide with Tisha B’Av, a traditional Jewish day of mourning.

After a silent march through midtown Manhattan, the protesters, dressed in black, occupied the Amazon store and conducted a Tisha B’Av service that combined the traditional liturgy with readings of testimonies from immigrants detained by ICE. Speakers drew direct parallels between the treatment of Jewish immigrants during World War II and that of Latinx immigrants today, and the crowd periodically chanted the refrains “close the camps” and “never again is now.”

“The cries of the Jewish people, of our people, against the forms of oppression visited upon us through our migrations across Jewish history, require us to speak out about what’s being done now,” said Brad Lander, a Jewish city councilman from Brooklyn who was among those arrested during the sit-in inside the Amazon store. Lander pointed to the similarities between the historical experiences of Jews and those of Latinx immigrants today, a parallel that the Never Again Action protests have insisted on drawing.

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“Amazon has chosen to make itself a corporate partner to ICE,” he added. “And if they’re either so addicted to profit or so callous to suffering that they are willing to continue to be a corporate in ICE’s bloody work, then I think it is very appropriate for us to target them in today’s action.”

“Part of the idea of civil disobedience is to prevent something from becoming normal — but the times aren’t normal,” Lander explained.

Protest organizers connected what they described as the Jewish ethical imperative to fight injustice with the somber message of Tisha B’Av, the day the Jewish people commemorate the destruction of the Jewish Temple, asserting that Jewish suffering in the past obligates them to advocate for those suffering in the present. The impression left by the New York protest was that of a movement gaining strength despite – or perhaps because of – the seemingly constant outrages and tragedies of the past several weeks.

It has been a particularly deadly and devastating month for immigrant communities in the United States. A white supremacist gunman walked into a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in early August and killed 22 people, most of them Latinx. In a manifesto the shooter released online, he wrote that his attack was a “response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” echoing the xenophobic rhetoric employed by President Trump and many Republicans. Just four days later, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials raided multiple food-processing plants with predominantly Latinx workforces in Mississippi, arresting 680 people.

Hundreds of American Jews protest against ICE raids at an Amazon store in New York City, August 11, 2019. (Gili Getz)

Hundreds of American Jews protest against ICE raids at an Amazon store in New York City, August 11, 2019. (Gili Getz)

While Lander had attended one of the first Never Again Action demonstrations outside an ICE detention facility in Elizabeth, New Jersey, in July, for Rabbi Stephanie Kolin, who leads the historic Union Temple of Brooklyn, Sunday’s Amazon sit-in was her first with the immigrants’ rights movement. “As a rabbi, as a Jew, as a mom, I feel like I have to be here today,” she said.

Kolin, who was also among those arrested, credited the earlier Never Again Action demonstrations with moving her so much that she felt she had to join. “It is inspiring to see that these young Jews have so integrated our responsibility to the other, to the vulnerable, to all people who are created in the image of God, that they’re willing to put their bodies on the line,” she said.

Like many of the other protesters, Kolin expressed the feeling that present U.S. policies toward immigrants are extraordinary in their cruelty and, therefore, demand an extraordinary kind of response. “I feel like we can’t just go about and live our lives, business as usual,” she added. “It can’t be that the bottom line takes precedence over people’s lives.”

“We’re fighting for the soul of our country, for our very humanity,” Kolin concluded tearfully.

Indeed, the timing of the New York protest made for an especially emotionally charged event. Protesters cried as they recited the Mourner’s Kaddish, a Jewish prayer traditionally recited after the death of a loved one, for the 25 people who died in ICE custody. Even experienced organizers found it hard not to be moved by the show of spirit and force. So many protesters committed to risking arrest that the police had to commandeer a New York City bus to transport all of them to be processed.

Audrey Sasson, executive director of JFREJ, called it “one of the most powerful actions I’ve been a part of, and I’ve been organizing for about twenty years.”

Hundreds of American Jews protest against ICE raids at an Amazon store in New York City, August 11, 2019. (Gili Getz)

Hundreds of American Jews protest against ICE raids at an Amazon store in New York City, August 11, 2019. (Gili Getz)

The protests came just over a month after Never Again Action, a Jewish-led immigrant rights movement, launched a string of protests and civil disobedience actions outside ICE detention centers. Since then, several hundred American Jews have been arrested for protesting ICE and thousands more have taken part in the protests.

This time, Never Again Action were also joined by establishment American Jewish groups such as the Reform Movement’s Religious Action Center and the liberal, pro-Israel lobby J Street. Participants included not only experienced left-wing Jewish activists but also mainstream Jewish community leaders and politicians — a sign that the segment of the American Jewish community that feels compelled to protest the U.S. immigration regime is continuing to widen. The protesters also appeared to span divides of denomination — Reform, Conservative, Orthodox — as well as generation.

The undeniable emotional power of the Never Again Action protests – the resonances between the darkest moments of Jewish history and the darkness of the present moment – appear to be driving the movement’s growing appeal. What is already one of the most significant American Jewish protest movements in over a decade could very much become a longer and more intense struggle by American Jews against the U.S. government’s immigration policies.

Sasson added that she felt the movement’s momentum was picking up, and that the protests would continue into the future. “We have an opportunity and an obligation as the Jewish community to respond with bold direct action and we’re ready to take part in a more escalated way.”

Correction: This article has been corrected to reflect that 44 protesters had been arrested and not 36, as was mistakenly stated.


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    1. Firentis

      Oh how droll and boring.

      A bunch of leftists decided to be Jewish for a day so that they could utilize the historical suffering of the Jewish people to further some leftist issue of the day.

      The Starbucks didn’t give you enough honey packets? This is just like when the St. Louis was denied permission to land and the people were sent back to the concentration camps. Your boss isn’t giving you a raise? This is like when the Jews were worked to death in the concentration camps!

      I doubt this is doing much for your cause but you are certainly doing a great job of minimizing historical Jewish suffering by associating it with incomparably less severe and entirely unrelated issues.

      I wouldn’t have this complaint if you were actually equating between Jewish suffering and say the genocide in Bosnia, or the genocide in Rwanda or the genocide of the Yezidis. In all these cases the slogan ‘Never Again means never again’ might actually resonate. But no. You complete asshats are equating between camps where Jews were rounded up and sent for extermination to detention facilities where people are held because they illegally crossed the US border. You people are pathetic and disgusting.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Firentis: Holocaust survivor asshat protests ICE raids:

        “…The event also featured testimony from 97-year-old Holocaust survivor Ben Stern…Stern, who lives in Berkeley, gripped the microphone with two hands as he told of the horrors he witnessed. Stern survived multiple concentration camps and a deadly forced march from Buchenwald. His parents and eight siblings were all killed by the Nazis….Stern was liberated by the U.S. Army in 1945…In 2017, Stern led a protest against a white supremacist rally in Berkeley, and now he is advocating on behalf of refugees. He said he was appalled by a recent New York Times report that immigration authorities would be conducting raids on Sunday.”


        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        You don’t get it. Trump and his minions at Fox News are using racist, Hitleresque “invasion” and “infestation” rhetoric. It’s racist incitement. With murderous results. Clear as day. Nor did anyone “equate” Auschwitz with US border facilities. That’s your dumbing it down to knock it down. And your contempt for the people Trump is calling “an infestation” could not be clearer. So interesting your anger at Jews being human beings. When the Palestinians incite it’s an outrage but when Trump and Tucker Carlson incite it’s just no big deal, why its just like not getting enough honey packets at Starbucks. It’s only too clear what you are doing here.

        Reply to Comment
      • george

        So, we have to wait until this problem reaches mass genocidal levels before we are justified in saying anything. Until then we are to just shut up, move along, nothing to see here. Please let us know just how far it has to go before it is legitimate to call fascism out for what it is. 1,000 dead? 10,000? 100,000? Study the rise of every fascistic movement in history and you will find those who with painful regret say something like, “If only we’d known; if only we’d stopped this in its tracks; we could have saved millions.”

        Reply to Comment
      • george

        Also by the way these people who are being detained did not in most cases “illegally cross the border.” They applied for asylum (legally!) By the way there is a question as to whether the administration itself is acting legally here. Recent rules put in place by the administration make it impossible for someone to apply for asylum if they stopped in another country on their way to the U.S. border. For example if someone is originally from Guatemala, but they stopped in Mexico to wait at the U.S. border, the administration now refuses to consider their asylum application. But this rule itself is of questionable legality, since the Congressional statute on asylum does not mention this restriction at all.

        “Any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival and including an alien who is brought to the United States after having been interdicted in international or United States waters), irrespective of such alien’s status, may apply for asylum in accordance with this section or, where applicable, section 1225(b) of this title.”

        Reply to Comment
      • Ab con

        I agree. How they manipulate the truth. I don’t hear anyone asking to pay more in taxes to support illegal immigrates.

        Reply to Comment
      • george

        And consider that these refugees from Central America are facing murderous conditions in their countries of origin, thousands killed every year due to rampant crime and political violence. We might ask ourselves whether we’ve actually learned anything from history — in particular from what happened to those Jews aboard the St Louis who were, sadly, refused entry into the U.S. https://www.history.com/news/wwii-jewish-refugee-ship-st-louis-1939. My own Jewish grandparents were fortunate enough to emigrate to the U.S. long before WWII. But when I was a child, we visited my grandparents’ home, and there were many photos of great-aunts and great-uncles who for one reason or another did not make it out of Europe in time. I wonder how many of them were refused entry because U.S. policy at that time drew an existential “line” that limited the number of refugees who were allowed to find safety here.

        Reply to Comment
      • Ray

        Who died and gave you the discretion to decide who is and is not Jewish?

        Reply to Comment
      • duh

        The St. Louis was also told by the Jewish Agency not to bother docking at Palestine (Segev, “The 7th Million,” 44).

        Now to attack your logic: National-Socialist Germany didn’t start exterminating people right away, either. The migrant detention camps can always escalate into something even more horrific. The US doesn’t have to start lining up people by the thousands and make them dig their own graves for the comparison to be valid. Even more so considering the actual Third Reich had some connection to US policies in the 20th century.

        “During the early 20th century, the United States and Canada began to receive far higher numbers of Southern and Eastern European immigrants. Influential eugenicists like Lothrop Stoddard and Harry Laughlin (who was appointed as an expert witness for the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization in 1920) presented arguments they would pollute the national gene pool if their numbers went unrestricted. (…) In 1936, Laughlin was invited to an award ceremony at Heidelberg University in Germany (scheduled on the anniversary of Hitler’s 1934 purge of Jews from the Heidelberg faculty), to receive an honorary doctorate for his work on the “science of racial cleansing”.

        “The Rockefeller Foundation helped develop and fund various German eugenics programs,[100] including the one that Josef Mengele worked in before he went to Auschwitz.[7]” (The Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Eugenics and Human Heredity.)


        These ideological nightmares can always find a backdoor through the current scare on immigration.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Markee

      What dumaaz zes.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Richard

      Eli Valley a “public figure”? The reality that “mainstream” Jewish orgs and leaders have, understandably, found common cause with the fringe professional protestors of JFREJ and Kolot Chayenu is the story here. But as a progressive Jewish donor and parent distrustful of that fringe (and their anti-Zionism, willingness to offer cover for hate speech form the Sasours etc, and their general reckless entitlement), I’d suggest these protest organizers need to be mindful about who they use as poster children: Eli Valley partnered (and was paid by) Students for Justice in Palestine at Stanford earlier this year, a group with terror-ties and an event that deliberately singled out and harassed Jewish students (regardless of their views). And Brad Lander? He’s a running joke among anyone who knows NYC politics.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ray

        What, precisely, are SJP’s “terror ties?”

        Reply to Comment
    4. Pugsley Blaze

      Alright fine folks, conditions are horrible in the home country of these immigrants (I will concede that point). It’s bad enough that they are willing to trek so far for the chance to get into our country. But we as a nation are too divided on the issue for them to ever feel at home here. So if their ruling class (i.e. corrupt government, drug overlords, and street gangs) is so terrible that it’s forcing these fine decent folks out let’s act now. Let’s ask our rebuilt military to go to these horrible places and pacify them forcefully so these people can have a home that is safe where they grew up. Obviously with mass shootings and xenophobic tendencies this is not the right place for them so let’s help them make a place for themselves like the USA did for the Jews in Israel.

      Reply to Comment
      • john

        ‘ya, let’s do more colonialism to solve the problems previous interventions caused – colonialism solves everything, just ask the israelis’

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “we as a nation are too divided on the issue for them to ever feel at home here”

        This is a blatantly racist, xenophobic, nativist statement coming from a citizen of the United States of America, a nation built by immigrants and refugees, a nation with explicitly no ethnic, racial or religious test for admission, asylum, citizenship, or the holding of public office. It is exactly the kind of statement previously directed at Jews, Italians, Poles, Germans, Japanese, Chinese, you name it. Now it’s brown-skinned people from Latin America. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

        Interesting to see the kind of people you get here when you drag an article on human rights of American immigrants and refugees through an American political landscape.

        It is also idiotic and clueless, not realizing that “we as a nation” have been deliberately and needlessly divided over a literally trumped up peripheral issue by a manipulative authoritarian demagogue, a psychopath in the Oval Office, who is using people like “Pugsley Blaze” as much as he is ruthlessly using the immigrants, heartlessly pitting them against one another and everyone else, for his own selfish and quite crazy reasons. Donald Trump is a con artist. He could not care less about anyone on either side of this fake “issue.” He has bankrupted the US morally and also prestige-wise, foreign policy-wise and security-wise already, and he will bankrupt it financially too if people let him, just as he bankrupted several businesses and left other people holding the bag, and just as he cheated and stiffed countless people who worked for him. He is using the entire country and half of them can’t even see it. A nation half-filled with Trump-freiers. He is a terrible human being. A monster. He is a stain on the Oval Office. Every American should be ashamed of this man. He is a con artist. You put your faith in a con artist and you deserve what you get.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          …and let’s not forget the fake Trump “University” courses scam with which he coldly bilked a whole other set of Americans.
          This guy is seen fit to be president??
          Americans, you have lost your minds. Too many of you.
          The Jewish American demonstrators reported on here by Joshua Leifer are an island of historical memory, patriotism and resistance in a sea of amnesia and craven surrender to a sick demagogue.
          We look back and ask, how could the German people, the most educated, cultured people on Earth, have succumbed to the demagogue Hitler’s murderous siren song? Well. The American people, under far less severe economic and social pressures than were the Europeans in 1933, are eighty years later succumbing to a similar song.

          Reply to Comment
      • George

        You forget, the United States has *always* been xenophobic in regard to the latest wave of immigrants. There have been many such waves, each of which has encountered strong resistance when they attempted to flee desperate conditions and come to make a better life here: the Quakers, the Germans, the Irish, the Italians, the Chinese, the Jews, the Vietnamese. Each of whom there ran into horrible propaganda against their coming here. Probably your own ancestors encountered such resistance. And now each of those waves of immigrants has become part of the tapestry of American life, each group having made invaluable contributions to who we are. They came here, knowing that their children were going to be citizens of a nation and a culture that the parents didn’t really know, just hoping that their children would be safe and prosperous. It has rarely if ever really worked well for us to try and pacify another country — we are just not that good at doing that. But what we can do (even though it is not easy) is to invite these people to become part of us, to add their special abilities and knowledge to the rich tapestry that is America.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Nicely put.

          Reply to Comment
    5. Armando Gonzalez

      The destiny of this nation does not depend on of the government policies, whatever they are, but from the One who has created us. Even though when our traditions are different we believe we are Abraham’s spiritual children. And we feel that your warmth comfort us during this critical time for many of those who are loosing the most appreciated gift from God: family members. Thank to all member of Jewish community for your solidarity. May God bless you with more compassion for those in suffering.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Paul Velasquez

      Kudos to my Jewish sisters and brothers , protesting the neo nazis ruling the USA. As Jews we can’t be silent when injustice is done to others. Some of those hispanics indeed have Jewish ancestry. But 500 years of Inquisition in Hispanic America, separated them from mainstream Judaism, still they are Jews. Now more than ever, Jewish people need to raise up together, this time we will stand strong for others and ourselves.Am Yisrael chai! We will prevail. Shalom mispocha!

      Reply to Comment
    7. Ben

      And, now, if you want to connect the dots, close the circle of darkness, and bring all of this back around from Trump to Netanyahu and Israel, read what Netanyahu says about Mexican-Americans:

      Netanyahu’s xenophobia: Bad in America, bad in Israel
      We know what he thinks of Arabs. Read what he thinks of Mexican-Americans.

      Reply to Comment
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