Jewish activists challenge Trump’s anti-im/migrant policies

By Kathy Durkin
September 4, 2019

More and more progressive Jewish activists are joining the struggle against the Trump administration’s racist repression of im/migrants, including detention under horrific conditions, ruthless separation of families, abuse of children and deportation of adults, often parents.  Each day brings new federal decrees for even more oppressive and cruel policies toward desperate refugees fleeing violence and poverty in their homelands, much of it exacerbated by U.S. policies.

The detention camps holding migrants have been called “concentration camps” by several progressive organizations and individuals, including Japanese-American actor George Takai, whose family was interned in Arkansas and then California during World War II.

This term has struck a chord with many pro-immigrant Jewish activists who agree with this characterization and have been demonstrating in increasing numbers against these fascistic government policies. They see a parallel to the Nazis’ horrific treatment of Jewish people inside Germany in the 1930s.

Trump’s racism and xenophobia — on full display since the beginning of his election campaign — have fanned the flames of the ultra-right. His hostile attacks on Mexican people and Central American refugees, his slurs against Haiti and African countries, his Muslim ban, his defense of “very fine people on both sides” after the white supremacist attacks in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017 — all are not only outrageous, but dangerous.  His words have incited hate crimes and murderous violence against Latinx immigrants, Jews, Muslims and other peoples.

Showing multinational solidarity

Trump’s validation of white nationalism and use of anti-Jewish stereotypes and rhetoric have angered Jewish people, spurring many progressives, especially youth, into action. Significantly, many Jewish activists are not only protesting anti-Semitism but showing their commitment to multinational solidarity, demonstrating against attacks on Latinx, Arab, Muslim, African and other im/migrants.

Audrey Sasson of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JREJ) emphasized that “[Trump] is using a very anti-Semitic trope and pitting Jews against everyone else. It’s not an accident when Jews are mobilizing in ever greater numbers.  We are not going to be scared away out of our solidarity.” (, Aug. 22)

In other manifestations of solidarity, Jewish Voice for Peace has strongly defended Muslim congresspeople Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.  Members of If Not Now have been arrested while opposing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem and the oppression of Palestinians inside Israel.

Even as Trump spews divisive anti-Jewish statements, he is a close ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and an avid supporter of the Zionist state. It should be remembered that Israel is a construct, established by U.S. and British imperialism in the middle of the Arab world, to protect their interests, suppress people’s movements in the Arab countries and repress the Palestinian people. The U.S. Congress allocates billions of dollars a year to Israel, mostly for the military, including to purchase weapons used against the Palestinians.

Jews against ICE

A network of Jewish organizations has increasingly fought Trump’s anti-immigrant policies using the Twitter hashtags #JewsAgainstIce, #ClosetheCamps and #NeverAgainIsNow.  They collaborate with immigrant groups and other progressive organizations.

Never Again Action was established in late June to oppose the horrors of Trump’s anti-immigrant policies. And act they do. They started off by protesting outside a migrant detention center in Elizabeth, N.J., on June 30; 200 people joined and dozens were arrested. The group has initiated over 38 protests across the country since that date.

A thousand Jewish activists and allies occupied a New York Amazon store on Aug. 11 to protest the corporation’s ties to Palantir, which provides Immigration and Customs Enforcement with data for use in immigration raids. Forty-four people were arrested at the action, organized by a coalition of Jewish organizations, including JREJ and NAA.

On that day — a holy day to observant Jews — thousands joined in actions at 60 locations across the country to protest Trump’s immigration policies, reported the Aug. 11 Washington Post.

‘Shut the camps!’

NAA’s Rhode Island chapter and immigrant rights groups demonstrated on Aug. 14 outside the for-profit Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, R.I. Under an agreement with ICE, 100 asylum seekers are imprisoned there.  Over 500 Jewish and immigrant rights activists and their allies demanded the prison terminate its contract with ICE and release all immigrant detainees. Chants rang out saying: “Shut the camps!” “Justice now!” and “Close Wyatt!”

Suddenly, Capt. Thomas Woodworth, a senior corrections officer, drove a pickup truck directly at protesters, including youth and seniors, who were peacefully blocking the facility’s entrance. A participant described events: “The truck was stopped and then … the driver stepped on the gas, revved up and started plowing forward, despite the fact that there were people standing right in front of the truck and people still sitting on the ground.” (, Aug. 15)

Following that attack, other prison guards pepper-sprayed the demonstrators in the face. Five people were hospitalized, including 64-year-old Jerry Belair, who had a broken leg and internal bleeding.

John Prince, community activist and member of Behind the Wall Providence, a group there in solidarity, commented about Woodworth’s deliberate assault, which injured peaceful protesters: “If an officer can get away with this act of attempted murder, what’s wrong with this country?”

After a video of this incident went viral, prison officials put Woodworth on administrative leave.  On Aug. 16, he resigned.

NAA issued a statement the same day, saying: “If these officers felt empowered to attack a group of protesters in front of the public and media, imagine what kind of violence must be taking place inside the prison, out of sight, against vulnerable immigrants and people of color.” The group’s Facebook page vows: “We will keep protesting until all immigrants have been released from prisons and concentration camps, and until papers have been secured for the 11 million undocumented people living in this country.”

Five NAA activists appeared in court on Aug. 20 in Houston on charges of blocking a highway eight days earlier, while protesting the persecution of migrants and detention of minors separated from their parents at the for-profit Southwest Key Detention Center. All face a six-month jail sentence and $2,000 fine. Latinx and immigrant rights organizations, Muslims, workers and anti-fascist groups participated in the Aug. 12 action.

The writer’s grandparents fled anti-Jewish pogroms in 1907 in eastern Poland, which had been annexed by imperial Russia.