Jonathan Taubes didn’t get arrested protesting ICE in Newark.
In June, Mr. Taubes, 26, who grew up in Teaneck but recently moved to Brooklyn, was one of 36 protesters arrested outside an ICE facility in Elizabeth. That marked the appearance of “Never Again Action,” a grassroots group, most of them Jews, fighting the Trump administration’s immigration policy.
Since then, protests have taken place from San Francisco to Portland, Maine. And on October 3, the protests returned to New Jersey.
“We were protesting right outside the ICE facility, the main facility that all the ICE actions in New Jersey are run,” Mr. Taubes said. “It’s responsible for stuff throughout the whole state.
“We’re saying that ‘Never Again’ is now. We’re drawing a parallel between Jewish history — the genocide that occurred as the Shoah and Jewish refugee history more broadly — to call out and oppose ICE. Not just to oppose the human rights violations that are happening at the southern border,” but the broader crackdown on immigrants.
The goals of the Newark demonstration included ending the use of local county jails to house people detained by ICE.
T’ruah, the rabbinic human rights group, was among the sponsors of the protest, and Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster of Teaneck, T’ruah’s deputy director, was among the 13 people arrested.
Mr. Taubes chose not to get arrested “because I would have been personally at risk in terms of employment in a way I wasn’t for the first one.”
In deciding whether to risk arrest, he asked himself: “Does the urgency and moral gravity of the situation call on me to do this? What ultimately swayed me is we had so many of our team that were willing to risk arrest. I frankly felt I didn’t have to.”
He did stay with the arrested protesters, calling people’s emergency contacts and making sure everything went smoothly.
Mr. Taubes said that the organized Jewish community’s response to the Never Again protests “has really been incredible. Despite the polarization over Israel, you have the progressive Jewish community — which you can say is the majority if you get down to numbers — getting broad support and unity around this from the community.”
Never Again Action “is in a sense very organized and in a sense seat-of-the-pants,” he said. “The national committee is being fleshed out now. Over the next couple of weeks there will be more clarity about some of the logistical stuff. For now, local groups are doing their own thing. The national group is facilitating with social media and jail support and lawyers.”
Mr. Taubes said that the protest was well received by passers by.
“You had cars driving by who were honking and waving in solidarity,” he said. “Random people who were passing us on the street were like, ‘Hey, what’s going on.’ We were like, ‘We’re a bunch of Jews and allies and members of the Hispanic community who are trying to shut down ICE.’ People were down with it. This is something not just the Jewish masses are down with. The ‘people’ more broadly are really with us.”
What about fears that putting Jews at the center of protesting a key Trump administration policy is a red flag for anti-Semites.
“Our analysis of the situation is these people already hate us and are coming for us,” he said. “There are anti-Semites in the White House. There are white nationalists, including some Jews, sadly, who are targeting impacted communities, especially the Hispanic community, with these atrocities.
“Three of my grandparents are Holocaust survivors. My Saba Leo” — that’s his grandfather, Leo Taubes, who taught English at Yeshiva College for decades and lived in Teaneck — “was a refugee. That stuff for me is in my family. I know people were saying stuff about Saba and my mother’s parents who were Polish refugees and survivors.”
Mr. Taubes believes “there are two tactics we can take. We can bet on the side of power and say that Jews have it pretty good here. Or we can understand that white nationalism, which is of course an atrocity for refugees and asylum seekers today who are being denied their rights under law, also threatens us very practically. Those battle lines are being drawn. We ought to figure out very quickly and very shrewdly how to align ourselves with allies against those who are already coming for us.”
Can you really compare ICE to the Gestapo?
“I have a lot of conversations like that,” Mr. Taubes said. “I was raised modern Orthodox in Teaneck. I went to what I would call right-wing-leaning institutions. We have been overwhelmed and surprised by the extent of support within the modern Orthodox community.
“That said, I know a lot of people who do have those concerns, who have reached out and voiced the concern that this is not at all comparable, and that we tarnish the memories of the six million. That’s something I take very seriously.
“What I say is that there is no Auschwitz on the border. No one is making that comparison. What we are saying is that there are concentration camps that are being run on the southern border. Most Holocaust historians and scholars of that era agree they are in fact concentration camps. What is required is a little demystification of that term. On the one hand, it calls to mind a sense of moral gravity — we should understand that concentration camps are bad, especially when they are being used against defenseless and vulnerable people.
“At the same time, we have to understand that concentration camps are not only Jewish concentration camps. The Japanese internment camps were concentration camps too.
“What we’re in right now in America is sort of the beginning state. If we’re honest and historically aware about the stages of genocide, we can see some real parallels in terms of the rhetoric of dehumanization. I read a report that Trump said we can shoot these migrants in the legs to slow them down at the border.
“To sum it up, we’re in the beginning stages. The atrocities are there. The dehumanizing rhetoric is there. There is no Auschwitz on the border. What we’re saying as Jews against ICE is we’re not willing to take the chance to let it get there.”