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HEFFNER: I'm Alexander Heffner, your host on The Open Mind.
A founding organizer for the Women's March,
my guest today is Sophie Ellman-Golan.
Now she helps lead Never Again Action,
a mass mobilization of Jews who are organizing to
shut down ICE and hold the political establishment
accountable for enabling both the deportation
machine that has separated immigrant families across the
U.S. for decades and the current crisis at the border.
"Conservatives purport to defend Jews even as they
embrace policies that most Jews deplore,
and infuriating and intolerable," is how
Ellman-Golan describes this climate and the
resurgence of white nationalism and
anti-Semitism, in part fueled by President
Trump's own politics.
"It's imperative that we loudly speak for
ourselves," Ellman-Golan told the New York Times,
"because if we don't, the loudest voices that claim
to speak on behalf of Jews will be right-wing
Evangelical Christians." Welcome,
Sophie, a pleasure to have you here.
ELLMAN-GOLAN: Thank you so much.
HEFFNER: Is it not that false equivalency in the
dynamic between how we think of attacks on Jews
from the right and left that is really troubling today?
ELLMAN-GOLAN: Absolutely.
I would say the first troubling thing is this
rise of white nationalism and anti-Semitism and the
ways that both have been completely embraced by the
Republican Party, overall.
But I agree that the discourse we see around
anti-Semitism is particularly troubling
because of a false equivalence between
violent acts of anti-Semitism,
violence that comes from manifestos that are
written about Jews trying to replace a white
population versus a, an anti-Semitic cartoon or a
comment that has to do with the criticism of the
state of Israel or tweeting Tupac lyrics.
And we just have to be able to say that these
things are not the same.
We have to be able to say that inciting murder is
not the same as tweeting Tupac lyrics.
HEFFNER: How do you differentiate between the
comments of someone like Congressman King of Iowa
and Congresswoman Omar?
ELLMAN-GOLAN: I would say that probably the,
the primary difference is that Steve King is pretty
adjacent to Nazis and that representative Ilhan Omar is not.
I mean, Steve King has gone on trips to meet with
people who helped found or are inheritors of
publications that were founded by Nazis.
He has come pretty close to saying the 14 words,
which are of course the 14 words of white
supremacists that talk about securing a future
for white children, et cetera.
I mean this is a man who is not in a state that was
ever part of the confederacy,
has a confederate flag on his desk.
It's pretty clear what he stands for.
So I think one of the primary distinction is
that for Steve King white nationalism,
above all is what he stands for and what he promotes.
Anti-Semitism is a facet of that.
I think that for representative Omar,
who is undeniably a progressive champion
right now, she has criticism of Israel.
I think that she said things that she probably
could have raised differently.
I think that we can argue, you know,
we can argue until the cows come home about
whether something was or was not anti-Semitic.
It's important to note that while a large
percentage of the Jewish community felt troubled
by it, that's worth mentioning,
which is why she apologized.
Steve King has never ever done that and refuses to
take accountability and instead continues to
spout off absurd offensive things,
even the most recent being that we wouldn't have a
population today or Western civilization were
it not for rape.
So I mean there's no end to,
to kind of the limits of his,
of his patriarchy and white nationalism and anti-Semitism.
I think with representative Omar,
we're also witnessing that attacks on her come not
just from people who are genuinely concerned about
anti-Semitism, but by and large from people who are
deeply concerned about the fact that a black Muslim
woman who wears a hijab is in Congress and dares to
be any of those things at once.
HEFFNER: I think qualitatively you answered
it in the way that our audience can understand.
There has been this disconnect and it's
growing between the community that's very
small in this country of Jews who put Israel's
security first and the larger majority of
American Jews who put American Jews security first.
And why in the aftermath of Trump's election those
Republicans were not outraged about the
desecrations, the increase in hate crime against the
Jewish community.
I don't think Jews, the majority of Jews are
responsive to President Trump's attempt in what
I thought was his most anti-Semitic day yet,
to call Jews who don't support him disloyal.
ELLMAN-GOLAN: Yeah.
I mean polling shows pretty clearly that Israel
is not even close to the top issue that American
Jews vote on.
J Street did a poll, did some of the great polling
about 2018 Jewish voters, and I think it was
something like 4 percent said that Israel was a
priority for them.
Predominantly it's been healthcare and the economy
and lately gun violence is up there pretty high too.
So these are the issues that Jews,
shockingly like Americans because we are, care about
and are voting about and are taking action on.
And of course also on immigrant justice,
which we've been seeing recently with the rise of
Jews Against ICE.
So I'd say all of that to say just that I think it's
a fundamental misunderstanding of the
Jewish community to even think that that is a
priority that Israel is a priority for us.
It's also anti-Semitic to constantly assume that
Jews care the most about Israel.
That stems from, of course,
deep anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish loyalty,
about this idea of a global Jewish cabal that
cares more about another country than the country
they reside in.
HEFFNER: You are really drawing the public's
attention to a crisis in these detention centers.
And because again, we have to be intellectually
honest I want to start by asking you about the conditions.
Some including representative Ocasio-
Cortez have compared the detention centers to
concentration camps.
ELLMAN-GOLAN: I would say myself,
and the many amazing folks who are leading Never
Again Action from folks like Serena Adlerstein and
Alyssa Rubin and Ben Doernberg and many others
who are really at the helm of that work as well.
We've been taking action because we simply see that
the conditions are concentration camps.
Representative Ocasio- Cortez was not the first
person to say that.
Many people said it beforehand.
I think we saw her political opponents jump
on that: use Jews as an excuse to take her down
and express more outrage about the word she used to
describe a blatant human rights abuse than they've
ever expressed for the actual human rights abuse.
So when we're talking about what's happening on
the ground, and you know, I want to also say that
immigrant rights groups have been doing this
organizing for a long time.
Movimiento Cosecha has been doing this organizing
since the Obama Administration,
where they, you know, stepped up and spoke out
against the 3 million deportations we saw during
that era as well.
But what's happening right now is pretty blatantly:
people deprived of food, deprived of water,
deprived of healthcare, deprived of sanitary products.
I mean, just the blatant abuse from sexual violence
to emotional and physical abuse is beyond belief.
And the fact that we would,
the fact that there are people who would rather
argue about what words we use instead of argue about
how we can abolish these atrocities is shocking to me.
And it's a clear; it's a clear attempt I think to
deflect away from talking about the conditions.
But the other thing that I say is that we should be
using the strongest possible words to describe
what's happening right now.
I do know concentration camps is a strong term to
use and we use it intentionally because we
should be using strong language to describe the
horrors that are happening on our southern border and
at ICE detention centers around the country. Yeah.
HEFFNER: I think that morally,
emotionally and physically,
there is the precipice of, you know,
exterminating people's souls more than human
bodies at this point.
But internment camp is an analogy that I think maybe
more approachable to people who remember how we
treated the Japanese or Japanese Americans.
So you have a politics in a public policy that is
completely at odds with your hope to free or
enfranchise ultimately a population of the people
who've lived here, worked here with their families
and communities and have been detained and deported.
I mean, we're talking about I think two subsets:
the current crisis on the border escaping violence
or economic hardship from central Latin American
countries; and then we're talking about the
historically problematic immigration law where
there are people who've been here for 20 years,
10 years, five years, who've demonstrated their
contributions to this country and we want to disown them.
ELLMAN-GOLAN: The perfect answer to that is actually
the policy that Cosecha is pushing for,
which is they called the dignity plan or Dignity 2020.
And what that calls for is an immediate end to
detention and end to deportation.
And papers for the 11 million undocumented
people living in this country.
And it's a push and it might seem to a lot of
people like a big one, but I mean,
we have been watching the immigrant rights movement
try so hard and work tirelessly to fight for
dignity and instead we've seen from our elected
officials, tiny, tiny scraps of gains.
I mean important legislation has passed for
sure, but legislation that has separated out families
or felons this idea of good immigrants and bad immigrants.
So we need to be asking and demanding that people
and our legislators in particular,
but also all of this country recognize the
humanity of all people regardless of whether or
not they are good or bad or fit into good or bad stereotypes.
HEFFNER: You even acknowledged that your,
that plan is radical in some sense,
but it's departing from what has been common law
in this country for some time.
ELLMAN-GOLAN: Yeah, I mean,
I think, well first of all,
I like radical so I'll say that.
Look, I think that when we have particularly the
climate crisis that is just completely changing
the way that people can even live on this earth,
forcing migration.
When we have mass violence that is caused in large
part by American foreign policy or certainly
exacerbated by it.
I think that just simply the conditions are changing.
We are not living in the same world that we were
20 years ago, 40 years ago, you know, 100 years ago.
Not only is there more communication between
other countries, but also just in terms of what
is livable land.
So I don't know if it's feasible to act as if we
can have the same policies when the land that people
can physically live on is literally shrinking.
HEFFNER: Isn't there a way to have laws defining
citizenship and still treat people who are
entering here by non-legal means a with dignity.
ELLMAN-GOLAN: I largely feel that it's my role in this,
in this broader movement to really follow
the lead of and support the work of undocumented
activists who are at the forefront of this kind of organizing.
And you know, activists from directly affected communities.
So I really listen to the folks at Cosecha,
at Mijente and other organizations like that
because they're frankly the experts in this issue, not me.
And I don't want to present myself as one
because I'm not my area is much more on anti-Semitism
and white nationalism, which certainly intersects
with what we're seeing right now.
What I would say is that yes,
we need to know how many people are in this country
for the same reason we need a census because you
need to know how to provide resources to certain areas.
And you know, how many people are there so we
know how many, how many dollars we need to
allocate for those people: just basic social services requirements.
But I would say that I think that what we're
watching happening right now is a shrinking of this
idea of who is American, a narrowing of who counts as American.
I mean, we're watching it even with this latest
ruling to suggest that Americans who are foreign
service agents and have children abroad have to
actually apply for citizenship for their children.
There is this narrowing and it's a desire that
frankly, we've seen since Trump first articulated
Make America Great Again, a desire to reduce
who is American to white Christian,
sis hetero, predominantly men on women will be
allowed if you know those white CIS hetero women are,
you know, can do, do what the nice men tell us to do, right?
So I think that that's really the thing that
happened that we have to come back and as we've
watched over the past few years,
the right pull the center further and further right,
we have to pull back. We have to,
we have to pull back because otherwise we're
watching the center and we,
and we spoke about this earlier,
we're watching the center move further and further
right and we're losing ground in that way.
So it's actually necessary that we not just say what
is wrong and horrible but that we counter balanced
with a vision of what this country truly could be and
what community and humanity could really be.
HEFFNER: Does support for ICE
intersect with white nationalism?
ELLMAN-GOLAN: Yes. In, a word? Yes.
I would say that ICE is in;
ICE right now is carrying out a white nationalist project.
I mean, you mentioned the question of,
oh well, you know, should people be given
citizenship or not?
The basic threat that overall immediately needs
to be removed is ICE.
ICE needs to be abolished because the constant
terror that the 11 million undocumented people in
this country are living under with this constant
fear of ICE raids of ICE detention of ICE
separating their families and abusing people
and tearing them apart.
So I would say that ICE is absolutely carrying out a
white nationalist project.
And we've seen this in part also because we've
seen Latinx citizens of this country who've
actually been detained by ICE.
People who have Latinx last names are being
denied passports right now or forced to jump through
extra hoops to prove their citizenship.
It's clearly race-based.
But let's also go back to the founding of ICE.
I mean, ICE was established in I believe 2003.
It was a follow-up to 9/11 and that was when
the immigration conversation really shifted from one
about basic migration into one about security.
And that's what, and to the viewing of immigrants
as constant security threats.
Not that that's the first time that happened in
American history, we've seen that over and over
and over again, but in this recent iteration,
that's what ICE is designed to do.
HEFFNER: When you have such pernicious rhetoric
emanating from the office that oversees ICE and you
see examples of ICE officers who are
justifying their behavior by virtue of Trumpian
rhetoric, then the description you offer of a
white nationalist project, I mean it's a slippery
slope and, I see you find the current conditions
intolerable and you see them as potentially
leading to extremism.
ELLMAN-GOLAN: The end goal of white nationalism or
perhaps the end result of white nationalism is
inevitably mass slaughter and mass violence
or mass expulsion, right?
Because the idea of a white ethno state requires
that people who don't fit within those parameters
are not there.
And how are we going to be gone?
We're either going to be forcibly expelled or we're
going to be slaughtered.
And I truly don't mean to fear monger because
I think that that's not productive either.
But I'm just talking about the logical conclusion of
what we're seeing from both a policy standpoint
and from the rise of far right movements that are
cozying up closer and closer to elected officials.
HEFFNER: There is this disconnect that the
Republicans are vouching for Israel and they're
claiming the mantle of something in service of
gas lighting or something else to really deflect
from the fact that under Trump,
there is concern about that path to
authoritarianism and genocide that you're
describing, because of the rhetoric and how
incremental or rapid the rhetoric turns into
behavior, I know you're so troubled about ICE because
that is analogous to the beginnings or maybe not
even beginnings of violence, race-based violence in this country.
ELLMAN-GOLAN: Yeah, I mean,
I think, look, the RJC is a minority of the Jewish
community in this country.
I wouldn't say that they're not Jewish because
I think that one thing we're actually witnessing
right now as an effort from right-wing Jewish
community members to try to de-legitimize the
Jewishness of left-wing Jews.
And I don't want to participate in that either way.
So don't get me wrong, Matt Brooks,
head of the RJC is Jewish.
His understanding of what it means to be Jewish is
radically different than mine and radically
different than about 80 percent of American Jews
in this country.
I think that we've seen from the RJC's constant
embrace of this president, a deep decision to align
with white nationalism and frankly to align
with anti Semitism as well.
I mean, we saw back in, I'm trying to remember the
month when it was, but Trump spoke to the RJC in
Nevada a few months back and referred to Netanyahu,
the Prime Minister of Israel as your prime
minister to a room of American Jews. Right?
They didn't speak out against the, against this at all.
It doesn't actually trouble them at all
because perhaps it either rings true or to them,
it speaks to this, you know,
his support for Israel and they accept that as
support for Jews. The majority of Jews do not.
But the other thing that I would say is that not only
is this sort of, this conflation of,
of support for Jews with support,
for support, for American Jews,
with support for Israel, anti-Semitic because that
that leads and opens up space to act also as if
somehow American Jews are then responsible for every
act of the State of Israel regardless of how much we
actively agitate against what that State is doing.
But the other thing that I would say is that
right-wing support for the current Israeli government
is in line with right-wing support for this current
government and for this current president,
because we're witnessing a rise of global
authoritarianism and ethno-nationalism from the
Nation-State law that passed in Israel;
from the white nationalism we're seeing in this
country, from the violence we're seeing in India,
from laws that are being passed around,
how animals can be slaughtered in Hungary.
It's, this is a consistent trend that we're seeing
across the globe and it's not surprising that the
supporters of some of these leaders support
the other leaders.
HEFFNER: In fact, populism is what you do.
You know, it's mobilize on the ground and talk about
your fellow human beings and their plight and their concerns.
So as a final question here: how has your mobilization,
the protest that you've led and driven
outside of ICE facilities how is that,
how can that lead to bettering the conditions there?
How, you know, have there been results that you're
pleased with and you know, the long,
the longer-term vision here is only a new
president can disband ICE or can radically change ICE.
How do you hope that your mobilization now,
in the event that there is a Democratic president in 2021,
how can your mobilization lead to a further action?
But what's it doing right now and what can it do
in the future?
ELLMAN-GOLAN: So what Never Again Action is
doing right now is what we wish we as Jews wish that
a non Jews in Germany had done in 1938,
1939 and onward, which is essentially to do
everything we can to stop this deportation and
deportation and detention machine.
So that does mean holding these direct actions,
nonviolent direct actions outside of ice immigrant prisons.
That means disrupting the ability of DHS officers
and agents to go to work and continue engaging in
basic human rights abuses every day.
And I would say that it definitely is working
because we've seen a response.
Not only did we see that we shut down the DHS
headquarters in DC for about half a day,
they went into a total lockdown because of an
action we held there about a month or so ago.
And recently a letter from the CEO of the Geo Group,
which is a private prison company,
one of the largest that runs a lot of immigrant
prisons, a leaked letter was revealed that showed
that they were also responding to,
and clearly alarmed by the actions of Never Again Action
and alarmed by Jews against ICE, who are taking action.
Very interestingly in that,
in that letter that came out that I believe that
Ken Klippenstein from the Young Turks revealed and,
and leaked is that they reference,
they don't reference, I believe Jews against ICE as Jewish.
They just talk about us as protesters.
And instead they note that mainstream Jewish
organizations disagreed with the term concentration camps.
So again attempting to actually delegitimize our
Jewishness because that somehow clearly poses a
threat to them.
The idea of Jews against ICE is not the look that they want.
And so they're trying to downplay it.
And I'd say that's also effective.
HEFFNER: I would say at a minimum your hope would be
that a new president would distance himself or
herself from the ongoing reality here of the
monetization of these facilities.
I mean, the fact that folks are making money on
inhumane conditions of detention facilities.
ELLMAN-GOLAN: I would say, yeah,
I would say a short term plan is abolishing ICE
and a longer and a longer term plan involves again,
I think papers for people who are living in this country.
But I think an end to these detention centers
and an end to deportations is absolutely necessary.
HEFFNER: If you first deal with this deplorable idea
of wretchedly monetizing prison camps for people
who, you know, if you want to believe in legal and
illegal immigration, they may not belong here,
but they don't deserve inhumane conditions
in the first place.
But people are probably going to leave this asking
what do you replace ICE with?
So what would be your vision for what
to replace ICE with?
ELLMAN-GOLAN: Well, ICE only serves to roundup
immigrants who are living not on the border,
ICE does not function on the border,
so ICE truly only exist to round people up in,
not in states that are not necessarily border states
or states, I believe, or locations that are not
within 100 miles of the border, I think.
HEFFNER: So basically current criminal justice
can adequately deal with people who may be here
illegally or who are here illegally and who've
committed crimes. I mean, because that's the,
that's that's the central concern of people who
don't want to admit people and want to reserve the
right to deport people who have committed crimes.
ELLMAN-GOLAN: I mean, I would say first of all,
I would say that the current criminal justice
system does not work either. And we've seen that.
It's fundamentally unjust.
But I would also say that this entire idea of sort
of the, the criminal dangerous immigrant is
completely inflated, just even if you look at the
numbers of who engages in violent crime in this country.
And again, I say this over and over again,
when we look at who poses a violent mortal threat to
communities in this country,
it's growing white nationalist groups that
actually are getting less and less attention.
HEFFNER: If those Jews who were escaping Nazi Germany
or occupied territories were to say I am crossing
this border and they were fleeing genocide,
I don't think today the people who accuse Mexican
or Venezuelan American people of illegal
immigration; I don't think they would have
characterized them as criminals by virtue of
illegal immigration because in order to escape
Nazi Germany, people had to cross borders.
ELLMAN-GOLAN: I mean, I think the way that Jews
are seen today, the way that white Jews are seen
today white Jews fleeing Nazi Germany where that
today would not, would not be given the same reception.
Because I think that white people are not
automatically criminalized in the same way that
people of color are.
That being said, I mean the Saint Louis is a ship
that was bringing Jews who were fleeing occupied
territories and it was turned away.
HEFFNER: Right.
ELLMAN-GOLAN: So, you know,
I think that we have always;
I think that what we've seen from history is that
there will always be people who will find
reasons to justify not doing the basic humane
things that we know we must do.
And that begins with dehumanizing the people
who we know we have to help or at least extend a
basic sense of dignity to. So I think that we saw that,
frankly, we saw that back in,
in the 30s and forties, and we're seeing it now.
HEFFNER: Thank you so much for your time today Sophie.
ELLMAN-GOLAN: Thank you.
HEFFNER: And thanks to you and the audience.
I hope you join us again next time
for thoughtful excursion into the world of ideas.
Until then, keep an open mind.
Please visit The Open Mind website at
Thirteen.org/OpenMind to view this program online
or to access other interviews and do check us out
on Twitter and Facebook @OpenMindTV
for updates on future programming.
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Never Again in America - Sophie Ellman-Golan | The Open Mind

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