Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles 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.