Jewish Activists Arrested Protesting Trump's Ending of DACA - and They're Calling on the Establishment to Step Up

Yonah Lieberman, one of the leaders of the IfNotNow organization arrested in front of Trump Tower in New York, says 'Jews have special responsibility to be on the streets right now'

Immigration activists protest the Trump administration's decision to end the DACA program in front of Trump Tower in New York, September 5, 2017.
Drew Angerer/AFP

NEW YORK - Several left-wing Jewish activists were among the 34 protesters arrested in New York on Tuesday following U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Shortly after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the program protecting young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children is being rescinded, thousands took to the streets, including dozens of activists who gathered in front of Trump Tower in Upper Manhattan and chanted “When DACA is under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”

Yonah Lieberman, a founding member of the left-wing Jewish grassroots organization IfNotNow was watching alongside dozens of other IfNotNow members as young recipients of DACA sat on the street, blocking traffic in protest of the decision, before they were arrested by the NYPD.

The other protesters gathered at Trump Tower, including IfNotNow members, felt the urge to act in solidarity. “Two hours later we did the same thing,” Lieberman told Haaretz about the moment when he, two other IfNotNow members and two dozens of fellow protesters blocked traffic. “We did this to put our bodies on the line, to demonstrate the need for more allies," he said.

IfNotNow's Yonah Lieberman and Lizzie Horne protest in front of Trump Tower

“The other reason was that we pledged to do jail solidarity, we didn’t give any of our information before we had confirmation that the people with DACA were released,” Lieberman said. “It was a call for action and a way of more directly doing what we can to protect the people with DACA who were arrested.” The second wave of protestors was also promptly arrested by NYPD. As reported by ABCnews, the NYPD announced that a total of 34 people were arrested. 

The IfNotNow activists were released close to midnight, and charged with disorderly conduct. They will appear in court on October 31. 

“Most Jews, when they immigrated here also came as undocumented immigrants, so we understand the struggle of what it means to be new immigrants in this country, to be demonized,” Lieberman said. “My great-grandfather crossed the border from Canada without a visa. I believe we have a special responsibly as Jews to be on the streets right now.”

The IfNotNow activists are particularly critical of the leaders of high-profile Jewish organizations, such as The Jewish Federation, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL)  and The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), for not being more active in the DACA protests, and for what Lieberman considers a tendency to only react on social issues perceived as a threat directed against the Jewish community, or issuing what he describes “weak statements after the fact” in response to key decisions from the White House.

"Too often this 'direct threat' for them comes from BDS or from Jews who 'assimilate'." says Lieberman. “But for my generation, the direct threat is the attacks on immigrants, refugees and black people who are killed by police on the street. We will be the generation to lead the community in the fight against white nationalism and racism.”

Meanwhile, IfNotNow will continue to fight for immigration reform for all undocumented immigrants in the U.S. As they announced on Wednesday, “we always knew that DACA was a temporary solution to a massive problem in our immigration system. There are far too many millions of people that it was not set up to protect.”

“We will fight for all 11 million undocumented immigrants," Lieberman says. DACA was never enough, and we cannot settle for breadcrumbs. This is bigger than that.”