Over the past several months, Never Again Action (NAA), a purportedly spontaneous grassroots Jewish group, has burst into the public eye by staging and videotaping protests at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other government facilities across the country.

But, as a joint investigation by the Legal Insurrection Foundation and the Washington Free Beacon has revealed, NAA is not what it purports to be. NAA is a repackaging of the same activists who organize with far-left, anti-Israel groups such as IfNotNow (INN), American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), and CodePink. There is every reason to believe that these obsessive anti-Israel activists have a hidden agenda: to insert themselves at the forefront of the immigration issue to hijack the movement and turn it against Israel, as has been done repeatedly since the Ferguson riots in 2014. NAA is not just astroturf, it’s a deception.

Table of Contents

1. Never Again Action: Co-opting Holocaust Narrative

2. Never Again Action — A Media Darling

3. Astroturfing a “Grassroots” Movement

4. Anti-Israel Fellow Travelers

A. IfNotNow

B. American Muslims for Palestine

C. Jewish Voice for Peace

D. CodePink

5. Prepare For Movement Hijacking

1. Never Again Action: Co-opting Holocaust Narrative

Launched in late June 2019, Never Again Action claims to be a large grassroots network that spontaneously arose in response to perceived parallels between the humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border and the Nazi Holocaust against the Jewish people. Indeed, the phrase “Never Again” has its origin and most common usage in preventing another Holocaust.

That analogy is a core tenet of Never Again Action’s philosophy; the group’s focus on the Holocaust seems to have been at least partially inspired by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s June 18, 2019 tweet and video comparing U.S.-Mexico border detention centers concentration camps.

https://twitter.com/AOC/status/1140990518974976000

Ocasio-Cortez’s statements caused an immediate uproar, with pundits and organizations criticizing what many saw as a trivialization of the Holocaust.

https://twitter.com/JCRCNY/status/1141106234705227777

But in the wake of the controversy, a group of Jews calling themselves Never Again Action emerged—standing in support of Ocasio-Cortez and proclaiming their Jewish-values-inspired outrage at the border “concentration camps.”

NAA presents itself as spontaneous and grassroots:

Many of the organizers come from a background of decentralized organizing, says Sophie Ellman-Golan, a New York-based activist who was involved in organizing the Elizabeth action. “We’re not an organization,” she corrects me when I use the term to describe the “Never Again” actions during our phone call. “We don’t really know what we are, but we’re not an organization.” Ellman-Golan herself is versed in decentralized organizing from her involvement in groups like the Women’s March, and she and others have used momentum-building tactics like mass recruitment calls that they learned through organizing with similarly distributed movements.

NAA’s Facebook page was created on June 26, and the group’s first Tweet, on June 27th, decried the “mass atrocity” of the U.S. government’s treatment of “immigrant communities all around the country.”

In a recent piece, journalist Ariel Sobel further explains how NAA came into being:

Serena Adlerstein came up with the concept. She is a full-time organizer with Movimiento Cosecha, a nonviolent movement fighting for the permanent protection, dignity and respect of undocumented immigrants. She’s now one of the three lead organizers of Never Again Action…”I put up a Facebook post basically calling Jews to occupy detention centers across the country, not thinking much of it, and then a few folks who also happened to be amazing organizers commented, ‘I’m in, but for real. That night, we were on a call and the next day, we put up a form and got 500 sign-ups and six days later, 36 Jews got arrested in front of Elizabeth Detention Center here in New Jersey.”

Sobel quotes Adlerstein referring to Never Again Action’s first organized protest, which took place at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) center in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The protesters reportedly numbered about 100.

https://www.facebook.com/NeverAgainAction/photos/a.350711078953544/351094035581915/?type=3

At the demonstration itself, protesters doubled down on the controversial Holocaust metaphor, repeating NAA slogans:

#NeverAgainMeans never again.
#NeverAgainMeans abolish ICE.
#NeverAgainMeans close the camps.
#NeverAgainMeans never again for anyone.

https://www.facebook.com/NeverAgainAction/photos/a.350403832317602/352383888786263/?type=3&theater

The protesters apparently began their demonstration at the ICE center by peacefully singing, chanting, and waving signs. Though they did not have a permit to protest, a spokeswoman for the town of Elizabeth told NJ.com, “the police gave them a courtesy since they were not violent and peacefully protesting.”

But when protesters began using their bodies to block the entrances to the building, police were forced to arrest 36 of the demonstrators. NAA activists posted footage of the arrests online, and the images quickly went viral—helped along by Ocasio-Cortez’s approving tweets publicizing the demonstration.

http://archive.is/UflKM

2. Never Again Action — A Media Darling

Since then, NAA has received an astonishing amount of publicity. It has used the media coverage to continue to push its message, repeating explicit comparisons to the Nazi genocide.

https://www.facebook.com/NeverAgainAction/posts/377572872934031?__xts__[0]=68.ARBCZtWL9tK32bKP7AhP5glCf7j6F10RJtQ8oaQLjmYkMNBcMT40R2Bp6toaf1ccrgXvY1mWQptcad0VsY4JrpI4-6xwowrTLTd0u0gxtMgOizi3taxt6ZrNcmMBTG3xshPIA2U0Ppi1sRlI_p1Y15sEpRPP77U6pXR-1eNh6hvv7seY_3cuxwJZhwpiDVtV-rG5g2sIXjpv0zO2DBqZr6Ratt4zuHo9-Jsgy8AvdNraZVOEIiCmYy3QdQ_v85_Eu5alZHrOpWqFus4Pl3T22uKrHe0x9fSMc4B1islyS1bJRbdqGLH9wsjpRezVBnP1c6_-jlxKYTiOp6DT7IL3o6c&__tn__=-R

[Screenshot from Never Again Action Facebook, August 2019.]

In fact, in an article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, NAA is quoted comparing its members to the Righteous Among the Nations—non-Jews who risked everything to help Jews persecuted by the Nazi regime:

We are committed to putting ourselves and our bodies on the line, the way we wish European gentiles had done for us 70 years ago…We do whatever it takes to stop business as usual, to not be ‘good Germans’ who go about our daily lives while immigrants are starved in cages.

Despite the distaste many have expressed about the Holocaust analogy (even the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum spoke out against the comparison), NAA has so far managed to maintain considerable momentum and brand itself as an altruistic, grassroots initiative. In her article about the group, Ariel Sobel quotes NAA co-founder Serena Adlerstein making this very claim:

Unlike many other protests, Never Again Action is not an arm of another organization. “We came together as a group of individual Jews who are affiliated with different groups. We wanted this to come from the Jewish community, not an organization,” Adlerstein said.

There have been more than 30 #NeverAgain protests in cities all over the United States since June 30th 2019, and more than 56 thousand followers on Twitter gathered since that same month.

https://www.neveragainaction.com/

[Never Again Action’s list of completed protests. Screenshot from NAA website, August 2019.]

But a closer look at Never Again Action, its tactics, and its friends tells a different story than an altruistic spontaneous grassroots movement whose primary concern is the humanitarian crisis at the border.

3. Astroturfing a “Grassroots” Movement

How did Never Again Action rise to prominence so quickly? The Daily Dot may have the answer. In a July profile of the group, politics reporter Brenden Gallagher noted:

It might seem as though Never Again Action came out of nowhere. While its rise is impressive, it was made possible by existing progressive groups that have robust online and IRL [in real life] infrastructure.

A link on Never Again Action’s website is a clue that Gallagher is correct; NAA’s homepage lists the organization as part of The Action Network, an online marketing and non-profit management platform that proudly proclaims “The Action Network is only open for progressive individuals, organizations, and candidates. We’re not interested in helping your opponents win.” A look through The Action Network’s client (or “partner“) list shows a number of well-established, well-funded non-profits.

https://actionnetwork.org/

[Screenshot from The Action Network homepage, August 2019.]

Given that many of the listed partners identify themselves as ‘intersectional’ groups (including the Women’s March and Black Lives Matter), it comes as no surprise that lots of The Action Network partners have already worked together. The Action Network also publicizes its partners’ initiatives, and includes a feature that allows users to “create a network of groups with data sharing between them.”

One example of unified, ‘intersectional’ messaging among The Action Network’s partners is that of Never Again Action and United We Dream (UWD), an organization founded in 2010 that calls itself “the largest immigrant youth-led community in the country.” UWD’s website says, “Our vision is a society which celebrates our diversity and we believe in leading a multi-ethnic, intersectional path to get there.”

UWD demands that the American government abolish ICE, as well as Customs and Border Protection (CBP). And like NAA, fundamental to UWD is the controversial comparison between Nazi concentration camps and current system of migrant detention.

https://www.facebook.com/UnitedWeDream/photos/p.2358821980845610/2358821980845610/?type=1&theater

[United We Dream’s current Facebook ‘banner’ photo. Screenshot from Facebook, August 2019.]

Accordingly, UWD has taken to approvingly sharing NAA content on its own social media. (UWD’s Facebook boasts nearly 164,000 ‘likes’.) In fact, UWD helped to share video from NAA’s first protest in New Jersey.

https://www.facebook.com/UnitedWeDream/posts/2346882085372933?__xts__%5B0%5D=68.ARCQ90Y9XFnD_aSFm6f-ZTUHw6ihShs5yyIRBoZ8F36BBZunnf16p5_eTl9_9CzgdxQsEFuztnYxDl0pZlHMOGzTFKqRrzOS-YplSt6zoVH-WWOJrNmalNxI59lb2kuLeG8vefFLhFvYq7zK9ELdgyUwbhuktsOsswOs07RWtdJczbZqx4fxLCGhhaOgJjtE8-tSWkbzqkfVGqfCQAwjBer-dNYSvgVxx1-c3aCVKHlwGjCh1aDfiNhby6HDNkPyd8qs2YCpvFdUhJfFRsWYcq9RoaNwmK9sq2UxQsZx6KmmKCO3i0TniPIB4lGeyrx_oQgIV1Arg7jgTQMbF0CYIrIOT5Kn-0nB6uzmhRh0cR7e-ibOs1PeP6OA4ztPdJLJixNoG9iVOwtg5KOAwASDdqczjMxOwY_tzs1Cr1mit8af3RPNy3-4u0JSNcXgUC24QsAR6EchcoWNhzpeh15BBfu8cq3HCUlydZBC_8tTM6jfv17UjPkN2QQJllm9CrFvgg&__tn__=-R

UWD’s involvement with self-identified Jewish groups that co-opt the Holocaust, such as NAA (and some of the groups we discuss below) has given it and other non-Jewish ‘intersectional’ groups permission to do the same in pursuit of their own goals.

4. Anti-Israel Fellow Travelers

There are other significant links between NAA and other members of The Action Network’s ‘intersectional’ cohort; NAA (and sometimes, its friends in United We Dream) has built coalitions with Jewish and non-Jewish anti-Israel organizations, including:

A. IfNotNow

https://actionnetwork.org/groups/search?type=keyword&value=Jewish

[IfNotNow appears on The Action Network’s list of “partners.” Screenshot from The Action Network, August 2019.]

IfNotNow (INN) was founded in 2014, ostensibly in reaction to Operation Protective Edge (the third Hamas-Israel war). The group claims to be composed of  “young Jews” who were “moved to act by moral anguish” in response to the fighting in Gaza. (Note: NGO Monitor has noted that, according to INN’s website, donations to IfNotNow are processed through ActBlue Charities, “a qualified 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.” ActBlue Charities is yet another Action Network partner organization.)

https://web.archive.org/web/20190830162616/http://ifnotnowmovement.org/

Like those of Never Again Action, INN tactics include sit-ins, blocking entrances and exits, setting members up for arrest, and filming their disturbances for dissemination on social media:

On April 20, 2016, two days before the Jewish Passover holiday, approximately 100 INN members entered the Manhattan headquarters of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Seventeen activists refused to leave when instructed by police and were arrested for trespassing and disorderly conduct. Following the incident, ADL Director Jonathan Greenblatt issued a statement that said: “INN never attempted to contact us about their intended visit or to engage us in any meaningful dialogue. In fact, ADL immediately extended an invitation to meet, which INN rejected.”

Moreover, INN is just as committed as NAA to grafting a Holocaust narrative onto the U.S.-Mexico border crisis.

http://archive.is/cac0Q

http://archive.is/cac0Q

The tactical and rhetorical similarities between INN and NAA can be explained with a look at the leadership of each organization; in many cases, we found that activists with INN organized or at least participated in local NAA rallies.

For example, INN co-founder Yonah Lieberman has been active in NAA, and even tweets about his involvement.

http://archive.is/pEwEj

Also at the first NAA protest in New Jersey was INN organizer Rebecca Oliver, who participated in INN’s anti-Birthright campaign—an effort to stage filmed walk-offs during Birthright’s 10-day heritage trips to Israel. Oliver was among the 36 arrested at NAA’s first event, and was quoted in an article about the protest:

I have to do whatever is in my power to disrupt ICE, to close the camps, to provide permanent protection, and to ensure that Never Again means Never Again.

Besides staging sit-ins and walk-offs in an effort to film subsequent arrests, INN and NAA share another habit: demonizing mainstream American Jewish organizations and the Jews who support them. Indeed, one self-identified participant in both groups recently promoted this very trope.

https://twitter.com/aly_mixed_up/status/1165757906849030145

And Yonah Lieberman, INN co-founder and NAA protester, posted a Twitter thread accusing of mainstream Jewish leadership of being “out-of-touch” with most Jews and asserting that to be “relevant”, those organizations should follow NAA’s “meteoric”, “courageous” lead.

Meanwhile, INN’s official account also heavily promotes and supports NAA on social media.

http://archive.is/Z9F2A

Though NAA activists’ work with INN is plenty of indication that NAA is not as independent and grassroots as it claims to be, our investigation also found that many INN participants are organizers with another ‘intersectional’ anti-Israel organization: the Islamist group American Muslims for Palestine (AMP)—which has already used the border crisis to fuel anti-Israel animus and whose college campus-based sister organization, Students for Justice in Palestine, is also one of The Action Network Partner groups.

B. American Muslims for Palestine

We have covered AMP before, most recently in our June 2019 investigation of the groups that co-planned a protest called (Counter CUFI) against the annual Christians United for Israel conference in Washington, D.C. AMP co-sponsored that demonstration with several other Action Network partner groups, including fellow anti-Israel groups CodePink and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).

So it’s not surprising that when Ocasio-Cortez was criticized for invoking the memory of the Holocaust in discourse about the U.S.-Mexico border, AMP jumped up to defend her by posting an article from the notoriously anti-Zionist blog Mondoweiss. In the article, author Jonathan Ofir not only defends the comparison, but extends the Holocaust metaphor to Gaza, saying:

Gaza has become unlivable…We need this language, we need these comparisons to wake us. While some may be offended by the language, the reality it addresses is often far beyond the imagination.

https://www.facebook.com/ampalestine/posts/10162006624705607

Meanwhile, NAA participant (and IfNotNow organizer) Rebecca Oliver recently gave an interview to Neveen Ayesh, director of of AMP Missouri. The two approvingly discussed the anti-Birthright campaign in which Oliver participated.

You can read more about AMP’s, its partnership with INN, and the funding behind both groups in the Washington Free Beacon’s sister piece by Joe Schoffstall.

C. Jewish Voice for Peace

Unsurprisingly, Jewish Voice for Peace (which co-sponsored the Counter CUFI alongside AMP and CodePink) has supported NAA’s action agenda.

We’ve covered Jewish Voice for Peace extensively in the past including:

In early July, 2019, JVP posted an “Open Letter by Latinx Jews: Let Our People Go“. The letter echoed NAA demands to dissolve ICE and invoked the Holocaust comparison NAA  endorses.

https://www.facebook.com/JewishVoiceforPeace/posts/10158615140764992?__xts__[0]=68.ARBjbwgE-Jl_SYzDqGmTr4eRx72PW7oeSghe8T-4_PzJvyBmF41d178hh7n-J4h5tkHd0HrfTqBeihbXZlwqU3rJLF3bePgQywHtFvuY4rdAEvSYsqKewgfYp4aqFbYD6m02D0p36PETCGL2HaTHe4yfgWkcprdVs-SDIHSif39iki0otV-U8tazUO7MQQJ_Bq5tYzzBWtcY97HNVs6LZv2dVdrBzy8O5RjUIgiMTkCst8Q3P3pyTkCTp0wSIeXExhQLs0nY6RYW7YUymp2Be7DsZcU9dqaEfzWCufks2IEK2K0JeA98RB478_2TJ1YrYEuP_mslMgZGrTS4lrAu&__tn__=-R

[Jewish Voice for Peace invoking the Holocaust. Screenshot from Facebook, August 2019.]

But JVP’s letter also went one step further by extending the metaphor to Palestinians:

We see ourselves reflected in struggles for freedom and justice across the world, from Mexico to Palestine…We are particularly heartbroken to see our children detained in detention camps reminiscent of the stories our parents and grandparents told us of the Nazi concentration camps…We demand that all children in the US, Palestine, Israel and everywhere are granted the right of a joyful and safe childhood.

The criminalization of migrant, refugee, Palestinian, Black and Indigenous children must end immidiately [sic]. No kids in cages, from the US/Mexico border to Palestine!

At this moment, we stand at the crossroads of our history, and we will not be silent as our tragedies are repeated. Close the camps. Let our people go.

The letter is signed by several people who are directly involved with Never Again Action (and other Action Network partner groups).

For example, signatory and self-identified “Latina Jew” and activist Tae Phoenix was one of those arrested in the June 30th NAA protest.  She is an organizer with the Women’s March and a supporter of JVP.

https://twitter.com/TaePhoenix/status/1087070350611861505

Much like other members of INN and NAA, Phoenix demonizes mainstream Jewish organizations in the same breath as she uses to promote INN and NAA.

https://twitter.com/TaePhoenix/status/1158850625725014016

And in an article published in the far-left 972-Mag, Phoenix is also quoted as part of an official Never Action Action statement:

“The military camps where my people are being held today are concentration camps; just like the camps my people were held in 75 years ago were concentration camps.”

Another JVP letter signatory, activist Danny Bryck, who is described in a Haaretz piece as a “Latinx Jew” and a JVP-er, shared video of a #NeverAgainIsNow gathering on his Twitter feed.

https://twitter.com/i/status/1146231930679115779

Other major JVP organizers have been involved in Never Again Action events since the first. Sophie Hurwitz, an activist who spoke at a 2018 JVP rally protesting Birthright, the Jewish heritage trip to Israel, was also one of the first 36 people arrested at NAA’s first rally in New Jersey.

And JVP’s Twitter account tweeted photos of two staffers and a member participating in another NAA protest in Seattle.

http://archive.is/Ghrb6

D. CodePink

CodePink, an organization we’ve covered frequently, Like NAA, INN, and United We Dream, CodePink demands that ICE and CBD disband.

http://web.archive.org/web/20190826155312/https://www.codepink.org/stand_up_to_ice_cbp

In fact, in the video below, you can see a June 25th 2019 protest organized by Never Again Action partners United We Dream. The clip shows UWD protesters demanding exactly that, with CodePink members at the forefront. The clip (at min 2:35) shows Medea Benjamin, CodePink co-founder (along with some other CodePink members) recording and participating in the event.

CodePink’s anti-Zionist National Co-Director, Ariel Gold, has helped NAA promote its actions on social media, including the concentration camp metaphor and the demand that ICE and CBD dissolve. Gold’s tweets also show that she participated in and publicized Never Again Action’s first protest, and has continued to do so for subsequent demonstrations.

https://twitter.com/ArielElyseGold/status/1149691112816369665

http://archive.is/gvU3k

http://archive.is/gvU3k

5. Prepare For Movement Hijacking

This investigation reveals that Never Again Action is not the organic, unified, grassroots Jewish effort it claims to be. But more than that, it’s important to focus on whether these anti-Israel activists are acting with an ulterior motive.

Viewed more broadly, NAA appears to be a classic example of movement hijacking—a technique utilized by anti-Israel activistsw we have covered before. In a 2017 post, we explained how this works:

For several years, anti-Israel activists have sought to hijack other causes in order to turn them against Israel.

A key component of these hijackings is so-called “intersectionality,” the concept that Israel is the unifying evil force in the world that ties together problems far distant from Israel, including alleged police brutality against and inequality among non-whites in the U.S. Israel thus serves the organizing purpose that Jews historically served in international conspiracy theories.

We have documented such intersectional hijackings many times, including with regard to Ferguson (Michael Brown) and Baltimore (Freddie Gray) riots, Eric Garner protests, the Standing Rock Sioux pipeline protest, domestic U.S. police shootingsReclaim MLK marches, and the Black Lives Matter movement, among others.

The prolific pseudonymous blogger and analyst Elder of Ziyon has come to a similar conclusion:

The…primary goal of Never Again Action is to enmesh hatred of Israel in every single liberal cause.

Never Again Action is trying to mobilize young people to get angry and demonstrate against Trump and his policies – to get them to protest, write letters, get active.

Once they are active in that cause, then they are primed to be active against Israel. They will be exposed to a constant barrage of explicit and implicit anti-Israel messages (comparing US policy towards illegal immigrants to how Israel treats Palestinians.) Never Again Action is a preparatory school for IfNotNow.

Right now, IfNotNow has a lot of publicity but not a lot of members. They need to recruit more Jewish youth, but most of them don’t care about Israel one way or another. These extremist anti-Israel activists are trying to get Jews involved in any liberal cause so they can then join their recruiters in their main purpose: to destroy the Jewish state by pretending to uphold Jewish values.

Yonah Lieberman, co-founder of INN and proud NAA protester, confirmed the agenda to The Daily Dot:

Our strategy is to bring the dual crisis facing the American Jewish community—the Occupation and rising white nationalism—to the forefront of the mainstream conversation.

He later elaborated:

http://archive.is/vi2zL

There already is a clear effort to use Never Again Action to graft anti-Zionism onto an otherwise unrelated issue.

Undoubtedly many, if not most, of the protesters on the street do not see this larger issue. But based on the groups and leadership involved, there is strong reason to believe that the movement is being manipulated. As has happened with so many social justice issues, a small number of anti-Israel activists with pre-existing and current relationships have sprung into action because they saw an opportunity to hijack yet another movement for their own purposes.

[Featured Image: YouTube]

———–

Samantha Mandeles is Senior Researcher and Outreach Director at the Legal Insurrection Foundation.

 
 
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