Jewish community groups protesting Amazon Web Service’s (AWS) cloud computing contracts with and other technical support for Immigration and Customs Enforcement say that dozens of their members were arrested at an Amazon Books store in Manhattan on Sunday.
Sophie Ellman-Golan, volunteer organizer with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) and one of the leaders of Never Again Action, told Gizmodo the #JewsAgainstICE protest drew around 1,000 participants and resulted in roughly 40 arrests of demonstrators, including rabbis and other prominent members of New York’s Jewish community, such as City Councilman Brad Lander. The activists rallied on Sunday outside the Amazon retail location on East 34th St. to draw attention to AWS cloud contracts with ICE and Palantir Technologies, which provides the agency with data for use in immigration raids and other enforcement actions. Donald Trump and his administration has described immigrants and refugees in broadly racist and bigoted terms, and has directed ICE to carry out mass raids targeted at undocumented immigrants in their homes, workplaces, and communities.
Amazon’s ties to law enforcement have proved controversial even internally, where employees last year sent a letter to CEO Jeff Bezos asking him to stop selling the company’s Rekognition facial recognition to law enforcement and boot Palantir from AWS. (While Amazon said last year it does not have any contract to provide Rekognition to ICE, it reportedly did pitch the agency on such a deal, and AWS hosts much of the agency’s digital infrastructure.)
JFREJ told Gizmodo in an emailed statement that the action involved protesters from numerous organizations, including JFREJ, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah - CBST, T’ruah, Romemu, Lab/Shul, Flatbush Jewish Center, SAJ-Judaism that Stands for All, Never Again Action, Avodah, and Malkhut, as well as rabbis and other members of the Jewish community who demand Amazon “cut ties with ICE and [Donald] Trump’s deportation machine.”
The date chosen is Tisha B’Av, a Jewish holiday that is both a fast day and an occasion for mourning disasters that have struck Jewish people throughout history, starting with the destruction of both Solomon’s Temple and the later Second Temple in Jerusalem. In the statement, organizers wrote that “this day is a call to action to prevent a modern-day tragedy against another targeted minority group.”
“We mourn the destruction of all things holy on the Jewish observance of Tisha b’Av,” Sharon Kleinbaum, D.C., senior rabbi with CBST, wrote in the statement. “This current administration’s attacks on immigrants, Muslims, Jews, people of color, and so many others are likewise horrific destruction of holiness. CBST is proud to stand with all those suffering today and against the evil of the camps, ICE policies and the separation of families. Never Again is Now.”
“Tisha B’Av is a time for mourning destruction and devastation. Sadly, unconscionably, this year, destruction and devastation are all around us,” Rabbi Shai Held also wrote in the statement. “We have a tremendous amount to mourn—the relentless assault on the most basic values of empathy and decency; the cruelty daily enacted in our name; the metastasization of racism and antisemitism in our country. We mourn, but we are also here today to say that beyond mourning, we will fight.”
Photos posted to Twitter by the organizations involved and others showed activists marching down the streets before occupying the store, praying, and singing songs including Kol Ha’Olam Kulo, a Hebrew song that urges against giving into fear. At some point, NYPD officers entered the location and took protesters who refused to leave the premises into custody, the photos showed:
JFREJ wrote on Twitter that the NYPD appeared to have requisitioned a city bus to transport the large number of arrested individuals.
Neither Amazon or the NYPD responded to a request for comment from Gizmodo as of Sunday evening, and we’ll update this story if we hear back.