Why people ought to distance themselves from national Women’s March leaders

The third Women's March is approaching, but Rabbi Debra Newman Kamin says the national leaders embrace of anti-Semitism must be a major concern for even staunch supporters of the movement.

Rabbi Debra Newman Kamin 790 image
Rabbi Debra Newman Kamin

Jews and many non-Jews are tracking with great trepidation the recent surge in anti-Semitic activity both in the United States and abroad. Against this background, it is particularly troubling that the leaders of the national Women's March- which portrays itself as a promoter of tolerance and a stalwart against systems of oppression- have not only failed to forthrightly distance themselves from purveyors of anti-Semitism but have served as purveyors of such hate.

Those leaders - Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, and Linda Sarsour - have created an environment in which the specific concerns of Jewish and LGBTQ women are at best ignored and at worst exacerbated by their flimsy rationalizations of hate.  If they are to be true to their mission statement-"Women's March exists to fight discrimination and hatred in all forms"-the march leaders must acknowledge how their actions and their words have caused hurt and harm.

Most problematic is their association with Chicago's own Louis Farrakhan, who most recently dehumanized Jews by calling us "termites." Mallory has referred to Farrakhan as "G.O.A.T." (greatest of all time) and doubled down on her support for him when questioned about her support. Sarsour has praised Farrakhan on social media, called the Jewish desire for an independent state- Zionism- "creepy," and accused American Jews of the ancient anti-Semitic canard of dual loyalty.

Until Mallory, Perez, and Sarsour explicitly sever their ties with and disavow Farrakhan and stop demonizing Israel and its supporters, they are themselves perpetrators of anti-Semitism.

These leaders must finally address anti-Semitism seriously. No more rationalizations. No more minimization. No more indulging. The passive argument that the national Women's March is an organization whose agenda and accomplishments speak for themselves is simply not enough. The limp apology issued recently and follow-up statements by Linda Sarsour are too little, too late, and too equivocal. Specific steps must be outlined to ensure that the national Women's March will concretely oppose anti-Semitism, homophobia, and transphobia (all hateful ideologies espoused by Farrakhan) going forward.

Demonstrating the global concern arising over the direction the three leaders are steering the national march, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation- a liberal think tank associated with Germany's Social Democratic Party- suspended its presentation of a Human Rights Award to the Women's March. A statement from the foundation cited Sarsour's assertion that feminists could not also be Zionists and that Zionists were Nazis.

Closer to home, Mercy Morganfield, an African-American activist who headed the Women's March DC chapter, has also spoken out. She was marginalized by the national leaders once she tried to raise these concerns over anti-Semitism, including Mallory's not-so-subtle reference to Jews as "enemies of Jesus," which Morganfield observed is a trademark slur of white nationalism, not one that a liberal feminist movement should be promulgating.

Until we see these clear and unequivocal changes, Jews and all people of good conscience should disassociate from the national Women's March under its current leadership while continuing to both advance the movement's noble goals and advocate for an actionable plan countering anti-Semitism. I do not make this call lightly or without great sadness, for the goals and purposes of Women's March should be embraced by all, but at this time our collective efforts to fix the national Women's March are needed.

I join a growing chorus in this call: Women's March founder Theresa Shook has called for the current leaders to step down because "they have steered the Movement away from its true course." Actor and activist Alyssa Milano, who is credited with energizing the #MeToo movement last year, and actor Debra Messing have said they will not participate until the situation is resolved.

Meanwhile, the Women's March has inspired local organizations that have done tremendous work to unite women across social, racial, and ethnic lines, and it is heartening that many of these local organizations have adopted specific principles to counter anti-Semitism and other forms of hate and bigotry. For example, Women's March Chicago, a separate organization from the national entity, released a statement in March of 2018 immediately after Mallory's and Sarsour's support for Farrakhan became widely known:  

No universe exists in which it is acceptable to support anti-Semitic statements. Women's March Chicago condemns bigotry in all its forms. We reject Minister Louis Farrakhan's anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ views. Our work is to fight against social and racial injustice everywhere, no matter its source.

We must be vigilant in our struggle to ensure that anti-Semitism, like any other form of intolerance, is not normalized or excused, no matter who is espousing or rationalizing it. Unfortunately, history is rife with episodes when Jewish communities have faced discrimination because of who they are. Too often we faced such battles without allies.

The Chicago Women's March and other allies have demonstrated that in this most recent challenge, we are not alone. We must not allow our society to devolve into a culture where anti-Semitism is de rigueur . We must hold our leaders- whether of social movements or of government- accountable for their actions, their views, and their relationships. That is the only way to ensure that our society remains a democracy for all.

Rabbi Debra Newman Kamin is the spiritual leader of Am Yisrael Congregation in Northfield, and is president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international membership organization of Conservative Rabbis.

"Until Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour explicitly sever their ties with and disavow Farrakhan and stop demonizing Israel and its supporters, they are themselves perpetrators of anti-Semitism.   "

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