Since its inception, the Women’s March has had a problem with anti-Semitism. Recent events have drawn attention to these attitudes that previously percolated just below the surface. Now, the leaders of the Women’s March have a binary choice: either condemn anti-Semitism and force its leaders to sever relationships with those who espouse anti-Semitic beliefs, or double down and risk losing momentum.
On Monday, Women’s March founder Teresa Shook called on current leaders of the movement to step down, saying that they “have steered he movement away from its true course” by allowing anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in their ranks.
Bob Bland, Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour and Carmen Perez of Women’s March, Inc. have steered the Movement away from its true course. I have waited, hoping they would right the ship. But they have not. In opposition to our Unity Principles, they have allowed anti-Semitism, anti-LBGTQIA sentiment and hateful, racist rhetoric to become a part of the platform by their refusal to separate themselves from groups that espouse these racist, hateful beliefs. I call for the current Co-Chairs to step down and to let others lead who can restore faith in the Movement and its original intent.
In response, the Women’s March condemned their founder’s remarks, saying that she had weighed in “irresponsibly.”
Today, Teresa Shook weighed in, irresponsibly, as have other organizations attempting in this moment to take advantage of our growing pains to try and fracture our network. Groups that have benefited from our work but refuse to organize in accordance with our Unity Principles clearly have no interest in building the world our principles envision. They have not done the work to mobilize women from diverse backgrounds across the nation.
Last month, a shooter opened fire in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, killing 11 people. The suspected shooter’s anti-Semitic statements drew the attention to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has connections to several Women’s March leaders. In a recent speech that he tweeted out just days before the deadly synagogue shooting, Farrakhan compared Jews to termites. In the past, he has called Adolf Hitler a “great man.”
I'm not an anti-Semite. I’m anti-Termite. pic.twitter.com/L5dPQcnVg4
— MINISTER FARRAKHAN (@LouisFarrakhan) October 16, 2018
In a speech last February, Farrakhan said “the powerful Jews are my enemy.” At that same speech, he acknowledged Women’s March co-founder Tamika Mallory, who has posted photos of her and Farrakhan together on Instagram, with a caption praising him. In an open letter, Sarsour said the shooting was pushing members of the media to rehash old news.
“The Farrakhan controversy began 8 months ago when Jake Tapper and Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL ‘exposed/promoted’ a video of the Minister Farrakhan at an annual gathering for the Nation of Islam,” she wrote. “Then the horrific tree of life shooting happened that took the life of 11 innocent Jewish Americans and all of a sudden Women’s March was being asked to condemn the Minister Farrakhan. There was nothing new that happened between Women’s March and the Minister.”
Ties to Farrakhan aren’t the Women’s March’s only anti-Semitism problem, however. In a recent interview with MuslimGirl, U.S. Representative-Elect Ilham Omar confirmed that she supports the “boycott, divestment, and sanctions” movement (BDS), which aims to delegitimize Israel in favor of the Palestinian people.
In response to the backlash Omar received for her statement, Women’s March leader Linda Sarsour, who has called for a “jihad” against the Trump administration and once said that Zionists can’t be feminists, posted a message of support for Omar and her position against Israel.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) November 16, 2012
“She’s being attacked for saying that she supports BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) and the right for people to engage in constitutionally protected freedoms,” Sarsour wrote in a Facebook post last Thursday. “This is not only coming from the right-wing but some folks who masquerade as progressives but always choose their allegiance to Israel over their commitment to democracy and free speech.”
Critics slammed Sarsour’s statement, accusing her of anti-Semitism.
“Accusing Jews of dual loyalty is one of the oldest and most pernicious antisemitic tropes,” The American Jewish Committee tweeted, according to Haaretz. “No surprise to see it coming from @LSarsour. How long will progressive leaders continue to look the other way in the face of this hate?”
Last month, actress Alyssa Milano, who’s been a leader in the Women’s March movement, said she wouldn’t speak at next year’s march unless Mallory and Sarsour speak out against Farrakhan, adding that it’s “unfortunate that none of them have come forward against him at this point.”
“Any time that there is any bigotry or anti-Semitism in that respect, it needs to be called out and addressed. I’m disappointed in the leadership of the Women’s March that they haven’t done it adequately,” Milano said in an interview with The Advocate.
In response, the Women’s March released a statement condemning Farrakhan’s comments, but defended Mallory and Sarsour, stating that they have “risked their safety to build a bold direct action strategy that addresses the real threat against our communities and country — the threat of white nationalism, which is fueled by anti-Black racism and anti-Semitism.”
“We recognize the danger of hate rhetoric by public figures,” the statement read. “We want to say emphatically that we do not support or endorse statements made by Minister Louis Farrakhan about women, Jewish and LGBTQ communities.”
“We all know the real cause of violence and oppression of our communities,” the statement continued. “This is well-documented and inspired by vile rhetoric coming from the Trump administration and from members of the Republican Party.”
Condemning Farrakhan’s rhetoric while defending its leaders who continue to have a relationship with the Nation of Islam leader is not enough to appease those who are frustrated at the movement’s intersection with anti-Semitism. As fractures within the movement’s leadership are becoming increasingly visible, the Women’s March needs to decide what its priorities are. Is the Women’s March willing to continue issuing statements that only half-condemn anti-Semitism and risk deepening the divisions inside and out of the movement? Or will it finally take a firm stance against it?