Women’s March must spurn anti-Semitism

In February 2018, social commentator Louis Farrakhan gave the keynote address for the Nation of Islam, a radical political and religious movement, at their national convention. As the leader of this organization, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has categorized as a hate group, Farrakhan claimed that Jewish people pose as natives in order to manipulate governments (Nation of Islam, “Saviors’ Day 2018 Keynote Address,” 02.23.2018). He said that Jesus “came to Jews in order to “end their civilization” and called Judaism a “dirty religion.” He accused the Jews of “turning men into women and women into men” and of using marijuana to feminize Black men (Nation of Islam). Attending this incoherent, anti-Semitic rant was none other than National Co-chair of the Women’s March Tamika D. Mallory. After the speech, she didn’t condemn Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism, nor did she acknowledge that any- thing Farrakhan had said was wrong. Instead, she stayed silent regarding Farrakhan’s bigotry, even posting about the event on social media (Refinery29, “Women’s March Leaders Have an Anti-Semitism Problem—Maybe It’s Time to Leave Them Behind,” 03.04.2018).

This upset a lot of people. In the weeks that followed, she and other Women’s March leaders received a barrage of criticism. For me, it was a reminder of how social justice activists like to preach equality while intentionally ignoring anti-Semitism, even as the rate of hate crimes against Jews increases (Tablet, “FBI: Jews Subject to 54% of Religiously Motivated Hate Crimes in 2016, Despite Being Just 2% of U.S. Population,” 11.13.2017).

To be fair to the Women’s March, they did provide a response. In a statement the organizers posted on Twitter, the organization affirmed their belief that they will not tolerate anti-Semitism, stating “Anti-Semitism…[is] and always will be indefensible” (Twitter, @wom- ensmarch, 03.06.2018). The statement condemned Farrakhan’s beliefs as not aligned with the organization’s values.

This may seem like a step in the right direction, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s too little too late. At no point in the statement did the organizers apologize for associating themselves with Farrakhan. At no point did the organizers acknowledge how much Jewish people felt betrayed as a result of their actions. At no point did the organizers even apologize for their actions. The statement didn’t demonstrate that the organizers cared about being anti-Semitic. Instead, they seemed more concerned about trying to avoid getting labeled as anti-Semitic than anything else.

This was not the first time that the Women’s March organizers had faced accusations of anti-Semitism. The organization’s problematic history with the Jewish people begins with their mission statement. In it, the Women’s March asserts their commitment to fighting for the rights of “Black women, Native women, poor women, immigrant women, disabled women, Muslim women, lesbian queer and trans women”; notably absent are Jewish women (Women’s March, “Our Mission”). Failing to mention Jewish women makes the Women’s March less intersectional than it could be. It would have been a signal of good faith to demonstrate that their intersectionality was inclusive of Jewish people; unfortunately, they missed that opportunity.

Mallory is not the only one of the organizers to have a problematic history with anti-Semitism. Linda Sarsour, one of the co-chairs of the Women’s March, has faced similar accusations. She is most well known for claiming that Zionism is inherently incompatible with feminism (The Nation, “Can You Be a Zionist Feminist? Linda Sarsour Says No,” 3.13.2017). This is ludicrous. Zionism is nothing more than the belief that Israel has a right to exist; to say that those who believe that the Jewish people have a right to self-determination ought to be exiled from the feminist movement is problematic and offensive.

In addition, Sarsour has put herself forward as an expert in anti-Semitism despite not being Jewish. Late last year, Sarsour participated in a panel on anti-Semitism at the New School, in which she explained how Jewish people can best combat anti-Semitism. This decision exposed her to massive backlash (Haaretz, “At anti-Semitism Panel, Linda Sarsour Asks, ‘I Am the Biggest Problem of the Jewish Community?’” 11.29.2017). This is not nearly as appalling, however, as her video on anti-Semitism that she made for Jewish Voice for Peace. In it, Sarsour lectures Jews, a group she does not belong to, about the ways they are wrong about anti-Semitism, something she has never experienced. She claims that anti-Semitism is not a systemic problem (Facebook, Jewish Voice for Peace). Let’s ignore for a moment that Jews were subject to 54 percent of religiously motivated hate crimes in the United States in 2016 (Tablet). Let’s ignore that, according to a major study by the Anti-Defamation League, only 33 percent of people in the world have both heard of the Holocaust and believe it has been accurately described by history (ADL Global 100: An Index of Anti-Semitism, 2014). Let’s ignore that the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance noted that, between 2006 and 2016, the denial and trivialisation of the Holocaust has increased hand-in-hand with the glorification of the Nazi past (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, “Antisemitism: Overview of data available in the European Union 2006-2016,” 11.2017).

Even if we ignored how dangerous and ludicrous it is to suggest that anti-Semitism is not systemic, these statements would be unacceptable. Sarsour is not Jewish, she is not an expert in anti-Semitism, and she has repeatedly made statements that have gotten her in trouble with Jewish people. She has no right to lecture me or anyone else about things she has never experienced. It is deplorable that she gets to continue to drown out Jewish voices under the guise of helping the Jewish people. At least Sarsour has never openly praised Farrakhan. For that, you’d have to look to Co-chair of the Women’s March Carmen Perez. In November of 2016, Perez shared a video featuring Farrakhan with the caption “Dropping knowledge at the State of the Black World Conference” (Instagram, 11.20.2016). She posted a now deleted photo of her holding hands with Farrakhan. She’s even went so far as actively defend him (Refinery29, “The Women’s March Wants to Change the World: Will We Let It?”, 1.18.2018).

However, even Perez does not have the most problematic history with Farrakhan. Instead, that title goes to Mallory, who, even before her now infamous attendance at the Nation of Islam’s national conference, had tied herself very closely with both the organization and Farrakhan himself. In May of 2017, Mallory posted a picture on instagram with Farrakhan, writing, “Thank God this man is still alive…He is definitely the GOAT [greatest of all time]” (Instagram, @tamikadmallory, 5.11.2017). Mallory’s official response to the allegations against her didn’t help her case, as she went out of her way to tie herself to the Nation of Islam. She admits that she had been attending Nation of Islam conferences regularly for over 30 years (Newsone, “Tamika Mallory Speaks: ‘Wherever My People Are Is Where I Must Be,’” 03.07.2018).

Even more disappointingly, Mallory’s state- ment at no point includes an apology. It at no point acknowledges the Nation of Islam’s history of anti-Semitism, homophobia and violence. It at no point even admits that Farrakhan is an anti-Semite. This is not the most disappointing element of her reaction: that would be her tweets in between the story breaking and the official response, when she seemed to go on anti-Semitic rants lashing out at those criticizing her. She wrote, “If your leader does not have the same enemies as Jesus, they may not be THE leader!” She also tweeted, “My point…Jesus had a number of enemies as do all black leaders” (Refinery29, “Women’s March Organizers Accused of Anti-Semitism- Again, 03.03.2018).

Who are the enemies of Jesus? According to what Farrakhan said at the very speech that Mallory attended, that enemy is the Jews, whose civilization Jesus had come to destroy. It’s possible that Mallory made this compari- son by mistake. That she has doubled down on these comments speaks volumes regarding her character. The consistent theme of these tweets is anti-Semitism, a refusal to apologize, a refusal to call out Farrakhan as a bigot and bitterness toward anyone who dare criticize her.

This demonstrates a lack of understanding as to why she should be held accountable to her actions. When Mallory helped organize the 2017 Women’s March, she became a social justice leader. In the past few months, she hasn’t acted like a leader. A leader has to carefully consider whom they associate with. A leader has to respectfully respond to criticism. A leader has to accept that everything they do has an impact on how their beliefs are perceived. Mallory has repeatedly associated herself with a hate group and with the infamous bigot at its center. She has repeatedly failed to be responsive to criticism. Most important, she has repeatedly failed to understand why what she does has an impact on how her beliefs, her movement and her ideology are perceived.

I have seen arguments that people are being too harsh on Mallory. The Root published an article on the matter titled “A Word About Louis Farrakhan and Tamika Mallory.” It acknowledges the pain that Farrakhan has caused, but asks for sympathy for Mallory and an understanding of the conditions that allowed for the Nation of Islam to gain influence. In preparation for this article, I read that piece and watched Farrakhan’s speech at the event Mallory attended in its entirety. I understand his appeal: He’s an excellent public speaker, and there are moments in which I was genuinely moved by what he was saying. However, I resent the implication that I, as a Jew, have to be understanding towards people who are supportive of Farrakhan. I am under no obligation to support any movement, any organization or any individual who does not respect my fundamental humanity.

Farrakhan has called Adolf Hitler a “very great man” (The New York Times, “Farrakhan Again Describes Hitler as a ‘Very Great Man,’” 07.17.1984). Farrakhan has said that Jesus came to earth on a mission to destroy Jewish civilization. I believe that the subtext of his statements is that he is calling for genocide against the Jewish people. Even if that is not his intent, his statements send a clear message that the world would be better off should the Jewish people stop existing. To say this is a call for genocide is not a far stretch. By not condemning him, Mal- lory reveals herself as indifferent to genocide.

I am not obligated to support the Women’s March if its organizers do not support my basic humanity, and neither is anyone else. I do not know if Mallory, Perez or Sarsour are truly anti-Semites. However, I do know that they have repeatedly failed to prove themselves as allies to the Jewish people, and by not condemning Farrakhan, they have done their movement, their ideology and every Jewish person who trusted them a disservice. We are owed an apology.

One Comment

  1. Ms Jesser, what you state here is sorely needed and it is good that you say but…It was not the Women’s March organizers, Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour are the only two leaders from the Women’s March who have smiled and kissed up to Farrakhan. The March is thousands of women and many are leaders. It is not fair to blame the entire group or all the group’s leaders for the actions of two people. I ask you to join me and in specifically calling out those who engage in this. I am a black American Muslim. There is bad in every group. For me, the first thing, we all need to do is clean up our own group and acknowledge the bad in them, then politely point out at the other group. Sansour is my group. She is a Muslim with children. Never would she let her children be with Farrakhan and it rank hypocrisy that she smiles at him ruining other people’s kids because the are black. Mallory it seems a part of her is engaged in child-like thinking. She is so busy being a follower and it has blinded her from from seeing that what she is following rejects Martin Luther King.

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