Women’s March leaders hurt the cause by tolerating anti-Semitism

Tamika Mallory, right, co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington, talks during an interview with fellow co-chairs Carmen Perez, left, and Linda Sarsour, January 9, 2017 in New York.
Tamika Mallory, right, co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington, talks during an interview with fellow co-chairs Carmen Perez, left, and Linda Sarsour, January 9, 2017 in New York. AP Photo

I was one of the founding organizers of the Women’s March on Raleigh (2017) and the Women’s Raleigh on Rally (2018), and I am Jewish. Our ad hoc group of over 200 volunteers is not affiliated with the National Women’s March. We organized in solidarity. I join Teresa Shook (whose Facebook post is credited with the idea for the Women’s March) in calling on the board of the National Women’s March to step down, including Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, Carmen Perez, and Bob Bland. Their acts and omissions with relationship to anti-Semitism distract from the Women’s March and its allies, and cause harm.

Anti-Semitism is on the rise. At the 2017 Unite the Right march in Charlottesville, the crowd chanted “Jews will not replace us!” as they marched past a synagogue. In October 2018, a self-described conservative and white nationalist killed 11 worshipers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Last month, a prom photo of a Wisconsin high school apparently doing the Seig Heil went viral. Jews are being targeted locally, as well: this summer and again this the fall, threats were sent to Triangle area temples.

We cannot equivocate in the face of anti-Semitism and violence. We cannot be silent. We cannot give a pass to an elder for inciting anti-Semitism because he has done other great things. Each member of the board of the National Women’s March has done one or more of these things and in so doing has contributed to allowing anti-Semitism to fester within the women’s movement.

Board Members Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour and Carmen Perez have attended rallies led by Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader. While Farrakhan has done great works, he also foments hate and discrimination against multiple communities at his rallies. Regarding Jews, he has compared us to termites, called us bloodsuckers, and exalted Hitler as a ”very great man.”

Mallory and Sarsour asked not to be held accountable for Farrakhan’s words. They argued it takes away from their agency, and it is unfair to hold them accountable for his hate speech. Indeed, it would be unfair to hold them accountable had they not attended his speeches, praised his leadership, or raised his profile but they have done all of these things.

In fact, Mallory posted an instagram picture of herself with Farrakhan after a rally, calling him the “GOAT” - the greatest of all time. Those words hurt. To add to the specter of anti-Semitism, Mallory tweeted a classic rallying cry of anti-Semites in the midst of being questioned about Mr. Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism. She tweeted, “If your leader does not have the same enemies as Jesus, they may not be THE leader!” The Anti-Semitic reasoning is that Jews are the enemies of Jesus and so deserve persecution. She remained unmoved even after having the appearance of anti-Semitism explained.

Sarsour and Perez have been more specific in condemning Farrakhan’s hate speech, but not his leadership. In addition, they have stepped onto anti-Semitic landmines regarding the way they discuss Jews and the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. They and Bob Bland also support Mallory’s approach to addressing anti-Semitism.

The board of the National Women’s March reflects on all of the women and allies of the movement. Part of embracing intersectionality is conscientiously listening, talking, and helping address the wrongs we even commit against each other. In this spirit, I am calling in the board of the National Women’s March. Their struggles with anti-Semitism are wounding; stepping down to work together with their Jewish sisters and allies to continue the important dialogue essential in an intersectional movement would be healing. Handing over leadership to other extraordinary women who are free from the specter of anti-Semitism would be uniting.

Shana Becker of Raleigh, is a lawyer and former lobbyist for consumer rights and renewable energy,. She was a founding organizer of the Women’s March on Raleigh (2017) and Women’s Rally on Raleigh (2018). To work on this year’s event, check out the Facebook page @WomensMarchNC.