Almost everyone agrees that the first Women’s March two years ago was impressive. Hundreds of thousands of women and their supporters marched on Washington, D.C., in the name of human rights, gender and racial equality, and freedom of religion. Recognized as the largest single-day protest in U.S. history, the event came one day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, and provided the intended counterpoint to the divisiveness engendered by his campaign.
To some, the success of the Women’s March was viewed as a promise of equality for the future. But two years after that historic day, as we stand on the cusp of the next Women’s March — scheduled for Jan. 19, with smaller marches planned in cities across the United States — the leaders of that movement have betrayed the mission of equality by embracing unapologetic anti-Semites like Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and by displaying a distressing ease in promoting anti-Semitism.
According to Linda Sarsour, one of the march founders and a Palestinian-American pro-BDS activist, one cannot be both a feminist and a Zionist. “You either stand up for the rights of all women, including Palestinians, or none,” she declared. “There’s just no way around it.” But her admonition does not appear to apply when the rights of Jews are involved.
Thus, when Farrakhan referred to Jews as “termites” during a speech in Detroit this past fall, fellow co-founder Tamika Mallory was noticeably silent. Eight months earlier, Mallory attended a Chicago rally at which Farrakhan announced that the “powerful Jews are my enemy,” and that the “Satanic” Jews are “responsible for all of this filth and degenerate behavior that Hollywood is putting out turning men into women and women into men.”
Mallory, who was given a shout-out in Farrakhan’s speech, did not condemn Farrakhan’s remarks. Instead, she doubled down in support of his hateful Jew-baiting and posted an Instagram photo of the two of them with the caption, “Thank God this man is still alive and doing well. He is definitely the … greatest of all time.”
The world has long recognized that the failure to condemn hate speech is to condone it. And the silence of Women’s March leaders in the face of hate speech about Jews and Israel should be a deal breaker for all Jews who care about justice and the rights of minorities.
Fortunately, not everyone has followed the leaders. Women’s March activists in other places, including New Orleans, Chicago, Rhode Island and Florida, have either severed ties with the national organization or have canceled their marches. Pittsburgh’s Women’s March, however, will proceed as planned, and its ties to the national organization continue.
At both the national and the local levels, a few Jewish groups, including Bend the Arc, have engaged in dialogue with Women’s March leaders in an effort to educate them and persuade them to take an unambiguous stand against anti-Semitism. To date, no obvious progress has been made. Yes, there have been a few written statements condemning anti-Semitism in general terms, issued by both the national and Pittsburgh’s Women’s March, but those statements avoid any reference to the specific instances of anti-Semitism with which they are associated.
As recently as Monday, in an interview on “The View,” Mallory still failed to denounce Farrakhan and his hateful rhetoric despite being given several opportunities to do so. And, despite receiving no financial support from the national movement, Pittsburgh’s Women’s March has not abandoned its connection to the national organization, nor condemned its leaders.
We support dialogue with those who may need help understanding the uniqueness of the bigotry of anti-Semitism, and encourage those Jews willing to do so to continue in that dialogue. Dialogue, however, is distinct from endorsement. If, after dialogue, leaders of the Women’s March still stand by anti-Semites, we see no justification for a Jewish person to march with that organization.
After the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue building on Oct. 27, Jewish Pittsburghers have a particular responsibility to call out anti-Semitism wherever we see it — on the right or on the left. Today, we see it on the left, and we stand firmly with those who have abandoned the charade of Sarsour, Mallory and friends — self-centered, hate-mongering, hypocritical equality advocates, who don’t want to be infested by Jewish “termites.” PJC