Daniel J. Cohen is President of Indivisible Houston
National Women’s March has undoubtedly impacted the US political atmosphere in ways that have empowered previously uninvolved masses. Emboldened by the show of force in the face of the sexism of the 45 Regime, the Women’s March sparked a national movement, conversation, and expanded the playbook for how to fight for women’s rights and stem the tide of authoritarianism.
Unfortunately, Women’s March’s national organization has lost its credibility and poisoned its own spirit based on one very simple yet disturbing fact:
In the past, this criticism has often surrounded Linda Sarsour’s comments on Israeli policy and the philosophy of Zionism. She has toed the line in many past statements, always bending her rhetoric back toward what might plausibly be seen as a reference to military and political policy rather than the Jewish people. Some have accepted her in spite of toeing that line while others have claimed she crossed it and dog whistled Jews.
Yet more recently, Women’s March has left a smoking gun to its anti-Semitism that should be spotlighted, called out, and denounced by ALL organizations - particularly progressives. On February 28th- fellow Women’s March Founder Tamika Mallory stood by while Louis Farrakhan delivered an address to the 2018 Saviours’ Day event at Wintrust Arena in Chicago, an annual event organized by the Nation of Islam.
Farrakhan’s speech was as anti-Semitic as any speech ever delivered. Let's quote some of the lines spewed in the same breath as his praise of Mallory:
- Jews are "the mother and father of apartheid"
- "The powerful Jews are my enemy"
- The Jews have a "grip on the media" and Hollywood and "how the Jews were responsible for all of this filth and degenerate behavior that Hollywood is putting out turning men into women and women into men.”
- The Jews control agencies of government such as the “FBI”.
- "Let me tell you something when you want something in this world, the Jew holds the door."
- “White folks are going down. And Satan is going down. And Farrakhan ...has pulled the cover off the eyes of that Satanic Jew and I’m here to say your time is up, your world is through."
- "What did Billy Graham say about Jews?... He was in the oval office. He said 'this stranglehold has got to be broken or this country's going down the drain" And Nixon said, "you believe that?" And Mr. Graham said, "Yes sir!" "He said, "Oh boy, so do I. I can't ever say that, but I believe it."
- He spoke of Nixon’s words with approval: "He ((Nixon) Ain't got no balls. But I got watermelons!"
At the start of this speech, Mallory received a personal shout-out from Farrakhan on the stage and shared a video and a photo from the event on her Instagram page. There is no plausible deniability here or defense of “Guilt by Association” or a witch hunt. This wasn’t a scenario where she might have gone to the bathroom and missed “the bad part” of the speech. It wasn’t her attending the church of someone who said five hateful things over 30 years.
It was standing by and getting a shout-out at the beginning of the speech, taking pictures on stage, and remaining entirely, self-righteously silent in the face of criticism.
It was, as one person put it, “Guilt by Participation”.
Imagine the reaction if the word “African Americans” or “Latinos” or “Palestinian” had replaced “Jew” in that speech. Imagine the reaction Linda Sarsour would have had to the cannon being aimed at her while Tamika Mallory clapped her hands and cheered an extremist West Bank Israeli settler.
Imagine the response Sarsour would have had.
For those who might make the case that Mallory was not the messenger and nearly stood by, you can save it. In the same breath in which the man who praised Adolf Hitler for his greatness spent hours railing against Jews, Farrakhan praised Ms. Mallory and took an open shot at the trans community. In return, she posted selfies with him on Instagram. Her Twitter feed was silent on the issue of anti-Semitism. And the Women’s March moved forward for a day with nothing to say about the behavior of one of its co-founders.
Presently, the response of the Women’s March to any rightful criticism from activists and advocates has been mostly silence. The March has released no official statement. The closest thing to a response from the organization has ranged from the guarded, indirect, and non-committal to outright indignation at the rightful accusation of anti-Semitism:
Women’s March Comms and Outreach Strategist Sophie Ellman-Golan first tweeted a generic statement about how Farrakhan’s speech made her feel “bad and angry”:
Tbh it made me feel pretty bad and angry. https://t.co/tFhXXXpscv
— Sophie Ellman-Golan (@EgSophie) February 28, 2018
The tweet conspicuously fails to mention Mallory.
She has also cryptically pinned a tweet from April of 2017 to the top of her feed addressing “antisemitism and racism on the left”.
Hi it's me your friendly neighborhood feminist killjoy here to remind you that the right doesn't have a monopoly on anti-Semitism & racism.
— Sophie Ellman-Golan (@EgSophie) April 19, 2017
She has more recently taken a harsher tone toward Farrakhan, but still has not mentioned her colleague:
Louis Farrakhan is homophobic. He is transphobic. And he is antisemitic to the point of obsession.
It’s not just his statements; it’s him. https://t.co/rE1QuAIBQD
— Sophie Ellman-Golan (@EgSophie) March 3, 2018
Mallory has been unapologetic about her approach and denies any wrongdoing whatsoever.
Family...thank you for loving me and for knowing the truth about who I am. My work speaks for itself...my words have been clear...my love for people is deep. Whatever else they say about me is a LIE. Thank you for continuing to hold me up. I stand on my reputation!
— Tamika D. Mallory (@TamikaDMallory) March 2, 2018
She has taken the time to write a long thread seemingly in reference to the event, but the thread simply denies any wrongdoing rather than addressing the issue itself.
Find the full thread here.
Sarsour has been hypocritical, defensive, accusatory and nonsensical. She has made three Facebook posts that seem to speak to different aspects of the Farrakhan speech.
The first lectures about how specific approaches to changing someone’s mind- including “lecturing”- are not persuasive:
The second is a long, self-righteous rant in which she passes the point of no return in an unwillingness to even reflect on how hurtful and divisive Mallory’s actions were. Sarsour immediately defends Mallory in a way that implies she is beyond being even “questioned” and that she “shouldn’t have to” “take shit from nobody”.
Then she namedrops herself as highly “targeted” (which she likely is) and points the finger at- of all people- anyone willing to criticize her on her own side of the aisle. She points the finger at “Hateful oppositional forces, yes, even some of the “progressives” and the “allies”.”
(Who sometimes deserve criticism, but in this case have done nothing but point out Mallory’s anti-Jewish rhetoric).
She then states “We do what is right to alleviate suffering and raise awareness on the issues plaguing our communities.” (Remember, this is in context of a day when her organization is under fire for glad-handing someone who ripped the Jews as harshly as possible in a three-hour speech).
Then she accuses others of having a “double standard”.
(Again, remember this is in defense of a fellow organizer standing there while Farrakhan used every horrific Jewish stereotype in the book and saying nothing).
She then called states that “A woman should be judged for her own words and her deeds.”... yet again, offers not one drop of adjustment or apologetics for her co-organizer, who has leveraged the symbology of the “enemies of Jesus” in the discussion over the last few days to “rebut” rightful critiques of her attendance at Farrakhan’s event:
If your leader does not have the same enemies as Jesus, they may not be THE leader! Study the Bible and u will find the similarities. Ostracizing, ridicule and rejection is a painful part of the process...but faith is the substance of things!
— Tamika D. Mallory (@TamikaDMallory) March 1, 2018
And finally, near the end, Sarsour claims:
“We should also always be open to checking our own misgivings and internal biases and racism.”...
but fails to acknowledge that she has a terrifyingly strong internal bias against the Jewish people.
Here is that second post in its entirety:
Her third post is a soft, patronizing post about her close Jewish friends that all but states they are “the good ones”:
“open and welcoming”?
I don’t feel so welcome, and I’m not alone.
And what “productive vision” is she talking about exactly?
The one where anti-Jewish apologists go on a publicity tour the day after a huge moral mistake
"We can disagree & still love each other, unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression & denial of my humanity and right to exist."
— Linda Sarsour (@lsarsour) November 11, 2016
Make no mistake: Silence about the issue is complicit.
People are trying to reason with Sarsour on these threads, but they’re not getting through.
I fully realize the “optics” of a mostly white movement criticizing a women’s movement, particularly when the author of the piece is a white man. Yet neither my maleness nor my whiteness can deny the fact that writing this article was the right thing to do. For all the intersectional challenges of the Left, this was a simple choice: either stand with Louis Farrakhan and anti-semitism or make a stand up for progressive values.
Mallory chose Farrakhan.
We’re not perfect as an organization, but the high ground is valid here. When the Muslim Ban hit early in the Trump Administration, Indivisible Houston organizers stood with Muslims in the airport at Bush Intercontinental. When Dan Patrick came to Houston to give an award to a local broadcaster, we honored the broadcaster in our own way while bird-dogging Patrick over trans and immigrant issues. When our immigrant siblings hold actions, we show up. When BLM Houston holds actions, we show up. When our PSR sisters hold actions, we show up. We stand with groups under fire regularly and do our best to help. If we don’t believe something will help or are told something will not help, we don’t do it. We’re conscious of the space we take up in each movement, a decision that varies from member to member of our organization and action to action.
There is a distinct uptick in Anti-Semitism in the United States. Anti-Jewish rhetoric. The ADL reported that anti-Semitic incidents were up last year 57% over the previous year. Alaska Representative Don Young horrifyingly asked, "How many Jews were put in the ovens because they were unarmed?" (thus entirely erasing every Jewish uprising that took place during the Holocaust and replacing it with an alt-right history that would make Richard Spencer and Stormfront proud). A Nazi is running on the Republican ticket for Illinois’ 3rd congressional seat. The Trump Administration erased Jews from its Holocaust Remembrance Day statement. Trump’s “America First” slogan originated in World War 2 era anti-Jewish rhetoric thinly veiled as “non-interventionism”, a rhetorical device that is now once again popular with the Right. When former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke endorsed his campaign, Trump was late and pathetic in any supposed condemnation. Trump nearly seated an outwardly white supremacist delegate at the Republican National Convention. Trump’s temporary Deputy Assistant Sebastian Gorka has a long history of anti-Semitic associations, so long that Occam’s Razor indicates they are more true than false (undoubtedly, he would use this line against the Jews). Steve Bannon’s history is equally littered. And, as always, we on the Left still face the ongoing claim that we have been paid to protest by billionaire George Soros, a dog whistle of a claim that has, does, and always will evoke anti-Semitism. (And by the way, I’m still waiting for my Soros check. Maybe Steve Bannon can secure some Mercer money for me).
It’s wrong for us to bite our tongues, even when it is uncomfortable to do so. Nobody but an agitator WANTS to write 2000+ word articles dogging the Women’s March. I don’t WANT to go to bat against ANYONE who is pushing for a clean DREAM Actor single-payer healthcare or racial and socioeconomic justice. None of us have time for it. Our prison system is systemically biased and rotten to the core. Laws protecting the people’s food, air and water are being steadily eroded. Teachers are expected to be human shields. We treat black and brown neighborhoods like shit. Our schools don’t book. Overreach runs rampant. Support programs are cut first while the security state gets the bulk of the budget.
Things are messed up.
Yet we must never forget, as the saying goes, what has happened to the Jewish people in world history.
As the National Holocaust Museum’s Introduction to the Holocaust so succinctly puts it:
“The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. Holocaust is a word of Greek origin meaning "sacrifice by fire." The Nazis, who came to power in Germany in January 1933, believed that Germans were "racially superior" and that the Jews, deemed "inferior," were an alien threat to the so-called German racial community.”
During the era of the Holocaust, German authorities also targeted other groups because of their perceived "racial inferiority": Roma (Gypsies), the disabled, and some of the Slavic peoples (Poles, Russians, and others). Other groups were persecuted on political, ideological, and behavioral grounds, among them Communists, Socialists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and homosexuals.”
That’s over six million Jews and more than 13 million people based first and foremost on the belief that the Jews were the world’s largest problem. But that’s just a statistic; how can we ever truly explain the horrors done to the Jewish people in that massacre alone?
The one-night destruction of thousands of Jewish shops?
The genocide of several generations of Jews for individual families?
German troops siccing dogs on children no older than toddlers?
Infants massacred without a second thought?
Elders worked to death?
Did people pack into trains for days en route to death camps?
Medical experimentation that deprived babies of touch? Intentional freezing, blood clotting, malaria infection, and sterilization? Exposure to liquid and gaseous poisons? Experimental organ transplants with unknown outcomes?
All the while, the German government leveraged blood libel and propaganda to paint the Jews as the enemy and justify their behavior to the masses. They attacked the press, ingrained stereotypes associated with banking in the public mind, and spun a mythos of the Jews as an ultimate threat to the world.
Just like Louis Farrakhan.
In fact, the quotes Farrakhan praised from Nixon and Graham left those men’s mouths less than thirty years after the liberation of European death camps.
Name a country on the planet and you’ll find anti-Semitism. Italy elections just rocked Europe with the far-right M5S party emerging as the single biggest winner. France had to stave off right-wing nationalists in its last election. County after country in Europe is seeing a rise in fascist factions.
Anti-Jewish rhetoric- as demonstrated by Farrakhan- knows no border and no skin color. The fight against anti-Semitism never ends.
And that’s why we can’t let Mallory and the Women’s March off the hook with what they have done: propagated the message of a hate-monger. We need to make sure they reflect and acknowledge their mistakes so the world knows they occurred.
Here is what Women’s March should do and what affiliated marches should do:
- Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour owe apologies, if not resignations. I’d consider the first in lieu of the second. I am sure we can arrange an invite for her to our neighborhood synagogues to learn just what kind of people Farrakhan attacked and how hurtful and hateful his attacks were.
- Individual Women’s Marches around the United States should distance themselves from the National Women’s March until an apology is made. To allow the national movement to poison the value of individual marches is to divide Jews from feminism and the progressive movement.
Anyone can do something tone-deaf, damaging, or prejudiced. How they follow up makes a huge difference as to how sincere they are in efforts to move beyond their mistakes. The ideal outcome in this scenario would have been for the Women’s March to do better, not double down on doing worse, which is what they have done so far.
The Women’s March often uses the phrase “Together We Rise”. “We” need to know that that “We” includes Jews.
I do my absolute best to stand with women. Particularly, the Jewish women I know play a big part in joining hands with the strong black and brown women I know, and my LGBTQ siblings (who were also attacked by Farrakhan).
Even so, sometimes, I fuck up. It happens.
And when I do, I try to make amends.
Women’s March should do the same.