As a queer Jew of color, I greeted the Women’s March with great pride and hope when it was first started. The promise that seemed to inhere in a political group organized by queer women of color was of a future I have longed for all my life.
But all too soon, the Women’s March broke my heart. Its leaders, Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour, famously refused to repudiate known anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan after he made horrifically anti-Semitic remarks at an event that Mallory proudly attended.
Ever since, it’s gone from bad to worse, as the leaders of the Women’s March have chosen to opine on Israel, a state of which I’m a proud citizen.
On the heels of her refusal to denounce an outspoken anti-Semite, Mallory visited Israel and the West Bank. It will come as no surprise that Mallory’s one takeaway was that the founding of the State of Israel was a “human rights crime.”
“When you go to someone’s home and you need a place to stay, you ask ‘Can I come into your home and can I stay here, and can we peacefully coexist?’” she said shortly after returning to the United States. “You don’t walk into someone else’s home, needing a place. It’s clear you needed a place to go–cool, we got that! I hear that! But you don’t show up to somebody’s home, needing a place to stay, and decide that you’re going to throw them out and hurt the people who are on that land,” she went on. “And to kill, steal, and do whatever it is you’re gonna do to take that land! That to me is unfair. It’s a human rights crime.”
This statement is extremely ignorant. The Jews didn’t “steal” or “take that land.” The Jews won a war that the Arab nations waged against them. They were coming home to their ancestral homeland after the Nazis tried to wipe them off the planet, or, like my family, they were of the 850,000 Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa fleeing persecution. They didn’t “show up in somebody’s home” as Mallory put it.
But Mallory’s words aren’t just ignorant. They are racist. Accusing half of the world’s Jewish population of stealing, killing and committing crimes against humanity, for the mere fact of their existence, is unacceptable.
And yet, Mallory just couldn’t help herself. And she’s not alone. At the same event, Sarsour, too, set Israel up as a litmus test for Jews wanting to join activism spaces. “People … are apparently very uncomfortable because we talk about Palestine, and [how] it might alienate some people,” she said. “Well, people are going to have to come to terms with being uncomfortable: Palestine is the global social justice cause of our generation.”
The thing is, people aren’t made uncomfortable by their criticism of Israel, or their support for Palestinians. This is a straw man argument, cynically deployed to protect Mallory and Sarsour from what Jews are actually upset about: The anti-Semitism of their affiliation with Farrakhan, the whiff of anti-Semitism one gets when people deny that Israel has always been the homeland of the Jews, and the outright racism of accusing seven million Jews of being thieves and murderers.
Being a queer person of color, I fully support the struggle for equality; I must. I am also the first to criticize my government when it does wrong, the first to admit that my country is not perfect, and I am on the front lines of fighting to change Israel into a country with younger, more liberal leaders. I believe in social progress.
But why is it that Mallory, coming from the United States as a postmodern tourist, thinks herself an expert on the history of this country overnight and actively promotes an anti-Israel destructionist agenda?
Time and again, liberal and social justice and racial justice organizations turn into propaganda machines against Israel. I have repeatedly seen this backwards activism in the LGBTQ community, where small groups use their LGBTQ identity to fight against Israel, and more recently in the Black Lives Matter movement. Now, the leaders of the Women’s March are using their human rights campaign to promote politics alienating those who are Jewish and pro-Israel.
They are trying to turn being pro-Israel into an anti-social justice cause.
Many liberal Jews in America don’t see Mallory and Sarsour as an immediate threat because right now, they are not. Nor are the anti-Israel activists within BLM, or the “Queers against Israel.” But when statements like Mallory’s go unchallenged, or are met with minimal outrage, it means that we are in deep trouble. Because we are still one people–the Jewish people–and a racist attack against half of us is an attack against all of us.
Israel is not perfect. On Friday, a Palestinian medic was tragically shot in the clashes on the Gaza border. There will be a full army investigation. But I can admit it when my country does wrong, which should hardly put me in the company of those who discriminate against people of color across the Middle East, who oppress the LGBTQ community throughout the region, who force gender reassignment surgeries in Iran, or who hang those whose sole crime is being gay. You would think feminists like Mallory and Sarsour might make a statement about the abuse and enslavement of non-Muslims in Qatar, for example, the country with the largest number of modern-day slaves.
The single-minded focus on Israel’s crimes, culminating in calling the entire country’s existence “a human rights crime,” is a unique combination of ignorance and racism that is sadly all too common on the left. We must demand better.
Hen Mazzig is an Israeli writer, public speaker, and digital communications consultant from Tel Aviv.