The Women’s March Statement on anti-Semitism is not nearly enough to begin healing the pain its leaders have caused Jewish women. It’s good to finally hear the March publicly disagree with Louis Farrakhan’s hateful comments on women, LGBTQ communities, and Jews. This is a positive first step. That said, disagreeing with hate is not the same as FIGHTING IT.
The Women’s March leadership must take some responsibility for the situation they have created. Three of the four co-directors have long-standing relationships with the leader of an anti-Semitic, anti-trans, anti-gay hate group. Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, and Carmen Perez have all proudly declared their friendship and partnership with Farrakhan on various occasions. Beyond Farrakhan, Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory have continued to offend and hurt the community by speaking as experts on anti-Semitism despite community opposition, hurling unfounded accusations at the Anti-Defamation League, opining on Jewish history, blaming Israel for President Trump’s Muslim ban and claiming that anti-Semitism isn’t a systemic hatred. They have shown no remorse and no interest in community dialogue.
These leaders of the movement continue to treat calls for accountability and reconciliation from Jewish allies as unfair, personal attacks. In actuality, the criticism they face is the result of their own actions over the course of more than a year, in which they erased, degraded, and marginalized Jewish women and their concerns in the face of the Trump administration and rising anti-Semitism. Jewish women are never even mentioned in their statement. Instead, they remain focused on unfair attacks from the right.
Rather than own up to the hurt they have done to Jewish women, the Women’s March leadership tries to deflect responsibility to right-wing sources in the Republican Party and the Trump administration. While undoubtedly the march leaders have faced racism, Islamophobia, and misogyny from the right, their ongoing anti-Semitism problem is not an invention of right wingers. The only reason the right is able to keep pushing the narrative of progressive feminists who support anti-Semitism is that the Women’s March has spurned all attempts at engagement, dialogue, and healing from the mainstream Jewish community. Progressive Jewish activists, including myself, have long sought productive dialogue with Women’s March leadership and seen no willingness to do that in any meaningful, sincere way. This refusal to own up to their actions and accept constructive criticism has given the right weapons in the war of “whataboutism,” while weakening the progressive movement in its fight against the growing threat of hatred and white nationalism caused by President Trump. And make no mistake, this is not a self-indulgent question. Jewish women are uniquely vulnerable to the growing threat of white nationalism, and when they demand more from feminist leadership it is because they understand how much is at stake.
In truth, the problem goes far beyond Farrakhan. The Women’s March has repeatedly tried to redefine who can be a feminist, and coming up with the same answer—not Jews, or only Jews who play by the rules set without any concern or input from Jewish women. You can be a feminist, but not if you’re a Zionist—excluding approximately 80 percent of Jews off the bat. You can be a Jewish feminist only if you take a view of Jewish history that was not written by Jews and is ahistorical to Jewish life. You can fight for racial justice, but not if you support Jewish civil rights groups like the Anti-Defamation League. You can be a Jew who is concerned about anti-Semitism, but only if you accept a definition that women who aren’t Jewish put forth who claim that this ancient hatred isn’t systemic. Intersectional feminism is a vital part of the progressive movement. The struggle over who defines feminism, and the question of what biases they hold and how, intentionally or not, those taint the movement, is deeply connected to the success of progressive causes in both the short and long term.
Trust me, I would much rather devote my full attention to fighting Trump than battling my supposed allies. I would rather feel camaraderie, solidarity, and sisterhood in the fight against this racist, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, xenophobic and homophobic administration. Pushing your own side to live its values is difficult but it is utterly essential in order to offer inclusivity, equity, and justice as an alternative to racism, white nationalism, and Trumpism. We must be the model of our own values. This can’t include deciding to ignore the voices of historically oppressed groups, especially when they challenge us to be better. A progressive movement that decides certain hatreds can be allowed to flourish is weak and doomed to undermine its own goal of defeating Trumpism and the threat white nationalism poses to all Americans.
Progressives must fight for our values. We cannot allow our movement to stand for partnering with hate, attending hate-group events, cheering violent speeches where minorities are called termites and satanic. We cannot allow our movement to erase marginalized people when they raise questions or concerns about their own oppression, It’s not inclusive to refuse to mention Jews in your anti-oppression statement because you question whether oppression against them counts. It’s not inclusive to repeatedly offend a community and refuse to take any accountability for your actions. It’s not progressive to sit on panels and define another community’s history and relationship to hatred, especially when leaders and activists from that community who are on the frontline of fighting hatred have repeatedly asked you not to do so. Women’s March leaders must cease trying to make themselves public authorities who get to define what anti-Semitism is and isn’t. There is nothing intersectional or feminist about speaking over marginalized women—actually, the word for this assumption that you are capable of defining another community’s relationship with oppression is appropriation.
Instead of putting out more defensive, deflective statements, the leaders of the Women’s March must open themselves up and take action to heal the very real pain they have caused Jewish women. They can start by finally listening to us and inviting us in as partners in the conversation. In order to stem the rise of Trumpism, we must all fight the hatred and bias within ourselves, our movements and our communities. Holding the Women’s March accountable isn’t some right-wing invention, it’s a struggle led by lifelong progressive activists for the very soul of the justice movement when America needs it most. It is not too late for the Women’s March to confront these challenges head-on and build a stronger movement against hate, but the time is now.
Carly Pildis is the Director of Grassroots Organizing for the Jewish Democratic Council of America, and an advocacy professional based in Washington, D.C. Her Twitter feed is @carlypildis, and her website is www.carlypildis.com.