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Women’s March Co-Chairwomen Bob Bland, Carmen Perez, Linda Sarsour, and Tamika D. Mallory speak during the Women’s March ‘Power to the Polls’ voter registration tour on Jan. 21, 2018, in Las Vegas. Ethan Miller/Getty Images
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Key Participant at Center of Women’s March Story Confirms Anti-Jewish Incident

New information from two participants at the first Women’s March meeting contradicts statement by current co-chair and corroborates a ‘contentious conversation’ about race and Jewishness took place

Leah McSweeney and Jacob Siegel
December 13, 2018
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Women's March Co-Chairwomen Bob Bland, Carmen Perez, Linda Sarsour, and Tamika D. Mallory speak during the Women's March 'Power to the Polls' voter registration tour on Jan. 21, 2018, in Las Vegas. Ethan Miller/Getty Images

On Dec. 10, Tablet published an article about the Women’s March. The piece opened with a description of the first-ever meeting of the nascent organization, during which—according to multiple sources who spoke with Tablet about the exchange–two of its current co-chairs were said to have directed anti-Jewish statements at Vanessa Wruble, one of the other women present.

Reached by Tablet today, Wruble confirmed the account as described in the original story.

Initially, the Women’s March co-chairs denied these allegations, with one of them, Tamika Mallory, telling Tablet on Dec. 7 that “in the very first meeting in Chelsea market, there was 100 percent no conversation about Jewish women at all.” Mallory’s fellow co-chair, Bob Bland, who was present during the conversation did not challenge or dispute this version of events.

Prior to publication of the original article, Tablet attempted to contact six of the seven women affiliated with the Women’s March present at that meeting. After publication, the Women’s March offered to connect Tablet with the seventh woman there that day, Cassady Fendlay, communications director for the group and an affiliated nonprofit, Justice League NYC.

Fendlay told Tablet that she definitely did not recall the specific claims described as having been made, but, in opposition to Mallory and Bland’s initial statement, noted that the meeting was indeed heated at distinct points—including around the subject of Jews and Jewishness. “I do remember this conversation being contentious,” she said. “I do remember specifically Vanessa Wruble saying Jewish people don’t count, Jewish people aren’t white—basically saying like all the stuff that you’re saying doesn’t apply to me. And I do remember that sparking a response.”

Fendlay continued: “I personally am committed to, this is why I show up in the movement, and I’m all about holding whiteness accountable—regardless of the religion of the white person.”

“I know what took place, and others have shared the story of what happened,” Wruble said to Tablet, speaking openly about the meeting for the first time since it happened more than two years ago. “These personal insults are painful, and given that I have been fighting for justice and equality for my entire life it saddens me greatly, but we’ve got marches to plan and a movement to build. I hope we can all move on from these conversations and focus on the work ahead.”

Asked about Tablet’s report that Mallory or Perez had asserted Jews were leaders in the slave trade—a regular drumbeat of Louis Farrakhan’s—Fendlay said she “never heard anything said about that in everything that I have ever experienced working with these women. It doesn’t even make sense.” In a tweet last month, Fendlay wrote: “White people are to blame for the suffering of African Americans. Those white people have been all different faiths & they justified themselves, it’s certainly not their religions’ fault. The Jews who participated in the slave trade were abetting many anti-Semites in the South.”

For her part, Wruble is hoping to move on. “Any activity people engage in is poised to be influenced by conscious and unconscious biases. We all have them,” she said. “I, too, want to fight the systems that uphold white and male privilege. But right now we are being pitted against one another, and I’m seeing conservatives use the controversies to undermine the women’s march movement as a whole. I refuse to let that happen. I am a proud culturally Jewish progressive and intend to work with progressives everywhere to fight back against the bad policies that, frankly, white men have been imposing on all of us. That has to be our priority moving forward.”

Leah McSweeney, co-host of the podcast Improper Etiquette, is a columnist at Penthouse magazine. Jacob Siegel is Tablet’s Scroll editor.