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Why I Resigned From the DC Abortion Fund

The landscape of organizations ostensibly working to advance sexual and reproductive health has become mired in antisemitism

Allison Tombros Korman
April 11, 2024
A pro-Palestinian demonstrator interrupts President Joe Biden's remarks during a campaign event in support of abortion rights at George Mason University in Manassas, Virginia, on Jan. 23, 2024

Craig Hudson/Sipa USA/Alamy

A pro-Palestinian demonstrator interrupts President Joe Biden's remarks during a campaign event in support of abortion rights at George Mason University in Manassas, Virginia, on Jan. 23, 2024

Craig Hudson/Sipa USA/Alamy

On Nov. 17, 2023 I resigned from my dream job at the DC Abortion Fund (DCAF). In the four months since my resignation, the organization seemed to have grown emboldened not just to demand fealty to a progressive litmus test over the war in Gaza, but to use DCAF’s resources, time, and reputation to push out individuals who do not share their perspective, most recently and explicitly signing on to a campaign to call the Jewish musician Matisyahu—known for his peace anthem “One Day”—a “white Zionist” racist. While I wish I could be surprised by this, I’m not. This is the same pattern I experienced at the DC Abortion Fund that led to my resignation.

For the previous 18 months, I had proudly served as the most senior executive at DCAF, a grassroots organization whose core mission is to provide abortion funding in the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area. This dream position brought together my 20-plus-year career in sexual and reproductive health and my lifelong personal commitment to social justice. My daughters proudly acted as our “interns,” handing out swag at community events and telling anyone who would ask about their mom’s work, even when it meant enduring verbal and physical harassment from anti-abortion activists. In less than a year at DCAF, I was promoted.

After the tragic events in Israel on Oct. 7, everything changed for the Jewish community and for me. While it was well-known that I was the only Jewish staff member—I staffed all events and fundraisers hosted by the Jewish community—not one person from the staff or board reached out to me in the wake of the rape, murder, and kidnapping of 1,200 Israeli men, women, and children. Their silence mirrored the devastating silence many Jews experienced after Oct. 7.

On Oct. 9, with no mention of the terrible events from two days prior, DCAF’s communications team posted an Indigenous People’s Day Instagram post calling for “land back” and a “Free Palestine.” Jewish members of the DCAF community—volunteers, fundraisers, and me, an employee—alerted the communications team that this was, or was perceived to be, deeply insensitive. The post was removed.

The staff letter noted, ‘we cannot ignore the mass violations to human rights and sexual and reproductive health outcomes that we’re seeing out of Gaza.’ Remarkably, the letter neglected any mention of health outcomes for the Israeli survivors of rape or assault, or for the hostages.

On Oct. 26, the communications team proposed a series of Instagram slides for my review. The “Gaza Carousel,” as the draft was titled, felt deeply one-sided for a reproductive health organization that had not publicly acknowledged the rapes and other atrocities of Oct. 7. Instead, the post focused on the so-called “U.S.-funded genocide” in Gaza and only mentioned the hostages in a single bullet on the final slide. As the former executive director of a national sexual violence prevention program, I could not fathom how if choosing to speak about the war, my colleagues could willfully ignore the devastating violations of reproductive justice that happened to Israelis on Oct. 7. I brought my concerns about the draft to my supervisor, the chair of the Board of Directors. I explained how specific accusations against Jews and Israel on social media were offensive and were used to justify violence against Jews on campus, in local businesses, and across the world. I maintained in that meeting—and until the end of my tenure there—that DCAF did not have the expertise in Middle East policy to weigh in on the war. DCAF had never before issued a statement on international events or foreign policy and I felt we should use the fund’s limited capacity to remain focused on the core mission of providing abortion funding. The board chair agreed that the post should not go up. It didn’t, but my decision to go directly to the chair set in motion a division within the staff that would devolve until my departure.

To rebuild staff unity and in keeping with our organizational values around open communication, the board chair arranged a meeting for me and the comms team to discuss our feelings about what had transpired. I sincerely apologized for any breach of trust caused by bringing my concerns to the chair. No apology was given by the comms team, or prompted by the chair, for sending me a draft I found hurtful and offensive. I made the point that if a similar situation had occurred with another minority group, it would be perfectly reasonable for them to consult a supervisor, but I was told that this was “different.” I was told that “everyone knows when something is racist,” but that the language used in this post was up for debate, as if I, the only Jewish voice on staff, should not be qualified to decide for myself what was or could be deemed offensive to a Jewish person.

As the war ramped up, it was clear that this issue was not going away. Not only was I struggling to process Oct. 7 with friends, family, and my community, I was also navigating the conflict every day at work. As the only Jewish voice in the organization, I was repeatedly put in the position to speak for all Jewish people—an impossible task—or to defend my perspective and why it did not align with that of Jewish Voices for Peace, a group that purports to represent Jews but rejects the basic premise of a Jewish homeland, or similar entities. At the same time, if I advocated for DCAF staying out of this discussion, I was told I was silencing the organization and its staff. I shared my heartbreak about the violence against both Israelis and Palestinians and how, though complex, these feelings could coexist. In return, it was explained to me, often by people with no direct connection to the land or its people, that I needed to understand “context.”

At the same time, other abortion funds and reproductive health organizations began issuing statements about what was happening in Gaza. These statements contained much of the same offensive nomenclature as DCAF’s draft and some, like ARC-Southeast’s letter, went further, calling Zionism—the belief that Israel simply has a right to exist—“a contradiction to Reproductive Justice.” Every member of the DCAF staff except me signed on to a letter to the board advising them that they would be participating in a walkout in support of Palestine. The letter noted, “We are using our collective power as DCAF workers to show up for Gazans and call for an immediate ceasefire, as well as liberation for Palestinians ... we cannot ignore the mass violations to human rights and sexual and reproductive health outcomes that we’re seeing out of Gaza.” Remarkably, the letter neglected any mention of health outcomes for the Israeli survivors of rape or assault, or for the hostages.

In an effort to work collaboratively and keep focused on our primary objectives, we agreed that establishing social media procedures was a critical next step. On Nov. 14, I and the communications team sat down to decide what, if anything, DCAF would be posting about the war and to ensure there were not more situations like that which occurred around the “Gaza Carousel.” I recognized that my colleagues felt strongly that DCAF should weigh in on this discussion, and in an effort to compromise, I agreed to a process that would allow DCAF to uplift existing content from trusted partners in the field, but not create original content, as this would be beyond our expertise. We agreed to abstain from using nomenclature that could be distracting or divisive to our community, such as the “Free Palestine” hashtag or calling Israel’s actions “genocide.” We developed a system to review and discuss potentially controversial content related to the war before posting, starting with a small group of reviewers, including me, and escalating to a vote by a mix of board and staff.

The following morning, I circulated the notes from that meeting to DCAF leadership and members of the Board. At 3 p.m. that day, I was alerted by a Jewish DCAF volunteer that the DCAF Instagram feed featured graphics from The Washington Post about deaths in Gaza with commentary overlaid, specifically that “collective punishment is the tool of fascists” and that what was happening in Gaza was “a prime and top-of-mind example of said collective punishment.” I immediately flagged this for the communications team and asked if perhaps the content was posted inadvertently since it violated the norms we had established in the meeting the previous day. Surely, equating the actions of the entire State of Israel with fascism was a perspective that needed to be discussed as potentially controversial. They assured me the post was intentional (they later stealthily removed it).

Immediately, DCAF received angry messages from Jewish members of their community. The messages criticized DCAF for being so one-sided on the issue. They were furious that DCAF, who claimed to deeply value reproductive justice, had remained silent on the rapes of Israeli women. They stated that as Jews, they felt abandoned by and isolated from the organization.

By Nov. 17, I could barely get out of bed. The last five weeks had wrung me out, physically, emotionally, and mentally. I had been iced out by my colleagues for my unwillingness to get on board with their specific perspective. They canceled meetings with me and when they had to be in meetings with me, they kept their cameras off. I had been told that I was wrong to feel that specific language was harmful or offensive, even when I could feel its burn. I felt that I was being forced, at best, to bury my identity at work and at worst, to apologize for or decry it. I had become something of a walking zombie at home, thinking about what was happening at work constantly, trying to see a way through this. My children, with whom we elected to be honest about what I was facing each day at work, had stopped asking if I was OK and instead just carefully hugged me and told me they were sorry.

That morning, after weeks of agonizing over the matter, I realized I could not go back. I called my board chair and left a voicemail in which I tendered my resignation. My board chair texted back to say she understood if I “no longer [thought] DCAF [was] a fit.” I was devastated, but I felt this was my only option. While I remain fully committed to ensuring everyone has abortion access no matter where they live or who they are, I could not stay in an organization that refused to acknowledge my humanity or that of my people.

As painful as it was to leave my dream job, I hoped that my leaving would be a wake-up call for DCAF. I hoped they would realize just how bad things must have been for a Jewish person at their organization to resign from their position. They didn’t. DCAF chose Repro Shabbat, an annual celebration that honors the Jewish value of reproductive freedom, to center “Palestinian liberation” and included only a passing and perfunctory mention of the Israeli civilian hostages, and no mention of the Hamas-inflicted sexual violence on Oct. 7. In mid-March, DCAF signed on to the campaign protesting Matisyahu. These actions confirmed my previous pleas had gone unheard and that I made the right decision to leave.

This experience broke my heart. I’ve spoken with many Jews who are also broken-hearted as they feel pushed out of progressive spaces, specifically abortion funds and other reproductive health organizations. We feel betrayed by and disappointed in our movement for failing to live the values it purports to embody. The erasure of our history as a people that has struggled to survive and the erasure of our current lived experiences is nothing short of devastating. Jews are not asking progressive movements, causes, or individuals to condone or celebrate Israel’s response to Oct. 7. We are not asking for them to identify solely with our suffering. We are asking that if they insist on wading into this conflict, they do so in a way that recognizes our humanity.

Allison Tombros Korman is the former Senior Operations and Strategy Director at the DC Abortion Fund (April 2022-December 2023) and the Inaugural Executive Director of Culture of Respect (2014-2015), a national initiative to end campus sexual violence.