Anti-Semitism Concerns Leave Women’s Marches Scrambling for Messages of Unity - NBC Southern California
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Anti-Semitism Concerns Leave Women’s Marches Scrambling for Messages of Unity

On the Eve of the 2019 march, people are debating whether or not to participate amid accusations of anti-Semitism

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    NEWSLETTERS

    1st Look Presents Park City Getaway
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    Attendees hold signs during the Women's March "Power to the Polls" voter registration tour launch at Sam Boyd Stadium on Jan. 21, 2018, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

    What to Know

    • The third annual women’s march is happening on Saturday

    • Amid allegations on antisemitism, many women are deciding whether or not to participate

    • There are many competing marches happening across the country

    Amid accusations of anti-Semitism surrounding the leaders of the Women’s March on Washington, many Jewish women will be deciding one thing this weekend: to march or not to march?

    Joan James, of Lincoln City, Oregon, was very supportive until the allegations of anti-Semitism began to surface.

    "The Women’s March is supposed to be an inclusive movement that supports diversity of color and ideas," said James, who is Jewish. "If your leaders are making statements that are less than supportive of a group of people, it tears the movement from the inside."

    James is still conflicted on whether or not she will participate this weekend, when thousands of women are expected to take the streets for the third year in a row. The march, sparked by the election of President Donald Trump, was organized by women worried about his agenda and offended by comments he made. Many participants wore distinctive "pink pussy hats" as a symbolic way to show resistance.

    Now some women are aggravated the anti-Semitic allegations are causing a divide within the women’s movement.

    The accusations of anti-Semitism were crystalized in an article written in the Tablet in December. The magazine reported that in an initial planning meeting, Tamika Mallory and Carmen Perez, two of the Women's March Inc. leaders, said that Jewish people had “a special collective responsibility as exploiters of black and brown people." Mallory and other leaders deny the statement.

    In addition, Perez, Mallory, and Linda Sarsour's association with Nation of Islam minister Louis Farrakhan, who has a history of making anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ comments, led to more criticism. The New York Times reported that Mallory and Perez said, “they work in communities where Mr. Farrakhan is respected for his role in rehabilitating incarcerated men. They attended the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March in 2015, which Mr. Farrakhan planned.” 

    In an appearance on ABC's "The View," Mallory said, "What I will say to you is that I don't agree with many of Minister Farrakhan's statements." In a later interview with a radio station called Breakfast Club, she condemned anti-Semitism. However, she and the other leaders did not denounce Farrakhan's rhetoric.

    Some advocates are conflicted about whether the allegations are serious enough to keep them from participating.

    In response, Women’s March Inc. released a press statement which reads, “It’s become clear, amidst this media storm, that our values and our message have — too often— been lost. That loss caused a lot of harm, and a lot pain. We should have been faster and clearer in helping people understand our values and our commitment to fighting anti-Semitism. We regret that. Every member of our movement matters to us — including our incredible Jewish and LGBTQ members. We are deeply sorry for the harm we have caused, but we see you, we love you, and we are fighting with you.”

    While some advocates are frustrated with the controversay over the anti-Semitic allegations, they also recognize the impact of the Women’s March.

    Aliza Lifshitz, a Jewish Barnard College student and activist, posted on her Facebook page, “If you’re vocally critical of the women’s march but you do nothing to publicly call out or resist the current administration’s policies, it is very safe to assume that you’re using your concerns about anti-Semitism to tear down a movement you didn’t agree with in the first place.”

    "People should acknowledge what they are missing out on when they abandon the women’s march," she said in an interview with NBC.

    Lifshitz believes the march has played a significant role in organizing the women’s resistance movement, and that the march itself is symbolic of the desire for change. However, she also said she respects anyone who feels uncomfortable marching because of the controversy.

    The allegations have resulted in stark differences between competing marches and women abandoning the march altogether over confusion about what each organization stands for.

    Women’s March Inc. brought three Jewish women onto their steering committee. Abby Stein, the first openly transgender woman raised in a Hasidic community, is one of the women.

    “The leaders of the Women’s March are not anti-Semitic," she said. "Louis Farrakhan has no impact on the goals of the Women's March. In fact, the Women’s March is the antithesis to everything he preaches."

    Stein said when she was given the opportunity to join the steering committee, she saw it as a way to make sure Jewish women feel included and as a platform to defend the LGBTQ community.

    "The question was not how I could join the Women’s March, but how could I not?" she said. "I can accomplish so much when it comes to eradicating anti-Semitism by working with them."

    Stein told NBC the Women’s March in 2017 focused on resistance, the march in 2018 guided people to the polls, and this year’s march is about a policy agenda.

    “One of the strongest impacts the steering committee has is assisting with the women’s agenda which is a policy agenda that Congress could basically copy and paste and turn it into a bill,” she said.

    The Women's March Inc. has released a policy agenda encompassing many different topics, including ending violence against women, advocating for reproductive rights, and fighting for racial injustice.

    Despite efforts to show the march is inclusive and not anti-Semitic, the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand, among others, are no longer sponsoring the Women’s March Inc. event.

    “I think it is unfortunate they are no longer supporting the event," said Rabbi Robin Podolsky of Los Angeles, who wrote an article in the Jewish Journal called “Why I Will Walk With the Women’s March.” "We have to ask ourselves who benefits if our movement fractures and it is not us. At this point, I still feel really firm that it is the grassroots women who have to define the march and not a couple of personalities at the top."

    “As a Jewish woman, I think it is important that we reclaim this march and that we stand for this as much as any woman. I see us walking in the same direction, where each of us is heard and empowered," she said.

    Many women’s marches planned around the world on Saturday are not associated with Women’s March Inc.

    Women’s March Alliance, for example, is a separate organization that plans the march in New York City.

    Katherine Siemionko, the alliance's founder and president, told NBC, “We are hoping to roll out a new name brand and face this upcoming March to make it clear that we have no association with Women’s March Inc.”

    Siemionko is aware many Jews are contemplating whether or not to march.

    "We are working to make sure everyone feels welcome and we are doing a lot of outreach across the board," she said. "We have also been speaking at synagogues and making sure to confirm our commitment to the Jewish communities we have worked with in the past."

    During a phone call in October, Siemionko asked Sarsour why Women's March Inc. was planning to hold a competing event in New York City on Saturday. She said Sarsour had told her the separate rally was needed to provide a space for women of color.

    Siemionko told NBC many women of color are involved in her organization. She said the volunteer trainings this week averaged 60 percent people of color and the alliance's board has 3 women of color out of 5 members. Siemionko told NBC she thought Sarsour had given her a "lame excuse."

    Women's March Inc. did not make Sarsour available for an interview.

    With all of the controversy, some people are choosing to stay away from any women’s march this year.

    Arielle Kaplan, a 24-year-old Jewish woman from New York City, said, “I think it is great that people are going and that Jewish women are trying to make marches that are inclusive for Jews, but I am not going because I don't want people to mistake me for supporting Women’s March Inc. by going to a women’s march that is unaffiliated.”