Wendy Kalman
There are many ways to see and understand

What women need instead of Women’s March Inc.

Co-presidents of the 2019 Women's March, Linda Sarsour, left, and Tamika Mallory, center, marching with Jewish Women of Color during the Washington D.C. Women's March on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019
Co-presidents of the 2019 Women's March, Linda Sarsour, left, and Tamika Mallory, center, marching with Jewish Women of Color during the Washington D.C. Women's March on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019

Women’s March Inc. has lost relevance.

I see many headlines about Linda Sarsour, who is willing to renounce Farrakhan but will not allow a place for Zionists in her world, and about Tamika Mallory, who has a personal connection to Farrakhan and thus cannot renounce him while she also embraces a Palestinian narrative so that she cannot outright say that the Jewish homeland of Israel deserves to exist. None of these issues, might I note, have anything to do with women’s rights. They do have to do with furthering specific agendas and with an organization allowing controversies surrounding its personalities to take the spotlight off women’s issues.

I want to share a number of pieces I read recently which expound on some of these issues in a better way than I can. I also want to point to the danger of this unnecessary and harmful wedge being driven between blacks and Jews.

First, your “reading assignments:”

  • Former co-founder and eloquent critic, Mercy Morganfield, black, Jewish, a former leader of the DC march nails it on the head in her Facebook post, Why Is Everyone Blaming Tamika? “I wouldn’t have to denounce Farrakhan because I wouldn’t have been sitting there praising him in the first place.” She also writes, “For the past two years, issues that impact black women and girls in the U.S. have taken a backseat to issues that impact Palestinian women. Awareness of ignorant religious dogma has replaced awareness around issues impacting black women in the black community. People are now more aware of the dumb shit Farrakhan says than they are the plight of missing black girls in Chicago. This is deeply problematic.” (I agree. I also might add that I know Jewish women of color do not feel well represented in the Jewish world and I understand that there is work to do, but for Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory to walk behind a JWOC banner in DC, to me, is tantamount to handing over representation of the JWOC viewpoints, whatever they may be, to non-Jewish women. So what is accomplished here?
  • While Morgenfield points out what the Women’s March Inc. is not doing for WOC, Phyllis Chesler’s Times of Israel blog, while harshly titled, points out all the feminist activity they are also not doing for women everywhere. “They stage events,” she notes, “not revolutions.” She has a long history of actual feminist activism and takes a deep dive. Among other things, in The Women’s March is a Con Job, Chesler calls out their recent additions of Jewish women to their board, as silly as this sounds, for being too intersectional. And while that may rile feathers, I think I get it. Personally, I would very much want to see an avowedly Zionist Jewish woman being embraced by its leadership…but harbor no illusion that this will ever happen. Then again, I think the leaders are so much of a distraction, it’s time for them themselves to offer to step aside in order not to be the headlines.
  • Algemeiner, a right-leaning Jewish publication, also posted a story about Morganfield’s criticism of Linda Sarsour, Former Women’s March Leader Upbraids ‘Antisemite’ Linda Sarsour for Posting Article Claiming Jews Are Waging War on Black People. She is right; I’d add that fanning flames does not make for progressiveness, my friends. This only escalates the tension.
  • The same week that the New York Times published an op-ed by Michelle Alexander, a regular columnist, who sadly used Martin Luther King Jr.’s memory to further anti-Israel bias (see Algemeiner’s critique and TOI’s), it also published an interesting perspective. Its There is no Israeli-Palestinian conflict headline notwithstanding, Matt Friedman’s words ring true especially where leaders are concerned (ya hear, Linda and Tamika??): “Abandoning the pleasures of the simple story for the confusing realities of the bigger picture is emotionally unsatisfying. An observer is denied a clear villain or an ideal solution. But it does make events here comprehensible, and it will encourage Western policymakers to abandon fantastic visions in favor of a more reasonable grasp of what’s possible. And that, in turn, might lead to some tangible improvements in a world that could use fewer illusions and wiser leaders.” Nothing is simple, and speaking from convenience helps solve nothing.
  • Just as the situation in Israel is complex, issues with the Women’s March, too, go deep, per this extensive Tablet expose, Is the Women’s March melting down? They warrant discussion. If the money they raise is not used to support state marches or activities or women other than the leaders, then exactly what are they doing with it? What is the relationship between the multiple organizations? Etc.
  • Of all the headlines Women’s March Inc. generates, how many have to do with actual work on the ground? With this year’s march, they finally released a detailed policy agenda, pointing out what they want to advocate for. I do not know if they plan on taking on the work of organizing and lobbying, but still, we are talking about a 71-page policy paper; that’s a lot of meat. Regarding its content, The Times of Israel quotes the document in its coverage, “One of the biggest threats to speech today are the attempts to silence social movements, including those advocating for Palestinian rights, Black liberation in the United States, Indigenous rights and environmental progress.” (On this, allow me to say what I’ve written before – one can be pro-Palestinian rights without being anti-Israel; see my blogs linked below.) Why not add Zionism to the list of social movements? The tactics of Students for Justice in Palestine on too many campuses does not stop at advocating but instead intimidates, itself attempting to suppress free speech. The policy also speaks against anti-BDS legislation. For the record, while I oppose BDS, I also think that legislation which prohibits government bodies from doing business with companies that adhere to BDS is also wrong. But even if I were to agree, this does not mean that the Women’s March should be opining on this in its agenda.

The more I read of those thinking BDS will magically change anything, the more I want people to study history and to understand the depth and complexity of the issues at hand. Advocating for the Israeli government to treat Palestinians better does not have to translate into anti-Zionism. Nor does it mean that attention need not be paid to how the Palestinians’ own leadership uses its people.

And so here we are, at a shameless plug for some of my own blogs, in reverse chronological order:

In my blogs I also talk about the definition of Zionism, i.e., a movement to a Jewish homeland. Nowhere does it say exclusively Jewish. And for anyone to think so is flat out wrong.

Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people, exists. To be anti-Zionist is to say it should not, period. To be critical of the Israeli government is allowed and encouraged, but it should not be synonymous with anti-Zionism. At all. Ever. When you deny a nation the right to its home, you are practicing anti-Semitism. In my blogs, I also link to the internationally accepted working definition of anti-Semitism (see especially the PDF’s page 2). Anti-Zionism is a form of anti-Semitism by denying Israel’s legitimacy. It tells the Jewish people – a nation which has been unwanted in so many of the countries it has sojourned in and is the target of rising acts of bias and violence across the globe – that its people are less deserving than anyone else of a home.

People confuse religion with nationhood. The Jewish people are a nation. But because of this, when told that their anti-Zionistic statements are in fact anti-Semitic, get immediately defensive, ending all possibilities for them to hear how even if they think that if they harbor no hate towards Jewish people, they cannot possibly be anti-Semitic. It requires a nuanced understanding, and is often difficult to explain, especially to Jews who wave their anti-Zionistic flag without understanding that they are condemning their own people to be homeless. I wiggle out of it by explaining that their stance is anti-Semitic even if they are not. Definitionally.

Once can be pro-Palestinian and be Zionist. I am. I firmly believe the both peoples need a nation of their own. But I also believe that such a resolution can only come by both sides negotiating. Not by people pressuring Israel by BDS. (Again, see my blogs.) And surprise, one can be critical of Israel’s government and be a Zionist too.

To be honest, I don’t understand why people need to focus on Women March Inc.’s national leadership – it neither funds nor supports the state marches that haven’t abandoned them. And other than its position paper which talks about a boatload of issues, all I see are headlines regarding personalities, Farrakhan and finances. Do they organize at a grassroots level or lobby in the halls of Congress or bring lawsuits to advance women’s issues anywhere? Do they underwrite women in need? There are many active women’s organizations out there worthy of support that actually do things. Year-round. Not just marching one day a year. Perhaps they deserve our attention instead.

My biggest fear now is that by trying to pin blame on who and how support for the Women’s March’s has disintegrated, by measuring who shows up and why, as well as by allowing different tolerance levels for right-wing anti-Semitism (like Farrakhan’s) and left-wing anti-Semitism (anti-Zionism), a wedge will be driven between two minority communities that ought to be banding together.

And we don’t need any more of that. What women need instead of Women’s March Inc. are leaders who will bring us together around a banner of women’s needs and concerns.

About the Author
Born in Brooklyn and raised on Lawn Guyland, Wendy lived in Jerusalem for over a decade submerged in Israeli culture; she has been soaked in Southern life in metro Atlanta since returning to the U.S. in 2003. Recently remarried, this Ashkenazi mom of three Mizrahi sons, 26, 23 and 19, splits her time between managing knowledge in corporate America, pursuing a dual masters in public administration and integrated global communications, blogging, relentlessly Facebooking, once-in-a-while veejaying, enjoying the arts and digging out of the post-move carton chaos of her and her husband's melded household.
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