Without Accountability and Inclusivity The Women’s March Will Become a Crawl

This is a hard post to write, but a Facebook post just isn’t enough to convey the dizzying complex feelings I have about the Women’s March and my growing disdain for leaders who refuse to own their mistakes and make amends.

First, I want to be clear that as a liberal Jewish queer woman and sane American, my number one priority is to resist Trump’s agenda, the cruel insanity of the modern Republican party, white nationalism, and all policies and people who empower social injustice. Period. And to that point, I believe our most effective tool is tearing down the barriers to voting, which is something the leaders of the Women’s March have done effectively and I fully support and applaud these efforts. 

I also acknowledge that for many women, the Women’s March resonated in a way that gave them new energy and inspiration, empowering them to stand up for themselves in various arenas and even encouraging a few to run for office – and win! I want to give credit to a movement that brings together women in a way that has been truly necessary in the aftermath of the 2016 election and its consequences. 

However, it is entirely possible to be positive and problematic at the same time. One does not erase the other.

For instance, let’s look at comedian Kevin Hart. Hart has done tremendous work for the community, especially here in his hometown of Philadelphia. However, his remarks about the LGBT community are simply beyond the pale. And, much like the leaders of the Women’s March, when called out for them he simply refused to apologize. And with that hard-headed refusal to acknowledge the harm he caused to the LGBT community, he lost his opportunity to host the Oscars – and probably quite a lot of fans. 

As a Jewish woman, I have been disheartened to see the consistent pattern of harmful rhetoric, anti-Semitism, and support of Louis Farrakhan from the leaders of the Women’s March. And, recently, a very thorough investigative report by The Tablet illustrated just how problematic these leaders are.

As to the truth and accuracy of the article, one needs to look no further than some of the public statements made by Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour to understand that this has been a systemic pattern that the leaders have refused to properly address. There have been self-centered, half-hearted statements made on their social media, but there have been no efforts to include Jewish Women in the unity principles (something that has struck me since I first marched in 2017), no Jewish women at the visible leadership level, and no real denunciation of Louis Farrakhan or past statements of the Women’s March leaders themselves. Of the four self-proclaimed women leaders, none of whom are Jewish or members of the LGBTQ community – the two communities of which Louis Farrakhan is most known for spreading hatred.

It is imperative that women of color be at the helm of this movement, and the women at the forefront have done a remarkable job of empowering and engaging black, Latinx, and immigrant women. I do not suggest that their work be erased. I simply suggest that they acknowledge their harmful actions and pass the baton.

​​​​​​​On December 12, the day after The Tablet article was published, I received an alert from the Women’s March page for a Facebook Live.

I tuned in because I was hoping this would be the platform for them to address the Tablet article and make clear their denouncement of anti-semitism including denouncing Louis Farrakhan, the announcement of adding Jewish women to the unity principles and Jewish women to the executive board. Unfortunately, they decided to take a hard pass and focus solely on patting themselves on the back, pretending everything was totally cool, and refusing to address Jewish or LGBTQ women at all.

Why are we ignoring the fact that Jewish people are, in fact, also a marginalized community? Why are we ignoring the hundreds of thousands of Jewish people of color living in America and facing double persecution for their skin color and their religion? And why aren’t we talking about the historic rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes in America?

​​​​​​​And when comments like these dominated the comment box, they were not acknowledged. However, we did see Sarsour periodically look at her phone, presumably checking out the comments, and simply putting the phone back down. 

I want to be clear that I am aware of some of the narratives that make Jewish people a target of both the far left and far right wing sectors of American political thought.

One narrative is the implication of Jewish people, specifically wealthy Jewish men, who have historically stood in solidarity with white patriarchy and oppression. We’re talking about the Michael Cohens, the Bernie Madoffs, the Steve Mnuchins, and the Jared Kushners of the world. And rightly so.

But at the same time, Jewish people have a long and storied history of being at the forefront of social and civil justice movements.

Recalling our long history of resistance and resilience, Jews have been advancing racial justice as a core Jewish value for a long time. Among the leaders were Henry Moskowitz, a founder of the NAACP, and the kippah-wearing Freedom Riders on the front lines of the civil rights movement, all of whom joined the struggles for equality for people of color in this country.

https://urj.org/blog/2018/02/20/why-racial-justice-jewish-issue

And, in the days since Trump’s election, I have personally witnessed Jewish people – from the Orthodox to the Reform – standing at the forefront of every march, rally, and protest I attended.

The second narrative surrounds the deeply complex and divisive issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is an issue with passionate sides that divides various sectors of the Jewish community. Liberal Jews tend to have a more lenient and supportive view of the BDS sanctions against Israel, while conservative and Orthodox Jews tend to be more hardlined in their support of Israel. In reality, the average American Jew is more likely to be conflicted, hearing strong arguments from both sides, and somewhat naively hopeful for a solution to protect the Jewish state despite being appalled by the actions of its current government. Not terribly different from how many of us feel about some current American policy.

This deliberate elision of Israel and the settlements has caused no small amount of consternation among the state’s more liberal supporters in the American Jewish community. For years they have sought to protect Israel itself from sanction, by arguing that only boycotts of settlements are legitimate. Now they feel themselves under attack not just from BDS, on the left, but the Israeli government, on the right, both of which disdain the centre-left notion of being “pro-Israel and anti-occupation”, and both of which reject the position that wine produced in West Bank settlements should be boycotted while the government that created, financed and maintained the settlements should not.

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/aug/14/bds-boycott-divestment-sanctions-movement-transformed-israeli-palestinian-debate

In reality, being an American Jew forces one to grapple with a complicated existence. We can often walk through our lives with an apparent degree of white privilege, but we are also the most despised by both white nationalists and followers of the Muslim Brotherhood. Most of our ancestors came to America to escape persecution in Eastern Europe, but we are held personally accountable for the actions of the Israeli government. We may have relatives in positions of power who have held up systems of oppression, but we have also put ourselves on the frontlines for racial and social justice. And when we are slaughtered in a Pennsylvania synagogue in 2018, our own government is loath to speak our names. 

The day after the Facebook livecast, the Women’s March’s PR agency sent an ill-advised email to the reporters who shared the article on Twitter claiming that Tablet planned to correct the piece soon and she could prove it — but only if they deleted their tweets. To which reporters said LOLOL.

I had been pleased to know that the organizers of the local Philadelphia march were completely independent of the national organization – and I support their work – however, they have not been immune from their own cluster of infighting.

And this is what makes a piece like this so difficult to write. I, like many of us who grapple with this issue, do not want to tear down a women’s movement. We don’t want to discredit women’s advocacy or promote infighting, but we can’t just accept a movement as “imperfect” when it is doing real damage.

The Women’s March has been successful in creating some sense of unity and empowering women in the days and months following the 2016 election. Some of the work they have done on the ground is remarkable, and should not be dismissed. But if we are going to hold our elected officials accountable for their words and actions, our chosen leaders should be held to the same standards.

The four leaders who are the faces of the national Women’s March do not speak for me. And, until they can acknowledge that they hear me, that they see me, I will take my actions elsewhere, and use my voice in a space that allows me to be fully present.

There are hundreds of truly inclusive, intersectional organizations that have been doing the groundwork for women’s advocacy for years and are open to suggestion, improvement, and growth. There are grassroots political candidates who need our money and support. That is where you will find me in 2019.


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