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I’m a bisexual Jewish woman and I can’t support the Women’s March

I’m a bisexual Jewish woman and I can’t support the Women’s March

The first Women's March in Washington DC, January 2017

I attended the first Women’s March in Washington DC. The day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, it was amazing to feel the sense of camaraderie in the air as thousands of people, mostly women, from across the country marched in protest and solidarity.

That was January 2017. By the summer of that year, I slowly started to realize that the Women’s March as an organization didn’t have the best interests for my specific intersection in mind. I’m a bisexual Jewish woman. And it’s becoming more and more apparent that, to these national leaders of Women’s March, the concept of intersectionality might not extend to Jews.

The Women’s March and Louis Farrakhan

For one thing, there’s the fact that the leaders of the Women’s March, specifically Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory, have a history of supporting controversial Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan. Farrakhan has a problematic history of misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, and anti-Semitism. In fact, he recently compared Jews to termites.

Despite calls from Jewish women and our allies (such as Ashlee Marie Preston, a Black transgender woman), the leaders of the Women’s March refuse to distance themselves from Farrakhan. They’ve put out vague statements about not condoning anti-Semitism, but actions speak louder than words.

Just the other day, Linda Sarsour, in defense of newly-elected Muslim Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar, posted a statement on her personal Facebook page that included an age-old anti-Semitic canard.

Sarsour blamed the backlash against Omar’s support of BDS (the Boycott, Divest, Sanction movement against Israel) on ‘folks who masquerade as progressives but always choose their allegiance to Israel over their commitment to democracy and free speech.’

Claiming Jewish people have greater allegiance to Israel than their nation of citizenship is anti-Semitic. Full stop. It’s even part of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism.

Speaking of that working definition, a German NGO actually rescinded its award to the Women’s March due to an alleged charge of anti-Semitism. The NGO urged the March to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism. Plus, there were calls to update their mission statement to specifically address anti-Semitism.

Condemning the Women’s March leadership

As of late, more high-profile liberal celebrities such as Alyssa Milano and Debra Messing have spoken out about the March’s leadership. Despite the valid concerns about anti-Semitism, Sarsour and Women’s March supporters blamed this backlash on white women trying to dismiss women of color. They essentially claimed that neither Sarsour nor Farrakhan ‘have power’ and thus shouldn’t be held responsible for their bigotry. To that, I strongly disagree.

First of all, it’s not just a white women vs. women of color thing. Jews of color exist and have spoken about this issue at length. And even for white Jews, our whiteness is conditional. Sure, we tend to have light skin privilege. But actual groups of white supremacists don’t and never will consider Jews white. Take, for instance, the recent mass shooting of 11 worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue. The perpetrator, a white man, made his desire to kill Jews immensely clear. Basically, the far-right enemies of the Women’s March also hate Jews — regardless of their stance on Israel.

Secondly, this topic of ‘power.’ Sure, neither Farrakhan nor Sarsour hold political office. But they still have a form of power nonetheless. People come from far and wide to hear them speak. They have large online presences. And considering the Jewish person who claimed they were verbally abused by a Farrakhan supporter, it’s possible their rhetoric influences others.

I’ve read countless think pieces, Tweets, and Facebook posts from other leftist Jews. Nowhere did I ever see anyone wish to silence Sarsour, Mallory, et al. Rather, I just saw a lot of people pleading with them to see our humanity. To reflect on their support of Farrakhan and how it has left American Jews feeling unsafe and unwelcome. How Jews in America, regardless of our feelings about Israel, deserve to feel safe and given a seat at the table when it comes to progressive activism.

Jews and social justice

Jews have a long history of being part of social justice movements. Many even marched with Civil Rights leaders back in the 1960s. It’s incredibly disheartening to me that, within this new wave of social activism, Jews are explicitly being left out. We are having terms like ‘Zionism’ and ‘anti-Semitism’ be defined for us by non-Jews. For what other marginalized group would that be okay? Progressives often say that white people can’t define racism for black people, that cisgender people don’t get to decide what’s transphobic, that straight people can’t say what’s homophobic, etc. But when it comes to Jews, it’s apparently fine that non-Jews are defining our own oppression for us.

And so, as much as I agree with the majority of the Women’s March’s stances, I cannot support them as an organization. It is no longer okay for me to keep silent on issues like anti-Semitism simply because other minority groups may have it worse right now. I no longer feel right about keeping my Jewish identity on the down low in case I’m deemed a ‘racist Zionist’ or whatever.

The Holocaust happened within living memory, less than 100 years ago. Anti-Semitism has been on the rise for years both in the United States and Europe. In fact, most religiously-motivated hate crimes in the United States are targeted toward Jews. But I refuse to play Oppression Olympics any longer. I will no longer stand by an organization that boasts intersectionality but fails when it comes to my specific intersection.

Update 20 November: The Women’s March and Linda Sarsour released a statement addressing these claims. You can read it here.