With the 2019 Women’s March just a month away, the national organization has never faced more dissent or controversy.
The leaders behind Women’s March Inc. face accusations of anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia, misuse of funds, and employing Nation of Islam, a hate group, as their security. At the inaugural march in 2016, Women’s March co-chairs Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, Bob Bland, and Linda Sarsour did not seem to be deciding factors for protesters, but two years later, will their decisions be enough to keep Jewish women on the sidelines? I polled a diverse group of Jewish women to find out.
When asked if they would attend the upcoming Women’s March, many Jewish women straight up declined the invitation.
“Nope! Fuck the national march!” Arielle Kaplan, a 23-year-old living in New York City (and Alma’s editorial fellow), put it plainly.
In Toronto, Tema Smith agrees. “The Women’s March leadership has taken positions contrary to the values of the women’s movement and pushed the concerns of many Jewish and LGBTQ+ women aside,” said Smith, 35. “There are many other viable ways to support the women’s movement that do not require me to hold my nose at leaders who have disrespected me repeatedly. I have chosen to work through those channels instead.”
“I cannot and will not support a movement by people who are actively against me – who actively support [Louis] Farrakhan, who actively spread age-old stereotypes about Jewish dual loyalty, Jewish control, and Jewish discrimination,” said Carolyn Miller, a 23-year-old Jewish bisexual woman who lives in Atwater, CA. She attended the first march in Washington D.C. in 2016. “The women’s march leaders also continue to apply the ‘why should we support them if they don’t support us?’ standard to Jews, which is awful because a) they don’t apply it to us, and b) it isn’t accurate in the least. Jews consistently show up for other social justice causes. But when you point this out, you get caught in the trap of ‘then you only did it for leverage.’”
Other queer Jewish women I spoke to also plan to skip the event.
“It’s cold in January and with Sundance right around the corner, I don’t want to take any risks with my health,” said Danielle Solzman, a 34-year-old transgender film critic. “If it were on another day of the week and there were not issues with leadership, I’d maybe consider it. But as things stand right now, all the statements and such don’t go far enough or they’re too little too late.”
Despite promises to be more inclusive in their national charter of goals, the Women’s March leadership is yet to promise to fight for women of all religions.
“I am absolutely not going. I do not feel safe there because of the deliberate exclusion of Jews and alienation of fellow LGBTQIA people. Jews aren’t even included in their Unity Principles so the intention is plain. To not denounce vicious anti-Semites is to team with those anti-Semites,” said Celia Sax, a 23-year-old Chicagoan activist.
Even after criticism for appearing with Louis Farrakhan, Mallory and Sarsour recently took photos with Bishop Swan, a homophobic minister who opposes marriage equality and has repeatedly claimed that modern Jews are not “the Jews of the bible.”
Sax takes issue with this. “As a bi Jew of color I feel completely ignored at best and actively unwelcome generally with the current leadership inviting in so much hatred and failing at intersectionality,” she emphasized.
Others are disappointed in the movement’s attempts at intersectionality for completely other reasons.
“I am not going because I am tired of marching with white progressive women ( and I am one who is also Jewish) when my friends of color and my LGBTQ friends need my activism right here in my city,” explained Helene Richman, 58, who hails from Kingston, New York. Kyla Young, 30, who lives in Upper Manhattan, has found their planning exclusionary to her as an observant Jew. “Unfortunately I’ve never been able to attend because I’m religious. All these marches always take place on Saturdays and I miss them. There’s a whole bunch of us (religious & liberal Jews) who can’t participate in any of this,” she noted. “I don’t think people plan to include religious Jews (or even remember us) at events that are meant to be inclusive towards minorities.”
Women’s March Inc.’s fiercely anti-Zionist stances have also played a part in shooing Jewish marchers away.
“Last year it became clear that progressive Jewish women didn’t fit into the Women’s March’s political platform,” explained Lainna R. Cohen, a 33-year-old in Indianapolis. “As a progressive Jew who believes in Zionism, I cannot support a platform that consistently aligns with anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric.”
Leah Goldenberg, 20, will not attend the march in Boston. “I really do wish I could support the Women’s March because women rule! I just can’t support an org that has people that are anti-Israel on their board of directors,” she stated. “It really is such a shame that this march is making me choose between two things I powerfully identify with, being a woman and being a pro-Israel Jew.”
But many Jewish feminists remain on the fence, trying to separate the national Women’s March Inc. leadership from local branches. Some are enthusiastic to attend local marches that have divorced themselves from the national structure or attached to other feminist organizations like March On or Women for All.
“I will be at my local march in New York with @Women4AllOrg, and hopefully speaking about not just being a woman but being a snarky transgender Jewish woman,” tweeted Hannah Simpson, 34.
Jenn Carson, the elected Secretary of Women’s March California and Co-Chair of Riverside’s Women’s March Inland Empire, asserts that the movement existed long before the national co-chairs and is still thriving on a local level.
“Women’s marches have a long history. This history includes the Women’s March in Versailles in 1789, the Shirtwaist Fire Jewish Women’s Uprising in NYC in 1908, the 1956 Anti Pass South African Women’s March, the African-American Million Women’s March in DC in 1997, and the Women’s March Against Bolsonaro in Brazil in September,” Carson, 44, noted. “I’m proud of Women’s March California which is made up of 1 million California marchers, 150 local elected leaders, and 13 chapters. We are a 501c3 with bylaws, elected leadership, and financial transparency. We act year round.”
Deborah Greene, 49, agrees. “Womxn’s March Denver is not affiliated and has strongly denounced the leadership of the WM as they firmly wrote of their support for their Jewish brothers and sisters in the fight against anti-Semitism. So here in CO, I’ll be marching with my daughters,” she announced.
“We don’t share their leadership or funding. Out of the hundreds of marches, I believe only a handful of chapters mostly back east have any affiliation with the small NYC based group called Women’s March Inc,” Carson continued. “Inc is largely an NYC based DC chapter – not our ‘national headquarters.’ This isn’t Amazon with an HQ. It is an international movement.”
Other American women still feel that their local marches, even if they have left Women’s March Inc., have not distanced themselves enough from their leadership.
Back in Boston, Sarah Gross, 29, is “really torn up about it.” She feels that although the four national co-chairs are “extremely removed from the actual march,” the local chapters “should be going out of their way to distance themselves from this hateful rhetoric.”
“As far as Women’s March chapters that have splintered off, I don’t think that is sufficient enough of a delineation from the original Women’s March. The original WM will still claim those who march as their doing in interviews, and the media will not question them,” believes Allison S. who resides in New York and feels the national co-chairs have “demonized both the Jewish community and the LGBTQ community.”
When asked if she would attend an unaffiliated march, Tema Smith worried “the optics of doing that would still look like marching at the Women’s March, like a tacit endorsement of the national movement. I’m uncomfortable with that right now.” She also believes that Mallory, Sarsour, Bland, and Perez would claim the labor done by local organizers. “The continued appearance of success of the Women’s March as one large movement seems to only strengthen the leaders of the national movement.”
While some local marches have disengaged with the controversial New York-based organizers, others have remained loyal and even shunned critics.
Beth Ilyssa Becker, a 41-year-old living in Philadelphia, noted that her local march, which is affiliated with the national leadership, blocked her when she shared a link to an article from Tablet that exposed a long history of anti-Semitism amongst its co-chairs on their Facebook page.
Deciding whether or not to attend the protest is complicated enough before finding out if your local protest is connected to Sarsour, Bland, Perez, and Mallory. Women’s March Inc. argues that the Los Angeles and Georgia chapters, which denounced their leadership in the wake of claims against anti-Semitism, are still part of the national network. The marches based in Florida, Portland, Barcelona, Canada, Houston, Washington, D.C., Alabama, Rhode Island, Illinois, and New York City have publicly cut ties.
Things are most confusing in the capital. Although local leaders like Mercy Morganfield have been some of the most outspoken critics of every aspect of the co-chairs, the four women are leaving their base in New York City to hold the national march in Washington, D.C.
“I believe my local chapter is unaffiliated but I’m in DC, so I’m not really sure how that works,” said Elayna Tell, 30. “Living in DC, the March is my ‘local’ march, so I will not be participating here,” believes Sarah Murphy Abbamonte, who is also in her 30s. She’s originally from Rochester, New York. “If I were still in my hometown, with local march organizers that have publicly denounced the anti-Semitism, anti-LGBTQ, etc. sentiments espoused by some of the national organizers, I would not hesitate to participate. If anyone in DC knows of alternative gatherings, I would love to hear more!”
One alternative, or at least compromise, is marching with groups that oppose the national co-chairs. Zioness, a grassroots pro-Israel feminist organization, is the most notable, and advocates for its followers to march with their Jewish and Zionist identities proudly on display.
“We understand why many are feeling so marginalized that they are considering staying home, but we believe that we absolutely cannot cede the American feminist movement to bigotry and we must choose to lead with radical love and empathy,” argued Amanda Bergman, the President of Zioness.
“I do not plan to march as it stands now but I know there’s a group marching in January who oppose the current WM leadership so I’m considering joining them,” said Rafaella Gunz, 24.
However, that is a risk some are too afraid to take.
“I’m afraid to be visibly Jewish at the March. My Magen David combined with my visible disability makes me feel like an easy target especially, like at the Chicago Dyke March,” continued Sax, citing an incident where Jewish women were forced to leave a lesbian pride event for carrying rainbow flags with Jewish stars.
But in a small sample size of Jewish ladies, the difference of opinion runs high.
“I will march wearing a Chai necklace bought in Jerusalem by my grandma on the day Rabin was murdered by a hateful extremist in ’95 – my grandma who lost relatives in the Holocaust in the ’40s and who was near the Pentagon when it was attacked in 2001,” Carson asserted. “Despite press focus on four women in New York, the movement is 4.5 million women. I march for and with the 4.5 million.”