Tikkun Magazine

Farrakhan & the Women’s March: An Unholy Connection

by Cat J. Zavis

Louis Farrakhan’s vitriolic hate speech towards Jews (and gay, lesbian, bi, and trans people) was once again on display during his recent speech in Chicago. Among other hateful things, he stated that “the powerful Jews are my enemy” and repeated anti-Semitic tropes by Nixon and Billy Graham regarding the Jews “grip on media” and Hollywood, and “how Jews were responsible for all of this filth and degenerate behavior that Hollywood is putting out turning men into women and women into men.” As if that wasn’t enough, he called Jews the “mother and father of apartheid” and claimed that Jews are running Mexico as well as many other countries and are “the children of the devil.” He also claimed that Jews control the government and the FBI and use marijuana to feminize black men. Perhaps most disturbing, if that is possible in this chilling anti-Semitic rant, he added: “Satan is going down. Farrakhan has pulled the cover off the eyes of the Satanic Jew and I’m here to say your time is up, your world is through.”

Sadly, one of the four leaders of the Women’s March, co-President Tamika Mallory, attended Farrakhan’s event and posted Instagram photos from the event. Mallory has a history of working with Farrakhan dating back to at least 2015 when she spoke at a Justice or Else! event he organized marking the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March and has continued her connection with him since that time. In fact, Farrakhan gave a shout-out to her during his talk on Sunday. Unfortunately, and quite distressing to many of us who marched in the Women’s March, she failed to denounce Farrakhan’s statements on social media right then or leave in protest and make a clear statement separating herself and the Women’s March from the hate being spewed to adoring audiences that Farrakhan has been receiving lately.  Watching the video of Farrakhan speaking to a room packed with men and women cheering and clapping in response was bone-chilling. At least two of the other three leaders of the Women’s March, Linda Sarsour and Carmen Perez, have likewise supported Farrakhan in the past, and Perez responded to Mallory’s Instagram posts from the event with “raise the roof” emojis. In response to attacks from Ashkenazi Jews and Jews of Color, the Women’s March, as an organizational entity, issued a statement on Twitter that still avoided specifically critiquing Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism or homophobia. In response to that statement, additional attacks and criticisms were launched against the Women’s March organizers, that included calls to oust them as leaders. How would African Americans or Muslims react if a popular Jewish figure had spouted hateful stories and racist or Islamophobic stereotypes about African Americans or Muslims to cheering Jewish audiences and a leader of purportedly Jewish progressives sat through it and failed to explicitly denounce on social media the speaker and his or her claims about African Americans or Muslims?

I am left with a sense of profound sadness and grief. I, like so many others, yearn for a loving and just world where our differences sow the seeds of our strength rather than the rifts of our division. I agree with the critics of the Women’s March who condemn their initial silence and hence complicit tolerance of Farrakhan’s talk and the hate-filled movement he is building as painfully inadequate. The statement neglected to take responsibility for their personal failure to immediately denounce Farrakhan, or to state unequivocally that they will not associate with him in anyway whatsoever, or call for all women to reject his hate-filled message. Instead, they dance around it by stating that Farrakhan’s statements are “not aligned” with the Women’s March Unity Principles.

Wait a minute, seriously? “Not aligned?” Could you get more wishy-washy? There is a vast chasm between stating that Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic remarks are “not aligned” with the Unity Principles of the Women’s March and outright condemnation of his statements in which they explicitly and unequivocally distance themselves from his movement. Their response does not feel like a genuine heartfelt personal repentance nor a powerful repudiation for seeming to affiliate the Women’s March with tolerance for this kind of discourse.

Their recent public statement continues by stating “We are rooted in a vision of a world where all women – including Black women, Jewish women, lesbian, queer, bi and trans women, Muslim women, disabled women, immigrant women, indigenous women, and poor women – are free and able to care for and nurture themselves and their families, however they are formed, in safe and healthy environments free from structural impediments.” It’s interesting to note that if you go to their website and read their Unity Principles there, they do not include Jewish women in their list of women. By singling out some women, they perpetuate a divide between ‘us’ and ‘them’ that is reflective of the shortcomings of identity politics. A world that only ensures these things to women (and only some women – not only are Jewish women excluded, but so are working-class and middle-class white women) is not transformative nor inclusive enough. While I realize this is a “women’s” organization, for me, feminism is not about only fixing the world for women, but rather fixing it for everyone. I want a world where all people are free and able to care for and nurture themselves and their families, however they are formed, in safe and healthy environments free from structural impediments. The structural impediments of society impact all of us, not just women.

For me to trust the sincerity of the leaders of the Women’s March, I would have liked their statement to have said:

I, Tamika Mallory, deeply regret that I attended the event at which Louis Farrakhan spoke and even more deeply regret that I failed to immediately denounce what he said on social media from my seat at the event. As soon as he started spewing anti-Semitic and homophobic hatred, I should have immediately tweeted my disapproval and horror and left the event. We, Linda Sarsour and Carmen Perez, regret that we have associated with Farrakhan in the past and also commit to never doing so again. We, along with Bob Bland and the entire Board, also deeply regret that we failed to immediately denounce his statements and call them for what they truly are – anti-Semitic, homophobic hate speech. Our failure to do these things makes it abundantly clear to us that all of us have some serious soul-searching, education, and work to do to address our own internalized anti-Semitism and homophobia and commit to doing that work immediately. We will share with all of you what we are doing and how we are addressing these issues and encourage you to embark on a similar journey because none of us can escape the social conditioning of our society.

In the hopes of supporting a national dialogue on anti-Semitism, just as we have powerfully done on issues of sexism, racism, and Islamophobia, we will transparently share the materials we are reading, the voices we are listening to, the stories we are hearing, and how it is impacting us on a personal level. We know that 1700 years of Christian anti-Semitism in Europe and the U.S. has impacted us all in various ways of which we are unaware and continues to do so. We recently learned or were reminded that the story Christians read on Good Friday blames the Jews for killing Jesus instead of the Romans, who actually killed him. This practice has resulted in attacks on Jews throughout history and perpetuates hatred of Jews and anti-Semitism that culminated in the Holocaust, with the slaughter of one of every three Jews alive at the time. Speeches and vitriolic hatred like that delivered by Farrakhan stirs up fear in our Jewish brothers and sisters and we regret our insensitivity and silence. We will never again be silent when tropes like “Jewing down” the cost of something or claims that Jews have all the power in Western societies rear their ugly head. We too are blinded by certain prejudices and thus commit to uncover our biases; we encourage you to do the same.

In addition, we call for a national reconciliation and healing process with listening circles for our entire society on all of these issues. To jump start this process, we have begun talking with leaders in the area of reconciliation, healing, and listening circles, such as Fania Davis and others, to create a process for ourselves and the entire leadership team of the Women’s March. To help others do the same, we will share resources and materials to all local chapters and any other organizations or groups that would like to embark on this process locally – we encourage all to do so. The purpose is to provide a safe space and transparent process for us to work through our internalized sexism, racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia, classism, able-ism, and more. We need to dismantle all the ways that our society and its systems and structures keep us alienated and separated from our highest selves and one another. We recognize that we have called upon white people to recognize their privilege and engage in anti-racist and anti-Islamophobic work, yet we have neglected to do our own work to understand the more hidden, pervasive, and rarely acknowledged ways that anti-Semitism manifests in the society-at-large and within the Left, in particular.

This is an opportunity for us to urge the large women’s movement, the movement against racism, the Left, and the Christian and Islamic world to teach their communities about anti-Semitism in a systematic way, as many of these communities have been doing in regards to anti-racism and anti-sexism. This effort requires that we make these conversations public, even at the expense of making ourselves uncomfortable and vulnerable to critique. This is the reckoning we need to do. This step will begin the process of healing and repair that could provide the foundation needed for truly deep and lasting transformation. Through this process, we will become stronger, more loving, more compassionate, and unstoppable.

This work will occur simultaneously with the important work we are doing to win elections, and resist the current administration and Congress. We recognize that long-term transformation of our world requires that we work both to transform our society and ourselves. To build a loving and just world, we need to be loving and just and align with people who are loving and just – we missed the mark. We ask for your forgiveness and commit to regaining your trust.

With humility, care, and commitment and in solidarity ~

Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, Carmen Perez, Bob Bland and the rest of the Board of the Women’s March

Unfortunately, they did not issue that statement. But that does not preclude us from using this moment as an opportunity and launching pad for building a comprehensive movement for love and justice that adopts inclusive unifying principles of our own. To read such a statement and sign-on in support, click here. If the leaders of the Women’s March had made this kind of detailed and full public apology and acknowledgement of the ways in which they missed the marked, they would be modeling a humility so completely lacking in the present leadership in our country and provide a vision for what transformation and healing in our society could look like.

Cat Zavis, J.D., a lawyer and mediator, is the Executive Director of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, member of the inner editorial board of Tikkun magazine, and a rabbinic student of the Aleph Ordination Program. She leads an online training called: Spiritual Activism: Prophetic Empathy & Radical Love. Please consider joining that training by clicking here. You can reach Cat at cat@spiritualprogressives.org.

Slideshow image courtesy of the Tasnim News Agency.