Progressive groups in the United States are being asked to withdraw their support for the Women’s March until four of its leaders resign over their association with notorious anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan.
An online petition is calling on the likes of ACLU, Planned Parenthood, the Southern Poverty Law Center and Emily’s List to stop "sponsoring" the Women’s March unless Tamika Mallory – who attended a speech by Farrakhan last month and has refused to distance herself from him – Carmen Perez, Linda Sarsour and Bob Bland resign their posts on the organization's board.
Tali Goldsheft, a Brooklyn photographer, has collected more than 600 signatures so far. Her petition asks that the progressive groups “remove their sponsorship until the organization's current leadership is replaced by leaders who are not affiliated with and do not defend those associated with any organization classified as a hate group.”
The petition continues: “We, as supporters of women’s rights, donated to this organization, promoted it, and went on to march once again on January 20, 2018. We REFUSE to march behind leaders who support an open anti-Semite. We REFUSE to march behind leaders who defend those affiliated with an open anti-Semite. We DEMAND new leadership.”
The four leaders, the petition notes, “will not directly condemn Farrakhan’s extremely anti-Semitic speech or disavow any relationship with him,” and "the three women [Mallory, Perez and Sarsour] have publicly praised and been photographed with the Nation of Islam leader."
It adds that a group which "states in its principles ‘that Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights’ MUST NOT support or defend those who support someone like Louis Farrakhan, who is not only a rabid anti-Semite but also has a history of misogyny, homophobia and transphobia.”
Goldsheft, 34, told Haaretz her decision to launch the petition and campaign – marked with the hashtag #WomensMarchLeadersResign – was driven by her anger at the “hypocrisy” of the movement.
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“I want to make sure the women’s movement is not connected to someone who spews anti-Semitic hate,” said Goldsheft, who described herself as a liberal supporter of progressive causes who has participated in Women’s March events.
“I want the Women’s March to survive and succeed,” she continued. “I just don’t think it will with these leaders. If these three women can attend Farrakhan’s rallies and cheer him on, they shouldn’t be leading a social justice movement. If they were affiliated with David Duke or any white supremacist group, it wouldn’t be a question – they wouldn’t be allowed to lead.”
The controversy surrounds the February 25 Saviours’ Day speech in Chicago by Farrakhan, which included diatribes slamming Jews and Israel, as well the LGBTQ community.
In the speech, he offered a shout-out to Women’s March co-chair Mallory, who was in the audience. Mallory posted two Instagram photos from the event and another Women’s March leader, Perez, commented on the pictures with “raise the roof” emojis.
Both Perez and Sarsour have previously appeared at events with Farrakhan, while Bland tweeted her support of the co-chair, writing that Mallory “being held directly accountable for the words of any man is misogynistic.”
Noting that the Women’s March youth division was the organizing force behind Wednesday’s school walkout calling for more gun-control legislation, Goldsheft said the fact they the group is working with and influencing young people makes it especially important “to show that they have no inkling of hate in their organization.”
The March 6 Women’s March statement released after Mallory’s relationship with Farrakhan caused a firestorm fell far short, Goldsheft said. In that statement, the organization declared that Farrakan’s views were “not aligned with the Women’s March Unity Principles,” yet stated that the group continued to “love and value” Mallory.
The brief statement was “not nearly enough,” said Goldsheft. “It was generic corporate speak, and it doesn’t show that any change is going to happen,” she added.
The petition is the latest example of dissatisfaction among supporters about the Women’s March board’s response to the Farrakhan controversy.
Local Women’s March chapters have issued stronger statements condemning Farrakhan’s rhetoric and criticizing the national leadership’s reaction.
Mercy Morganfield, leader of the DC branch, said the group was “failing women who believed the Women’s March was a safe place for them. We have to apologize for that.” And Women’s March social media director Alyssa Klein announced her departure from the group on Saturday.
Nisi Jacobs, a New Yorker involved in Women’s March efforts who helped Goldsheft launch her campaign and petition, said internal division in the group was not new.
Many activists in local chapters across the country feel the energy of the Women’s March has been “hijacked” by a national leadership whose priorities were not women’s rights, and “these four Farrakhan-affiliated women are among those who are sabotaging the brand,” Jacobs said.
She added that most women are not speaking out in order to appear “visually unified,” and some have quietly severed their connection to the organization. But in her opinion, “That’s not the way women’s equality movements are supposed to work. We aren’t supposed to have to keep quiet.”