"A supporter of Hamas and sharia law" – that was how Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American activist, was labeled on social media after she pledged her solidarity as a "Palestinian Muslim sister" with the hundreds of thousands attending Saturday's Women’s March on Washington, of which she was one of the organizers.
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Following the accusations, Sarsour asked for support on Twitter, leading human rights leaders and fellow marchers to stand up for her side with a viral campaign on Twitter.
The attacks started when The Daily Caller, a conservative newspaper, published pictures of Sarsour alongside Salah Sarsour, which it described as “a member of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee and former Hamas operative who was jailed in Israel in the 1990s." The photos of the two, who are apparently not related, were taken at a charity event in Chicago.
Other conservative blogs and web sites, such as the The Gateway Pundit, have labeled her a supporter of Sharia Law (citing Sarsour’s comments about paid maternity leave in Saudi Arabia). Soon after, the accusations spread on social media, where critics of the women’s march were repeating similar claims.
Linda Sarsour, the head of the Arab American Association of New York and the recipient of the White House's 2012 Champion of Change award, has previously dismissed such allegations against her, saying she would not have been awarded the honor had they been true.
Sarsour, who is becoming one of the most recognizable Palestinian American women in the country, has always been proud of her activism on behalf of its Muslim community, and has spoken out in support of the rights of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
A community organizer from Brooklyn, Sarsour worked with officials in City Hall to close public schools for the observance of two of Islam’s holy days, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, and marched with Black Lives Matter. She was also one of the most outspoken and memorable speakers in Bernie Sanders' rallies during his primary campaign.
Identifying herself during her speech at the march as an “unapologetically” Muslim and Palestinian, she said, “Sisters and brothers, you are what democracy looks like, sisters and brothers, you are my hope for my community.” Sarour added that she cannot accept an administration that won an election "on the backs of" Muslims, blacks, immigrants, LGBT and other communities.
Sarsour also called out the policies that target Muslims in the United States, and said she is marching for her mother, daughter, and members of her family and community. "Most of all, I am my Palestinian grandmother who lives in occupied territories' wildest dream! Justice for all," she said.
On Monday, Sarsour wrote on her Facebook account: “I need extra prayers sisters and brothers. The opposition cannot fathom to see a Palestinian Muslim American woman that resonates with the masses. Someone whose track record is clear and has always stood up for the most marginalized. They have a coordinated attack campaign against me and it’s vicious and ugly. It’s not the first time, but it’s definitely more intense – the fact that my children see it is what is bothering me the most.
"They will not succeed. I have helped build a movement, I am ready for what’s to come so they can spew alternative facts and piece a twisted narrative together if they want – I and we will still rise. We have never been outnumbered, we have only been out organized. That changed this weekend – and they are not having it. We are ready to move the masses toward justice for all of us. We can do it.”
One of the first to answer her call was Gina Belafonte, daughter of singer and activist Harry Belafonte, who wrote, “Linda Sarsour, when my father and mother were criticized and we had bomb threats against our family, when they tapped our phones and said nasty things to try and divide our family, my parents stood strong in their commitment to justice.
"Because they never wavered I trusted their conviction ... It’s a teaching moment. We know how 'they' do. Know you have one child of the revolution who has your back and there are many others alongside me. You tell us what you need and we will be there! I AM LINDA SARSOUR!”
Next came support from the Southern Poverty Law Center: “Islamophobias have been attacking #WomensMarch organizer Linda Sarsour. We stand with her against this type of hate and bigotry.”
Soon such responses became an avalanche and the hashtag #IMarchWithLinda kept trending Monday, with marchers in the Saturday events, human rights groups, politicians and celebrities all voicing support for Sarsour.
Senator Bernie Sanders also supported Sarsour, who participated in his campaign for the presidency across the United States. “Thank you Linda Sarsour for helping to organize the march and build a progressive movement. When we stand together, we win," he tweeted.
During her campaign for Sanders, Sarsour had said she was proud to support "the only Jewish Candidate for presidency".
“I’m supporting a candidate who sees the humanity of the Palestinian people, because I am Palestinian,” Sarsour told Haaretz at the time.
“Bernie Sanders’ very balanced approach to the Palestinian conflict is something we have never seen in any presidential candidate. He says that Israel has a right to exist but also that Palestinians have a right to dignity and respect. And that we need to end the blockade on Gaza – that is not something that we are used to hearing. I welcome his approach to peace and reconciliation, and demanding equal right for all people.”
The organization Jews for Racial and Economic Justice tweeted: “#IMarchWithLinda because she fights for our Jewish community, all women & all people with fierce love. You come for her you come for us all.”
Max Berger, a founding member of left-wing American Jewish organization IfNotNow, tweeted that “as a Jew, I am proud to say #IMarchWithLinda. If they come for one of us, they come for all of us.”
Social activist and author Naomi Klein wrote on Twitter: “Not this time, trolls. I stand with the incredible and inspiring @lsarsour.”
In addition, Amnesty International urged its followers to not let fear triumph, writing that Sarsour “embodies the spirit of a true activist.”