NEW YORK – Women’s March co-leader Tamika Mallory said Friday that the U.S. government is backing an Israeli state that “takes the lives of people who were there first.”
Speaking via video at an event hosted by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Justice Delegation – the group of lawyers and civil rights activists, including Mallory, who traveled to the Holy Land last month to learn more about the occupation and the lives of Palestinians – she encouraged Americans to challenge elected officials over the U.S. government funding of Israel.
“My soul would not rest, standing by and doing nothing about it, to know that the U.S. government – my taxpayer’s money, $10 million a day – is going to a government, a military, that takes the lives of people who were there first,” she told the audience at an event called “Palestine is Everywhere,” where members of the Justice Delegation shared their lessons from visiting Israel with a few dozen friends and allies.
“There are a lot of people who will say, ‘Do you believe that Israel has the right to exist? I believe we all have a right to exist, I want to see all of us live in a free society, where we are all able to raise our families and to be fruitful and have opportunities,” she said.
“This is not about stopping one side. This is about ensuring that the native people are able to enjoy the land. They shouldn’t ask anybody for their land! This is their land!” added Mallory, to murmurs of approval from the audience.
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Mallory then addressed the formation of Israel in 1948. “When you go to someone’s home and you need a place to stay, you ask ‘Can I come into your home and can I stay here, and can we peacefully coexist?’ You don’t walk into someone else’s home, needing a place. It’s clear you needed a place to go – cool, we got that! I hear that! But you don’t show up to somebody’s home, needing a place to stay, and decide that you're going to throw them out and hurt the people who are on that land. And to kill, steal, and do whatever it is you’re gonna do to take that land! That to me is unfair. It’s a human rights crime.”
Mallory has been embroiled in several controversies in recent months, since attending a Nation of Islam event in February where its leader, Louis Farrakhan, delivered a speech that included many anti-Semitic comments. And in April she was accused of anti-Semitism after criticizing Starbucks when the coffee company included the Anti-Defamation League in its anti-bias training.
Mallory’s Women’s March co-chair Linda Sarsour also spoke at Friday’s event. In a speech about pro-Palestinian activism, she addressed the challenges of intersectionality and the recent backlash from Jewish activists and others who have said they feel unwelcome in the progressive movement under Sarsour's and Mallory’s leadership.
“For people in the social justice movement, all these conversations happen online and offline – people who are apparently very uncomfortable because we talk about Palestine, and [how] it might alienate some people. Well, people are going to have to come to terms with being uncomfortable: Palestine is the global social justice cause of our generation,” said Sarsour.
“This is apartheid happening in Palestine, funded by our taxpayers’ money,” she continued. “So don’t tell me about North Korea – because, guess what, I don’t fund North Korea’s human rights violations.”
Sarsour said she is willing to hold conversations with people who feel uncomfortable or have concerns, but that these controversies cannot be allowed to derail the whole progressive movement.
“Something that’s been happening that’s really bothered me is that we have to stop everything we are doing because a couple of people got some hurt feelings, because they feel uncomfortable. We can’t stop!” she said, without giving any examples of who she was referring to.
“People are being detained! People are being deported! Black people are being killed in our streets! Muslim families are being separated. So those private conversations that need to happen – let’s have them. I want to know why you’re hurt. I want to know why you’re uncomfortable. But the whole movement can’t stop to have these conversations,” she said.
However, Sarsour said activists who may be feeling comfortable must also assume some responsibility and examine their feelings.
“If you’re in a space where you’re feeling uncomfortable, it’s not our job to make you comfortable,” she said. “It’s your job to reflect and say, ‘What is it about the space that’s making me feel uncomfortable? What is it about this particular form of injustice that’s making me feel uncomfortable? Why would a Jewish American feel alienated by speaking about the atrocities and human rights violations that the Israeli government is committing against Palestinian people,” Sarsour asked the audience. “Why would it make you uncomfortable?”
“It really breaks my heart when people say that,” she said, adding that she and her family have been receiving threats due to those accusations. She called on her supporters to challenge accusations of anti-Semitism of the movement, or its leaders, over political disagreements.
“I want you to challenge people who continue to throw out inaccurate labels against activists and community organizers,”’ she said. “Sisters and brothers, Palestinian rights activism is not your enemy. We are not the enemies of Jews! In fact, as I have said earlier, some of the most staunch supporters, people we have deep and transformative relationships with, are Jewish Americans. They have stood unapologetically and boldly, through their prophetic tradition and their Jewish faith that has told them over and over again that they have to stand up against injustice.
“So when you hear people calling me an anti-Semite, or saying that the CCR [Center for Constitutional Rights] is an anti-Semitic organization, you have to stand up and say no! Because actually it’s a disservice to Jews to call people like us anti-Semites when there are true anti-Semites in the White House!”
In addition to Mallory's video appearance, other members of the Justice Delegation took the stage in person to share their experiences and lessons from the trip, which visited the West Bank, Jerusalem, Hebron and Bethlehem.
The delegation made headlines when two of its members, Katherine Franke and Vincent Warren, were detained at Ben-Gurion International Airport for 14 hours upon arrival. After being questioned, they were refused entry to Israel and flown back to New York the following day. Franke was deported because of her alleged links to pro-boycott organizations, but it was unclear why CCR Executive Director Warren was refused entry.
Warren also appeared at the event, speaking at length about his detainment. “They questioned me and my colleagues for a long time. But they didn’t beat me, they didn’t threaten me, they didn’t threaten my family, like they [do] with the Palestinians,” Warren said.