Reeling From Farrakhan Scandal, Women’s March Leader Apologizes to 'Hurt and Betrayed' Members

Facing backlash over co-chair's embrace of anti-Semitic Nation of Islam leader, D.C. leader says: 'We recognize and acknowledge the humanity of our Jewish sisters'

A demonstrator holds a sign that reads "Resist Insist Persist" during the second annual Women's March Chicago in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018. One year after the inauguration of President Donald Trump, thousands of people will again gather to protest for equal rights at the 2018 Women's March. Photographer: Christopher Dilts/Bloomberg
Bloomberg

One of the leaders of the Women's March leaders issued a plea to “hurt and betrayed” members not to abandon the movement after its national co-chair Tamika Mallory publicly embraced Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan in an incident that has sparked a firestorm.

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“To Women’s March members and supporters who feel alienated, do not quit,” wrote Mercy Morganfield, head of the movement's Washington D.C. branch, in a statement released Saturday. “Intersectional movement building is a labor of love yet a necessity for women’s rights. The Women’s March movement is not limited to the national co-chairs.

"The Women’s March movement is you and millions of other women around the world.”

Morganfield’s statement came three days after the group’s official reaction to the matter, which many criticized as failing to condemn Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic and homophobic statements strongly enough. That statement, released on March 6, 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.

Women's March Tamika Mallory, left, and Linda Sarsour attending an anniversary event in Las Vegas, Nevada, January 21, 2018.
Bloomberg

Backlash

The controversy began on February 25, when Mallory posted a photo of herself and Farrakhan on Instagram. The image came following a speech by Farrakhan in which the Nation of Islam founder declared that “powerful Jews are my enemy” and that he had “pulled the cover off the eyes of the Satanic Jew.” Farrakhan, as he has done repeatedly in the past, also accused Jews of controlling the FBI and Hollywood, and plotting to synthesize marijuana in order to “feminize” black men.

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Ever since, criticism of Mallory’s behavior - and the group’s response - has mounted and intensified, both within and outside the feminist organization. There have been mounting calls for Mallory to step down from her leadership position in the group that led the massive protest march in Washington, D.C., the day after President Donald Trump was inaugurated, with millions more gathering at sister marches around the world. Two other co-founders of the Women’s March, Linda Sarsour and Carmen Perez, have, in the past, appeared at events with Farrakhan.

In her statement, Morganfield clarified that “Women’s March DC unequivocally denounces racism, homophobia, sexism, trans-hate, classism, xenophobia, ableism, Islamophobia or anti-Semitism, and all other forms of oppression and hate.

Louis Farrakhan
Rogelio V. Solis/AP

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"We denounce hateful and divisive rhetoric espoused by anyone including Louis Farrakhan. We recognize and acknowledge the humanity of our Jewish sisters and we will work with our Jewish community to repudiate the hatred and ignorance that targets them or marginalizes them in any way.”

In addition, she denounced “any beliefs that demonize the LGBTQIA community and we recognize and acknowledge the humanity of our transgender sisters.” In what appeared to be an attempt at balance, the statement also included a denunciation of “the systematic oppression and police brutality of Jewish Ethiopian sisters in Israel.”

The statement contained an acknowledgement of the fact that the national organization’s statement on the matter had been insufficient and “many felt it just wasn’t enough. Although it stated Minister Farrakhan is not aligned with our principles, it fell short of blanketly condemning his egregious rhetoric over the years.”

By failing to strongly denounce such rhetoric, she said, “We are failing women who believed the Women’s March was a safe place for them. We have to apologize for that.”

Although Mallory “is a woman who has done so much good,” she said, as a group, “we have to hold our leadership accountable just as we hold ourselves accountable ... If the actions of leaders are not aligned with our principles, then leaders should reassess their leadership role in Women’s March and the greater women’s rights movement.”

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Meanwhile, the fallout from the incident has continued and one regional chapter of Planned Parenthood announced Friday that it was cancelling her upcoming appearance at an event, announcing that it had decided to “part ways” with the Women’s March leader.

The Jewish progressive organization IfNotNow released a statement Friday acknowledging that Farrakhan is an “antisemite, homophobe and transphobe” and that “is painful and confusing to see Women’s March leaders embrace Farrakhan, because it demonstrates that they may not take antisemitism as seriously as they take other forms of oppression.”

At the same time, IfNotNow criticized Jewish groups like the Anti-Defamation League and the Republican Jewish Coalition for what they called an “outsized” reaction to the Farrakhan flap. These mainstream groups, they charge, “fail to understand that the true threat to our community today is the rise of white nationalism,” calling this a “galling moral failure.”

The statement contended that while the influence of leaders like Farrakhan was “small,” the “white nationalist movement has the ear of the President of the United States. Given this power discrepancy—and given these institutions’ own unwillingness to call out racism and Islamophobia in the American Jewish community, and discrimination based on ethnicity and religion in Israel—it is unsettling to see how often the ADL and others criticize Black and Muslim activists and politicians for any association with Farrakhan.”