NEW YORK - At the New York March for Racial Justice on Sunday, hundreds of New Yorkers, many of them Jewish Americans, gathered in solidarity with communities of color and protested against mass incarceration, police brutality, anti-immigration policies and systematic racism.
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As the protestors gathered in anticipation of the march across Brooklyn Bridge, the three female organizers behind the Women’s March on Washington - Tamika D. Mallory, Carmen Perez, and Linda Sarsour - passionately urged the crowd to do more to fight white supremacy.
“It is not enough to be here," Sarsour said, adding that what matters is "whether we are doing it in our places of employment, public schools, churches and synagogues and mosques."
"One of the hardest things I have ever done is combating anti-black racism in the Arab-American community, challenging my own people on issues around racism, around anti-Semitism. That is my job to do, not your job to do."
"It is not my job to educate white people on how to be anti-racist; it’s the job of white people to educate other white people. It is not my job as a Palestinian Muslim woman to educate Jewish people that Palestinians people deserve dignity and respect,” she said.
During her speech, Sarsour also called on the crowd not to be passive bystanders when people of color, transgender, or other minorities are attacked, like she was on Saturday when she returned to Brooklyn from the March for Racial Justice in Washington D.C. She noted that there were those who witnessed the attack but did not intervene.
"I'm going to be honest, there are instances of things that happened to me at this space [in the march] that made me feel unsafe," she said, in what some took as a reference to signs supporting Zionism, brought to the rally by a pro-Israel group.
"And that is why I'm in this corner today instead of amongst the people," she said regarding the security ring surrounding her.
"The fact that Tamika, Carmen and myself need to walk with security around us should be outrageous to all of you. As we march across the Brooklyn Bridge, I want you to ask yourself some questions: What am I willing to do? What am I going to do the next time I see a black person or an immigrant, or a trans person, or a refugee. Never be a bystander. If someone is being harassed, that is your responsibility, and I don’t care who you are. Say something."
'Zionism is a contested concept'
Among those who joined the march were about a dozen activists who arrived at the rally carrying signs that read “Zioness”, emblazoned with a logo of a woman with the Star of David. The signs, first spotted at the Chicago Slut Walk in August, are part of an effort by Brooke Goldstein, of the Lawfare Project, a pro-Israeli legal think tank based in New York City.
The organizers of the March for Racial Justice did not approach the group, and those carrying the signs trailed at the end of the march as it made its way across the iconic bridge. Some Jews at the rally said that it was these signs that made Sarsour say she felt unsafe.
Some of the Jewish participants at the march were offended by the signs, and challenged the "Zioness" group, claiming they were only there to create a provocation.
Sarah Friedson, who marched with the pro-Zionist group, was carrying a sign that said “Make Jewish and Black relations great again." She told Haaretz she was not part of the group but had friends who were, when one of the marchers, Ted Auerbach, approached her to ask why wasn't carrying a sign for Palestinian rights. “You are here as a disruptor," he told her after a brief conversation about Palestinian rights and Linda Sarsour.
Auerbach told Haaretz that “they have a sign saying Zionism for racial justice. [But] Zionism is a contested concept in the Jewish community.” He added that he has never seen Zionist signs at marches for racial justice, despite participating in similar events for years.
“She came here for two reasons. She came in my opinion to disrespect Linda Sarsour and to drive her out of the movement," Auerbach added.
Marisa Tramontano and Hanna Mermelstein told Haaretz that they have been approaching people who were carrying the Zioness signs and asking them for the signs, in order to discard them. The two women felt that the signs were inappropriate and could make Palestinians, such as Sarsour, feel unsafe, making the march about Jews, when it should be about people of color.
“I’m here as a white person to support racial justice, and I see other people here who are not only making it about themselves, but are here with a message that is counter to racial justice,’ Mermelstein said of the Zioness group.
“I think that Zionism is a white supremacist movement that lifts up white people at the expense of people of color. If Palestinians were to join us, how would they feel? I don’t want someone speaking for me who would make people of color feel unsafe.”