Women's March Removes New Board Member After Backlash Over anti-Israel Comments

Zahra Billoo, who has accused Israel of apartheid and terrorism, blames ouster on 'Islamophobic smear campaign led by the usual antagonists'

Zahra Billoo of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) speaks at the 2018 Women's March San Francisco.
Pax Ahimsa Gethen/Wikimedia Commons

NEW YORK - The Women’s March announced on Thursday it has removed its newly appointed board member Zahra Billoo after finding “her public statements incompatible with the values and mission of the organization.”

Billoo’s appointment was announced earlier this week after three of the founding and most prominent board members of the Women’s March – Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory and Bob Bland – stepped down from their positions. The three had been at the center of controversy over allegations that they failed to condemn, and in some cases fostered, anti-Semitism within the movement. 

Billoo was one of 17 new board members. A lawyer who serves as executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, she has repeatedly made comments sharply critical of Israel and Zionists.

On Twitter, Billoo has said several times that Israel engages in war crimes and terrorism, and that it is an “apartheid, racist state.” In one tweet from 2015, Billoo wrote that she was “more afraid of racist Zionists who support Apartheid Israel than of the mentally ill young people the #FBI recruits to join ISIS.”

“Women's March will continue to build an inclusive and effective movement that holds space for all women,” the organization wrote on Twitter as it announced Billoo’s removal.  

The other new board members were selected by a nominating committee, and include three Jewish women: Rabbi Tamara Cohen of Moving Traditions, an educational program for Jewish teenagers; Ginna Green, chief strategy officer of the liberal Jewish political advocacy group Bend the Arc, which advised the Women’s March on anti-Semitism during the peak of the controversy; and Texas political strategist Ginny Goldman.

The progressive Zionist organization Zioness, which criticized the Women’s March for Billoo’s appointment, said in a statement on Monday that her removal is “a victory” in the fight for “an American feminist movement and a broader progressive movement that is inclusive of American Jews.

“While Ms. Billoo should never have been appointed, we applaud the Women’s March, Inc. leadership for voting to remove her,” the statement read. “After years of waffling and empty statements in response to the Jewish community’s attempts to communicate our pain and alienation, this swift, decisive action is welcomed. Action matters.”

The group added it is “proud of Jewish women for their resilience and refusal to give up or cede the feminist movement to outright bigotry” and “grateful to Women’s March, Inc’s leadership for doing what needed to be done.

 “Antisemitism is the core organizing principle of white nationalism; until all progressive leaders recognize and actively combat this phenomenon, all our marginalized communities will be less safe,” it continued. 

In a Twitter thread on her dismissal, Biloo said it came after “an Islamophobic smear campaign led by the usual antagonists, who have long targeted me, my colleagues, and anyone else who dares speak out in support of Palestinian human rights and the right to self-determination.”

The anti-Semitism accusations against the Women’s March date back to Mallory’s ties to and refusal to disavow Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has a long history of making anti-Semitic comments. An article in Tablet last year also alleged that Mallory and Perez made anti-Jewish comments at Women’s March planning meetings.

Sarsour, who is Palestinian American, has said that feminism and Zionism are incompatible.

The Forward and Alyssa Fisher contributed to this report.