Women's March Faces Crisis as Jewish Activists Lose Faith Amid Farrakhan Firestorm

Following series of tweets conveying her discomfort at movement’s response to co-chair Tamika Mallory refusing to distance herself from Nation of Islam leader, social media director Alyssa Klein leaves women’s group

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Women's March Tamika Mallory, left, and Linda Sarsour attending an anniversary event in Las Vegas, Nevada, January 21, 2018.
Women's March co-chairs Tamika Mallory, left, and Linda Sarsour attending an one-year anniversary event in Las Vegas, Nevada, January 21, 2018.Credit: Bloomberg

A leading Jewish activist of the Women’s March movement has left the organization, following the controversy in which the group’s co-chair attended a speech by Louis Farrakhan last month but refused to distance herself from his vehemently anti-Semitic remarks.

While social media director Alyssa Klein did not explicitly link her decision to the controversy surrounding the co-chair, Tamika Mallory, several tweeters responded to her Twitter announcement on Saturday by congratulating her on taking a stand.

Her departure is the latest example of the hurt – and in some cases outrage – of Jewish women associated with the Women’s March as the Farrakhan controversy has unfolded in recent weeks.

The current firestorm revives an older problem, dating from the 1990s, of blatant anti-Semitism expressed by Farrakhan, now 84, as part of his black nationalist, Nation of Islam ideology and the reluctance of prominent figures on the left, notably in the African-American community, to distance themselves from a man who regularly characterizes Jews as “satanic.”

Such tensions are putting a deep strain on the political “big tent” that progressive women are attempting to create to push back in the era of President Donald Trump and the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

Mallory was present at the Saviors’ Day rally in Chicago, sponsored by the National of Islam, in which Farrakhan made multiple anti-Semitic slurs during a three-hour speech.

The Women’s March released a statement last Tuesday, a week after the story about Mallory’s presence at the rally broke. Many criticized it as failing to condemn Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic and homophobic statements strongly enough.

That statement declared that Farrakan’s views were “not aligned with the Women’s March Unity Principles,” but also stated that the group continued to “love and value” Mallory.

The co-chair herself never issued a formal apology, but did tweet on March 3: “Someone bought to my attention that over the past few days I never tweeted my absolute position on how wrong anti-semitism and homophobia is.”

Several of Klein’s tweets last week indicated she was deeply uncomfortable with Mallory’s position and the official response of the Women’s March. “Anti-Semitism is not a distraction from intersectionality. That people are putting out the narrative that it is really hurts me. If you are committed to intersectionality and you see or hear hateful things said about Jewish people, you have an obligation to speak up. Full stop,” she wrote on March 7. A day later she tweeted: “To anyone who has felt hurt this past week and beyond I just want you to know that you are not alone. You should never have to feel gaslighted. None of this is okay. And we should not be afraid to say it.”

In addition to her own tweets, Klein retweeted similar sentiments from other Jewish women active in the Women’s March.

There are signs that parts of the movement have been responsive to the distress shown by both Jews and the LGBTQ community, which has been similarly disturbed by Farrakhan’s homophobic and transphobic rhetoric.

Taking note of this, Klein tweeted Saturday that she was “sending much love” to the Washington branch of the Women’s March for its “beautiful and courageous statement,” released the same day as her resignation.

In that statement, chapter head Mercy Morganfield wrote: “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.”

The statement included a plea “to Women’s March members and supporters who feel alienated, do not quit.”

Klein’s is the first high-profile resignation from the Women’s March as a result of the furor. She is a writer and editor based in New York City and Johannesburg, specializing in entertainment. In a post on the Women’s March website in January, she said her “focus is on highlighting movies and TV made by filmmakers of color” because she is “so sick of white heteropatriarchy on screen.”

She said in that post she was “proud and so honored to be working with the women of color who are at the forefront of the Women’s March on Washington. I joined this movement because I hope to do everything I can to amplify the voices and work of these indomitable ladies.”

The current conflict highlights how, as the burgeoning Women’s March and #MeToo movements put them in the spotlight, Jewish feminists and women of color are being buffeted by long-standing tensions involving race and identity on the progressive left.

In recent years, the focus of that tension has been the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which has been at the forefront of a controversy involving another Women’s March leader, Linda Sarsour – whom pro-Israel advocates have accused of supporting terrorism.

Last summer, anger flared when Chicago Dyke March leaders demanded that Jews with a rainbow flag featuring a Star of David leave the procession, on the grounds that the march was “pro-Palestinian” and “anti-Zionist,” and it made people feel uncomfortable.

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