Samara Weinstein wouldn’t have missed the 2017 Women’s March for anything. As a woman and mother, she says she was “appalled” by the rhetoric coming Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. To show up on the Washington Mall the day after Trump’s inauguration, she wanted to be counted in opposition.
Some 750,000 marched in Washington that Jan. 21. Worldwide an estimated 5 million people turned out.
This year, though, Weinstein can’t bring herself to go.
With the stories of possible anti-Semitism among the march’s leadership piling up, and march co-president Tamika Mallory’s repeated defense of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, Weinstein is far from the only liberal Jewish woman who will pass on this year’s march. Around the region, Jewish women are struggling to decide whether there’s a place for them in the 2019 demonstration, planned for Saturday.
“I’ve told my friends, who are like, ‘Let’s go,’ that I’m not going because I’m uncomfortable about this shadow that’s been cast. It’s so unfortunate,” Weinstein says. “I feel very, very strongly about women’s issues. This feels
Controversy followed the march’s organizers since its beginning. Linda Sarsour — a progressive and pro-Palestinian activist who supports the boycott, divest and sanction movement targeting Israel — was in 2017 and remains one of the march’s co-chairs.
But the cohesion that march organizers maintained in 2017 proved to be paper thin. Last month, Tablet magazine reported that Mallory and Carmen Perez, another march organizer, directed anti-Semitic remarks at Jewish organizers during a 2016 planning meeting. Mallory has also attended the Nation of Islam’s “Saviour’s Day” and referred to Farrakhan, who has a long history of making anti-Semitic pronouncements, as the “GOAT,” short for “greatest of all time.”
In a Monday appearance on “The View,” Mallory said she didn’t agree with Farrakhan’s statements about Jews and homosexuals. She repeatedly declined to condemn Farrakhan’s remarks, instead praising the Nation of Islam’s work helping African-American men, particularly in the criminal
“As a black leader in a country that is still dealing with some very serious unresolved issues as it relates to the black experience in this country, I go into a lot of different spaces,” she told “The View’s” panel. “Wherever my people are, that’s where I must also be.”
That isn’t a good enough justification for Sarah Robbins, 25. She, too, was on the Mall in 2017, donning a pink hat and carrying a sign reading “Grab the Oval Office,” a reference to the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump spoke about groping women by
Robbins wishes the most controversial of the march’s organizers would simply step aside, putting the progressive, feminist movement before their own notoriety. If they won’t do that, Robbins isn’t sure she wants to attend.
“If Tamika Mallory were next to me on the Mall, I honestly wouldn’t care. If we’re all there to support women’s issues and social justice, then great,” Robbins says. “But I think it’s so selfish that they can’t just step aside. They’re attracting all this attention for the worst reasons, and they just can’t put the people ahead of themselves. It sucks.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), National Council for Jewish Women and the Democratic National Committee (DNC), have all withdrawn from partnership agreements for this weekend’s march. In a statement, Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA), said, “The JDCA supports the objectives of the Women’s March and stands with sister marches across the country this weekend. At the same time, we welcome the DNC, SPLC, Emily’s List and other organizations’ decision to not sponsor and participate in the Women’s March and take a principled stand against anti-Semitism.”
Women’s March Inc.
Some, including Robbins, are quick to point out that there is debate over who exactly makes up the leadership of Women’s Marches around the country. Amanda Berman, founder of the progressive Zionist women’s group Zioness, says that it’s important to distinguish between the march in Washington and sister demonstrations around the country, like the one she’ll be attending in Los Angeles.
Other Women’s Marches around the country are being organized independently, but the march on the Washington Mall is being organized by Women’s March Inc., formed by organizers of the 2017 march, including Sarsour and Mallory. In the past, Women’s March Inc. has threatened legal action for rallies using the “Women’s March” branding.
Berman created Zioness after the first Women’s March, which she declined to attend because of Sarsour’s affiliation. On Tuesday, it held a “teach-in” at the office of the Human Rights Campaign in Washington. The group brought signs for women planning to attend.
“Every day, women are coming up to us and asking, ‘What should we do?’” Berman says. “We just felt that we couldn’t organizationally take a position where we’re having an official group march in D.C. and standing in any space with those women. They’re dividing the movement.”
Rabbi Gilah Langner of Kol Ami, the Reconstructionist congregation in Arlington, says she isn’t counseling women one way or another. She says she’s proud to have attended in 2017 and 2018 and would attend this year if she didn’t have other congregational obligations.
Langner is disappointed by what she’s heard about Sarsour and Mallory, but she says she’s not interested in organizing herself against a progressive, feminist movement that’s gained momentum in the last couple of years.
“It’s a very personal decision, and I’m not telling people to go or not to go, especially since it’s on Shabbos,” Langner says. “What I would say, if people want to go; go to shul in the morning and the march in the afternoon. Make it a day of redemption in both senses.”
For some, like Robbins, it might end up being a day of decision. She says she can’t abide what she sees as anti-Semitism in the leadership’s ranks. She wishes she didn’t have to choose, but she says it’s a battle between her Jewish identity and her feminism.
“I may just wake up Saturday, see how I’m feeling and go,” she says. “Or not.”