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Women's Marches Canceled Amidst Anti-Semitic Controversies

The controversies surrounding the Women's March founders threaten to capsize their movement.
Photograph courtesy of The Advocate

Photograph courtesy of The Advocate

The 2017 Women's March drew at least five million attendees worldwide and was one of the most galvanizing moments of the Trump presidency. However, recent controversies over the anti-Semitism of the movement's four major organizers - Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, Bob Bland, and Linda Sarsour - are forcing local chapters to re-evaluate their relationship to the mother organization and cancel their marches this January 19th.

Chicago was the first to cancel theirs, citing the heavy cost of their March to the Polls last October. Board member Lisa Kurensky told the Chicago Tribune that while the group's decision was not directly related to the controversies, it offered them the "side benefit" of distancing themselves from Women's March. New Orleans followed suit, stating that the controversy surrounding the movement was "dampening [the] efforts of sister marches to fundraise, enlist involvement, [and] find sponsors."

The northern California town of Eureka, California has also canceled its planned march, but their reason has less to do with the controversy and more to do with its lack of intersectionality. Humboldt County, Eureka's home, is 74% white and the organizers have decided to "take time for more outreach...[to] build power and community engagement through [the] connection between women that seek to improve the lives of all in our community.”

The Controversy

Last November, a Tablet Magazine article exposed the anti-Semitism of the Women's Mach founders. Vanessa Wruble, a Jewish organizer, attended the initial 2016 meetings to plan the march and recalled that Perez and Mallory told her Jews needed to "confront their own role" in racism, citing their involvement in both the slave trade and the prison industrial complex.

Wruble traced these statements back to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan who wrote about them in his book The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and the Jews, which esteemed African-American scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. has called "the bible of the new anti-Semitism." Wruble decided to overlook this in order to focus on building the movement. She also overlooked how the group's unity principles curiously omitted Jews

Following the success of the march, Mallory and Perez, as well as Sarsour and Bland, were lauded by the media and politicians alike. In that year's Time 100 issue, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand praised them as "the suffragists of our time." However, Wruble felt left out of the success. At a meeting shortly after the march, Perez and Mallory erupted at Wruble, shouting loaded statements like "You people control all the wealth." After this, she resigned to found a sister organization, March On.

The anti-Semitic controversy reared its head again last February when Mallory attended the Nation of Islam's annual Saviour's Day, where Minister Farrakhan spoke. In his speech, he openly praised Mallory, while also denouncing Jews as his "powerful enemies." According to Tablet, Mallory defended Farrakhan during a phone call afterwards. Around the same time, it was also discovered that the four women hired members of the Nation of Islam as their bodyguards

Although the foursome denied having any ties to the Nation of Islam and denounced anti-Semitism, Washington D.C. chapter head Mercy Morganfield tells a different story. "There are no Jewish women on the board," she said. "They refused to put any on. Most of the Jewish people resigned and left." In response to the controversies, Morganfield cut ties between them and her chapter last year.

The Movement Has Lost Steam

It is not just the Washington D.C. chapter who have cut off their relationship from Women's March. Over the last year, many local chapters around the world have branched off from the organization, including Houston, Rhode Island, Illinois, Barcelona, and Canada. Theresa Shook, the woman credited with coming up with the idea of the march, has called on the four women to resign, as did Morganfield. Actress Alyssa Milano has refused to take part in this year's event unless they denounce Farrakhan. So far, they have not done so.

Hate crimes against Jews have risen by 37% over the last year, and according to the FBI, they are currently the most targeted religious group in America. The local activism that Women's March brought us in 2017 will outweigh the anti-Semitism of its leaders. But unless they denounce Louis Farrakhan and make reparations to the Jewish community, their credibility, and their movement, is threatened.