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- Religious leader
- Palestinian-American political activist
The Women’s March organization — decried from the start for being non-inclusive by a variety of critics, including some trans women, women of color, sex workers, and even anti-abortion activists — can now add another rapidly growing group of people to that list: Jewish feminists. Or, more broadly, those who oppose anti-Semitism in general.
The latest controversy stems from Women’s March cofounder Tamika Mallory and her recent attendance at a speech given by the incendiary Nation of Islam leader and noted anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan.
“Satan is going down. Farrakhan has pulled the cover off the eyes of the Satanic Jew, and I’m here to say your time is up, your world is through,” the controversial leader said in what was reportedly a three-hour speech given in Chicago on Feb. 26 in honor of Saviours’ Day, a Nation of Islam holiday celebrating the birth of its founder. “You good Jews better separate, because the satanic ones will take you to hell with them, because that’s where they are headed.”
Mallory posted a quick Instagram video from the event, plus photos, and was mentioned on the stage by Farrakhan, according to a report by the Anti-Defamation League.
“He even mentioned the Women’s March, saying that while he thought the event was a good thing, women need to learn how to cook, so their husbands don’t become obese,” the ADL reported. “Tamika Mallory, one of the March organizers, was in the audience, and got a special shout-out from Farrakhan. Mallory posted two Instagram photos from the event, which Carmen Perez, another Women’s March organizer, commented on with ‘raise the roof’ emojis.”
This is far from the first public calling-out of Mallory’s association with Farrakhan (not to mention repeated charges of anti-Semitism aimed at co-founder and pro-Palestinian activist Linda Sarsour), but this one — stoked by Jake Tapper of CNN — appears to be a churning storm that just keeps gaining power, and from which, for many people, there may be no turning back.
“Tamika Mallory has not just gone to see a man oozing of such hatred speak. She has publicly endorsed him,” noted Elad Nehorai in an opinion piece for the Forward. “She has refused to back down for her attendance. She has refused to denounce his words. She has composed her own anti-Semitic dog-whistling comment. And she has thanked others for supporting her attendance.”
Much of the increasing blowback has indeed been related to Mallory’s response tweets (which she chose to do rather than release an official statement immediately). Many critics have criticized the official Women’s March response as being too little, too late.
This is a thread. It seems I am not being clear. I am and always have been against all forms of racism. I am committed to ending anti-black racism, antisemitism, homophobia & transphobia. This is why I helped create an intersectional movement to bring groups together.
— Tamika D. Mallory (@TamikaDMallory) March 5, 2018
The statement, provided to Yahoo Lifestyle and posted on social media by the Women’s March, reads in part: “Anti-Semitism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, racism and white supremacy are and always will be indefensible. Women’s March is committed to fighting all forms of oppression as outlined in our Unity Principles. We will not tolerate anti-Semitism, racism, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia and we condemn these expressions of hatred in all forms.”
The statement continues: “Women’s March is an intersectional movement made up of organizers with different backgrounds, who work in different communities. Within the Women’s March movement, we are very conscious of the conversations that must be had across the intersections of race, religion and gender. We love and value our sister and co-President Tamika Mallory, who has played a key role in shaping these conversations. Neither we nor she shy away from the fact that intersectional movement building is difficult and often painful.”
It concludes: “Minister Farrakhan’s statements about Jewish, queer, and trans people are not aligned with the Women’s March Unity Principles, which were created by women of color leaders and are grounded in Kingian Nonviolence. Women’s March is holding conversations with queer, trans, Jewish and Black members of both our team and larger movement to create space for understanding and healing.”
[UPDATE: On Wednesday, Mallory addressed the controversy through an op-ed she wrote for Newsone, a “news source for Blacks in America,” in which she said, in part: “I have heard the pain and concerns of my LGBTQAI siblings, my Jewish friends and Black women (including those who do and those who don’t check off either of those other boxes.) I affirm the validity of those feelings, and as I continue to grow and learn as both an activist and as a woman, I will continue to grapple with the complicated nature of working across ideological lines and the question of how to do so without causing harm to vulnerable people.]
Mallory had addressed questions regarding her support of Farrakhan (already known by many who have been following the issue) in a Canadian public television interview on Feb. 16, before she spoke at a New Democratic Party (NDP) Convention in Ottawa.
“I think people have to ask Mr. Farrakhan about his views. I’m not responsible for Mr. Farrakhan, nor am I a spokesperson for him,” Mallory said. “What I do know is that I’ve worked with him for many years to address some of the ills in the black community where we’ve transformed lives. Under his guidance, there have been many people who have turned away from drugs, away from crime, to get themselves cleaned up. Many black men have reentered their homes to take care of their families. In those areas, we’ve been able to work together.”
When further pressed by the interviewer about how her support could be troubling to many Women’s March supporters, she said, “I would be afraid to go into your families and check to see all the people that you have dinner with and break bread with during holidays. … So when we start this moral purity question, it really is a pretty dangerous road to travel.”
Mallory then attempted to shift attention to her own activism. “If we just look at the Women’s March, the most recent action that I was involved with, and something that I led, it was truly intersectional. … That’s the work that we need to be focused on.”
As part of that work, at the Women’s March Power to the Polls event in Las Vegas on Jan. 21, Mallory gave a rousing speech, calling out many of the white women in the audience. “Don’t come to this rally today and sit here with your pink hat on, saying that you’re with us and you’re nowhere to be found when black people ask you to show up in the streets and defend our lives. … Stand up for me, white woman. Come to my aid.”
She spoke with Yahoo Lifestyle about that powerful moment recently. “It is always very uncomfortable to be the one or to be among the few who are willing to speak truth to power — even when you happen to be speaking to people who are considered to be friends — and no one wants to be that girl, if you will,” Mallory said. “That you’re the one who is constantly removing the veil from some of these really deep, hurtful, and confrontational discussions is not a popular position. … But I’m able to sleep better at night with myself, knowing that I am not just sort of existing within the space without being a part of the voices that actually transform the space.”
Now, the fact that Mallory has not personally denounced Farrakhan’s bigoted beliefs has put many other women in that same position of “removing the veil,” some believing that her silence in this instance makes her — and the other March co-founders — complicit in them.
If Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, Bob Bland, and Carmen Perez can't do the bare minimum and admit that they've repeatedly excused, condoned, and been complicit in antisemitism in the last few days, they should step down from their positions in the Women's March.
— JC (@jcinthelibrary) March 4, 2018
A short thread on the Women's March leaders & their support for Farrakhan.
1) Three out of the four co-Presidents of the Women's March have expressed their support for Farrakhan, one of the most vile antisemites in America.
Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarour and Carmen Perez.
— Daniel Sugarman (@Daniel_Sugarman) March 6, 2018
exactly! you can't hold people accountable for the hate rallies they attend.
For example It's misogynistic to hold these men accountable for any of the racist things their leader Richard Spencer says.
These boys, and Tamika Mallory are very fine people! pic.twitter.com/gUWzPu2c57
— Casey "fully, semi-automatic" Smith (@x0x0x00x0x0) March 5, 2018
Some Jewish feminists, in particular, expressed feelings of abandonment and disappointment.
Intolerance for anti-Semitism needs to be a part of feminism. And Jewish women shouldn’t be left to say that by themselves.
— Erin Matson (@erintothemax) March 6, 2018
I haven't said anything about this tbh because it makes me feel so sad and ground-down but… yeah. https://t.co/wIzHTgLOWr
— Jaclyn Friedman❄️ (@jaclynf) March 5, 2018
Mallory still has plenty of prominent activists in her corner, including Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and writer and Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King, who both tweeted support.
Proud to stand with you @TamikaDMallory and call you companera…You have been an unflinching and early voice against gun violence, a fearless fighter against racism, and stood strong and proud for equality, justice and dignity for all…
— Donna Lieberman (@JustAskDonna) March 4, 2018
Call out hate. I will call it out with you. As I have done for years. I loathe anti-Semitism.
— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) March 2, 2018
But a pointed essay in the Medium, “An Open Letter to Tamika Mallory,” takes the activist to task over a particular phrase — “enemies of Jesus” — used in one of Mallory’s tweets.
“Perhaps you truly do not know that the phrase ‘enemies of Jesus’ is an anti-Semitic dog whistle,” writes Ariela Bee, “that goes back to when the Romans converted to Christianity and they needed a religious narrative that would suit the political demands of the empire.” But in any case, she continues, she is “hurt.”
“Let me be very clear: I am not hurt because you are a black woman who is tweeting these words. … I am hurt because you are a leader who is tweeting these words,” Bee writes. “You have influence. You have visibility. You do not force anyone involved in the Women’s March to follow you. People follow you because you have power. Because you have power, your words have the power to hurt.”
Adding to that growing chorus this week was Lily Herman, writing for Refinery 29 and laying out not only the recent Farrakhan situation but past evidence of anti-Semitism on the part of Sarsour and another Women’s March co-founder, Carmen Perez.
“Understandably, the Jewish community — particularly people who have supported the Women’s March and other social justice causes — wanted answers. We also wanted something that most thought would be pretty simple for a bunch of women who spend their days parading around their intersectionality: We wanted them to denounce anti-Semitism and the words Farrakhan said against Jews. This isn’t a new thing; after all, we ask public figures to denounce awful people and hate speech all the time,” she wrote. “To say we didn’t get that is an understatement.”
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