Why Jewish Women Should March
Should progressive Jewish women and their allies attend the 2019 Women’s March, scheduled for January? The Women’s March Unity Principles notably omit Jewish women as a group for which the movement seeks justice. Furthermore, two of its leaders — Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory — are at best tone deaf when it comes to antisemitism, and at worst antisemites themselves.
The slights and insults are numerous. Both Sarsour and Mallory refuse to distance themselves from the notorious antisemite Louis Farrakhan, who recently called Jews “termites” and has, in the past, called Hitler “a great man.” What’s more, Sarsour herself has spread antisemitic conspiracy theories, accused Jews of dual loyalty, and said that Zionists cannot be true feminists.
And when Jews have objected, she and Mallory have trivialized their concerns. Even when Sarsour decried the massacre of Jews at prayer in a Pittsburgh synagogue, her words rang hollow because she gives comfort to antisemites. For many, it appears that she is cynically using Jews in her fight against the political right-wing — including, but not limited to, those elements of the right that embrace white supremacy.
Nevertheless, progressive Jewish women such as Sarah Bobkoff have said that liberal Jews should get on board with the Women’s March, put its antisemitism problem aside, and stand with other communities that are targets of white supremacists.
That is a false choice. Jewish women should not have to leave our values and our self-worth at the door. The Women’s March doesn’t make that demand of any other minority group. Jews can and should demand more from the leaders of a movement that claims to champion equality. Bobkoff — and, I can only assume, Sarsour and Mallory — believe that because many Jewish women are “white-presenting,” we should look past the March’s dismissal of our concerns; acknowledge our “privilege”; lump ourselves in with non-Jewish white women; and sit down and shut up.
That’s asking too much.
It’s asking Jewish women to ignore our history, our narrative, and our identity in order to take part in a nationwide demonstration of progressive unity. Make no mistake: many Jewish women very much want to take part in the Women’s March. Many of us believe in the very Unity Principles from which we are excluded, including the commitment to fight for immigrants, for people of color, and for the disabled.
In fact, our Jewish values compel us to fight for these causes. It would feel unnatural and unsettling for us not to stand with millions of other women in this fight, because fighting for justice is the core of who we are as Jews and as Jewish women. That’s why asking us to separate our Jewishness from our identities as progressives, as women, as Americans, is anathema.
What’s more, the narrative that all Jews are “privileged” is simply wrong.
What about the half million Jews who live near the poverty line in New York City alone? What about Jews of color? What about “white-presenting” Jews who are immigrants, who are victims of sexual assault, or were victims of hate crimes for being Jewish? Should they, too, check their Jewishness at the doors of intersectional feminism?
And we must not forget or let others ignore that we are a mere 73 years removed from the end of the Holocaust. Within living memory, Jews were systematically slaughtered, Jewish women endured sexual violence, Jews were sent on death marches and to mass graves. Many of the very women who attended the first Women’s March in 2017, and the people who are conflicted now, are the daughters and granddaughters of Holocaust survivors, refuseniks, and refugees.
Real allies would not ask us to leave our Jewishness behind to participate in the March. Real allies would recognize that every group of committed women that can be energized and activated by their movement, including Jewish women, add to a rich tableau of progressive activism. Real allies would understand where antisemitism comes from and what differentiates it from other forms of bigotry.
After all, antisemitism is not only about the subjugation of Jews. Antisemitism is versatile: it can go high (Jews run the world), or it can go low (Jews are vermin). It is a different breed of hatred that can nestle comfortably within the political fabric of the right and the left.
More and more, real allies are speaking out on our behalf. Teresa Shook, a co-founder of the Women’s March, recently wrote that Sarsour, Mallory, and other organizers should step down for allowing anti-Semitism into their movement. Actress Alyssa Milano, who has fashioned herself into a feminist warrior herself, has also denounced Sarsour and Mallory.
Jewish women, we can do better than Mallory and Sarsour. We should continue to stand up for our values, for ourselves, and for our Jewishness.
If you want to attend the 2019 Women’s March, you should. But make sure that the rank-and-file marchers next to you know: you are a progressive Jewish woman. You belong there. And you won’t be cowed.
Allie Lipner Rosenblum is the American Jewish Committee’s Associate Director of Development Operations.