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January 7, 2019 5:09 pm

University of North Carolina Asheville Defends Decision to Host Tamika Mallory as Keynote Speaker, Drawing Criticism

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Women’s March leaders Tamika Mallory, Bob Bland, Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour. Photo: Screenshot.

The University of North Carolina — Asheville (UNCA) has pushed back against demands to cancel an upcoming talk by Tamika Mallory, a co-president of the Women’s March who has been embroiled in controversy due to her ties to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

Mallory will serve as a keynote speaker on Jan. 24 during UNCA’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Week, which focuses on the late civil rights leader’s enduring moral legacy.

The pick has drawn concern from the off-campus antisemitism watchdog groups CAMERA on Campus and the Center for Combating Hate in America (C4CHA), the latter of which published a petition last week calling on UNCA to replace Mallory with a new keynote speaker. More than 2,400 signatories have expressed their support to date.

University administrators stood by their decision to invite Mallory in a statement released on Friday, in which they declared their rejection of “bias in all of its forms including anti-Semitism and discrimination,” while also affirming their commitment to “freedom of thought and expression.”

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“As has been our custom, the university’s invitation to an individual speaker at a university event in no way implies endorsement of that speaker’s comments, critiques, views, ideas, or actions,” Chancellor Nancy Cable and Interim Provost Karin Peterson wrote.

They indicated that efforts “are currently underway to create opportunities for our campus and the Asheville community to engage in dialogue around the keynote address, as well as many topics emerging from the activities planned for the week.”

Yet C4CHA director Liora Rez objected to the university’s response, telling The Algemeiner on Monday that Mallory’s past comments and “allegiance” to Farrakhan “incites violence against and creates a dangerous environment for Jewish students.”

Rez pointed out that a local Women’s March chapter in Charlotte, North Carolina had already distanced itself from the national organization while criticizing its leaders, while an Australian social service agency cancelled an appearance by Mallory in June, days after she framed Israel’s founding in 1948 as a “human rights crime.”

“As organizations and individuals condemn Mallory and distance themselves from her hateful vitriol, UNC Asheville provides a platform for her and lends its authority toward legitimizing her anti-Semitism,” she added in a statement. “Anyone who propagates hateful messages is free to express their opinions as they wish, but should not be given a public platform at an educational establishment to do so.”

The opposition to Mallory stems from a long-running concern that she and other leaders of the Women’s March maintain or tolerate antisemitic views. Mallory has called Farrakhan  — who has denounced “Satanic Jews” and called gay relationships “degenerate crap” — the “GOAT” or “greatest of all time” in an Instagram post shared in 2017.

She has repeatedly attended his rallies, and served as an organizer and speaker at the Justice or Else demonstration hosted by Farrakhan in 2015 — an experience UNCA noted in announcing her appearance, without mentioning the Nation of Islam leader’s role. Mallory likewise attended a February rally in which Farrakhan claimed that “the powerful Jews are my enemy,” among other comments criticized as being antisemitic and homophobic.

While the Women’s March organization issued a statement in March saying that Farrakhan’s comments “about Jewish, queer, and trans people are not aligned with the Women’s March Unity principles,” it was criticized by some for not fully and explicitly denouncing him. Similar objections were raised when Mallory published an essay the following day, in which she argued — without naming Farrakhan — that it was “impossible” for her “to agree with every statement or share every viewpoint of the many people who I have worked with or will work with in the future.”

Mallory and other Women’s March leaders further rejected claims that they had made disparaging remarks against Jews, as recently alleged by former colleagues who spoke to The New York Times and Tablet Magazine — one of whom says she was pushed out of the organization in part due to her Jewish identity.

The controversy has led multiple local Women’s March groups to distance themselves from the national organization, which will host its flagship march in Washington, DC on January 19. The National Organization for Women — which supported the 2017 and 2018 Women’s March — said in December that it will “withhold direct financial support until the current questions regarding leadership are resolved.” And thousands of people have signed a petition called for the resignation of Mallory and her colleagues — demands echoed in November by Teresa Shook, who first proposed the idea for the Women’s March following the election of US President Donald Trump.

Several organizations have also cropped up in response to concerns over the Women’s March leaders’ affiliations, among them the Women’s March For All offshoot and Zioness, a liberal group founded in support of Jewish women who felt unwelcome in progressive spaces due to their Zionist beliefs. The latter plans to lead three teach-ins in Washington, DC; New York City; and Los Angeles ahead of the January 19 marches.

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