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Women’s March ‘unequivocally’ rejects anti-Semitism, says organizer Linda Sarsour

A day of rallies and marches got underway amid controversy over alleged anti-Semitic remarks and another organizer's support for the head of the Nation of Islam.

CREDIT: Diana Ofosu/ThinkProgress
CREDIT: Diana Ofosu/ThinkProgress

The Women’s March “unequivocally” rejects anti-Semitic and homophobic comments by Louis Farrakhan, said Linda Sarsour, one of the leaders of the group, as a day of nationwide rallies and marches got underway Saturday beset by controversy over ties by one of the organizers to the Nation of Islam leader.

Internal divisions over allegations of anti-Semitism by current leaders of the national organizing group have cast a cloud over this year’s Women’s March, which on Saturday is marking its third year of rallies and protests.

Some of the national organizing group’s leaders, including Sarsour, have been accused of making statements suggesting that Jews were partly to blame for oppressing people of color throughout history.

Tamika Mallory, co-president of this year’s march and another of group’s founders, has been criticized for expressing admiration for Farrakhan, a hugely controversial figure and avowed anti-Semite who also has embraced homophobic rhetoric.

But Sarsour told CNN on Saturday that the group is committed to putting the controversy behind it.

“We unequivocally have rejected the comments made by [Farrakhan] and on Jewish communities. We have said multiple times on our statements at womensmarch.com, we unequivocally denounce transphobia and ask people to ask us directly and read our statements and understand we have been doing this work before there was a Women’s March,” she said.

“Our track records are clear: We have stood up for all communities,” she said.

While many Jewish activists have said they will not be taking part in today’s marches because of the controversy, Sarsour said she is glad that there are others who are.

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“We are grateful for the Jewish women who will be marching with us today. Those Jewish women will have joined our steering committee. Those who will be speaking on our stage today at the march.”

Sarsour, a co-chair of the 2017 Women’s March, is a Palestinian-American activist in the BDS movement, which calls for ratcheting up pressure on Israel over its human rights record through a combination of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions.

The Women’s March started as a community-organized protest against Donald Trump’s election as president, and it has since evolved into a movement with an annual march across multiple cities.

The first march two years ago saw millions of people across the world take to the streets in a historic, daylong protest in opposition to the president’s policies and their impact on women, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community. The processions and rallies in January 2017 — including a huge protest in Washington that was one of the largest in U.S. history — represented a watershed political event.

The controversy over anti-Semitism has dominated headlines about this year’s march and discouraged many people from taking part, with the level of turnout uncertain at rallies planned Saturday in Washington, New York, Los Angeles, and various other cities.

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A breakthrough of sorts was achieved when a group of liberal rabbis met earlier this week with Sarsour, Mallory, and others in the Women’s March leadership, endorsing this year’s event.

“What that proves is that we have been doing the work. We have been learning and evolving as a movement and people have to understand that we are trying to create a big
tent of women of all religious backgrounds, people of color — people of different sexual orientations, even people across the different ideology,” Sarsour said.

“Okay, we will have people come with different biases. Islamophobia exists. Anti-black racism exists. We have to have the hard conversations,” she said.

“We are a polarized nation so we went to the rabbis. We had a meeting and talked about issues on pain and trauma and historical trauma and trauma of black people in America. Muslims, refugees. So we will continue those conversations,” Sarsour said.