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Jewish women divided over Women’s March face difficult choices

People participate in the first Women’s March in 2017 in Raleigh, N.C. Photo courtesy of Donn Young

RALEIGH, N.C. (RNS) — Shana Becker has much in common with the women who are expected to crowd the National Mall in Washington for the third annual Women’s March.

A lawyer, an activist and a mother, she believes deeply in equality, democracy and women’s rights.

But she’s not heading to Washington for Saturday’s (Jan. 19) march.

Becker, who is Jewish, is helping lead an independent Women’s March on Raleigh a week later in the state’s capital. Like the national march, the Jan. 26 event aims to give voice to those “affected by the current administration and its oppressive policies.”

Like many liberal Jewish women, Becker said she is disappointed by national march board members Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, Carmen Perez and Bob Bland, all of whom have professed admiration for the openly anti-Semitic Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Farrakhan has likened Jews to termites, among other things.

Carmen Perez, from left, Bob Bland, Tamika D. Mallory and Linda Sarsour attend the Time 100 Gala, celebrating the 100 most influential people in the world, at Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center, on April 25, 2017, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

“Their acts and omissions with relationship to anti-Semitism distract from the Women’s March and its allies, and cause harm,” Becker wrote recently in an op-ed in the Raleigh newspaper calling on the national march’s leaders to step down. 

While Sarsour has walked back some of her statements and clarified her views, Mallory again refused to condemn Farrakhan’s views of Jews during an interview this week on ABC’s “The View,” saying only, “I don’t agree with many of Minister Farrakhan’s statements.”

For Becker, such waffling is unacceptable, though she was heartened to hear that the national group added a steering committee of 32 women, including three Jews.

“I don’t think that it’s OK what the board of the national march has said and not said, done and not done,” said Becker, a Reform Jew and stay-at-home mom who is a former lobbyist for consumer rights and renewable energy.

Shana Becker. Courtesy photo

Becker’s view has been echoed by Jewish women across the U.S., who say they are increasingly uncertain that they can support the movement, despite embracing its larger goals of electing Democratic leaders and building a more inclusive society.

Other Jewish women, however, while acknowledging that there may be some latent anti-Semitism among its leaders, say they will proudly march in the national rally.

Dove Kent, a community organizer, who lives 25 miles away from Becker in Durham, N.C., is one.

“There is never a coalition in which everyone in the group fully understands everyone else,” said Kent. “That’s what the work of coalition building is supposed to accomplish. It’s messy and it’s public and it’s hard. There’s no perfect movement waiting in the wings.”

Kent said that just as it’s taken her 20-plus years to unlearn the racism that imbued her upbringing as a white woman, so it takes time to unlearn anti-Semitic attitudes.

But the controversy has also ruptured relations with typically reliable allies. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington has severed ties with the group. On Tuesday, the Democratic National Committee broke with the group.

Emily’s List, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Human Rights Campaign, which previously sponsored Women’s March rallies on the National Mall, have also pulled back.

The three Jewish women who will now join the national Women’s March steering committee — Abby Stein, a transgender activist; Yavilah McCoy, founder of a group of Jews of color; and April Baskin, who formerly worked with the Reform Jewish movement, the nation’s largest Jewish denomination — reflect an effort to stanch the disaffection.

On Tuesday, a group of mostly liberal rabbis who have championed LGBT rights revealed they had met with Sarsour and Mallory. Nine of the 13 rabbis issued a statement supporting the group.

“We believe there is power and beauty in an intersectional, multiracial, multifaith, women-led movement that is the ideal of the Women’s March,” the rabbis wrote. “We believe the best way to ensure that ideal is to stay in the conversation and work in good faith with our partners.”

The rabbis’ letter, and the new steering committee, come too late for women in Raleigh, San Diego, Orlando and several other cities who will hold their own rallies while making clear they do not affiliate with the national organization.

Some of the lead organizers of the Women’s Rally on Raleigh pose together on Jan. 20, 2018. Photo courtesy of Shana Becker

In New York, there will be two women’s rallies on Saturday — one led by the Women’s March NYC at Foley Square and another beginning near Central Park by the independent Women’s March Alliance. (There’s also a Non-March for Disabled Women.)

“Everybody needs to make their own choice about where they’re comfortable,” said Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. “The crucial piece is that we all have a responsibility to take some action now because we are in this crisis moment.”

Jacobs said she’ll be in synagogue Saturday because she won’t participate in any rallies on the Sabbath.

Becker, too, said she doesn’t want to judge any Jewish woman who decides to take part in the Washington march.

“The more important message is that women are here to stay as a political force,” Becker said. ” We will keep marching and running and hopefully winning. There will be those among us who say and do hurtful things and that’s just part of the political growing process. It’s not the end.”

About the author

Yonat Shimron

Yonat Shimron is an RNS National Reporter and Senior Editor.

53 Comments

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  • Well, well, well…..
    It seems “people of color” can be just as bigoted, racist and hateful as the average white guy….
    Now, that being said; do we really need two separate women’s marches? Is there enough hate of white men and Christianity to go around?

  • “Well, well, well…..It seems “people of color” can be just as bigoted, racist and hateful as the average white guy.”

    Whoever said that wasn’t the case? Perhaps you should direct your thoughts to Floyd what’s-his-name. He might be better able to respond to that.

  • Actually, it is only a subset of white guys who are “bigoted, racist and hateful”. Coincidentally, it is the same subset as the subset of white guys who voted for Trump.

  • I remember back in 2017 I attended a panel discussion at a gathering of Christians where two African American Christians wondered why Donald Trump’s hostile statements towards racial minorities (along with his obvious morally flawed personal life) were not deal breakers for other Christians when it came to their votes. I thought it was a great question.

    This is similar to the question faced by supporters of the National Women’s March today: “How much anti-semitism am I willing to tolerate among the leaders of a movement I support?” This isn’t just a question for Jewish women. It’s a question for all supporters of the Woman’s March. Apparently the DNC, Emily’s List, SPLC, and the Human Rights Campaign have had enough. I get the anger over Donald Trump’s treatment of women, but why isn’t this a deal breaker when it comes to this specific organization?

  • You for one.
    Democrats for another.
    The mainstream media for another.
    That’s all that comes up on these pages – it’s the white Christian make out to destroy the world…
    Please forgive me if I misconstrued your thoughts over the past year….

  • The problem is that there is not a problem big enough for them to unite. One woman’s crisis is another woman’s pleasure. It isn’t that “we are in this crisis moment” It is, I am in this crisis moment.

  • Exactly. I am an old white guy who’s as far removed from the white men in Trump’s base as it’s possible to be – and I am hardly alone.

  • Apparently rather than the subset of white guys who voted for Trump it is the subset of white guys who disagree with you, which includes most of them.

  • Sociologically speaking, people of color can’t be racists in the US, because we have no power, but PoC can be racially prejudiced.

  • Anybody can be a racist. No excuses. We blacks gotta stop these corrupt, pitiful “sociology” lies. WE are just as much sinners as every other race, hence WE are just as racist as any of them.

    Rabbi Salkin posted an RNS article on “The Green Book.” The top photo has a huge sign that says, “Racism Is A Sin.” Which is important, because it reminds us all that biblically, Racism is common to all humanity (see 1 Cor. 10:13). All races. Not just whites.

    Meanwhile, back in Canada, the founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, (Yusra Khogali) did an interesting tweet in April of 2016. “Plz Allah, give me strength to not cuss/kill these men and white folks out here today. Plz plz plz.” In 2015, Khogali tweeted, “White ppl are a genetic defect of blackness.”
    So here you got a BLM racist who not only is “racially prejudiced”, but also (by own admission), also has the power and inclination to kill whites because of it. Blacks can be racists

  • Where’s your proof that all those women’s organizations you cited are run by anti-semites? That’s a lot of people you’re implicating, yet you provide not an ounce of proof to support your baseless accusation – for the obvious reason that none exists.

  • More bluster from the household staff. Too bad that you aren’t educated in sociology so that you know of which you speak. The ability of one Black person to kill someone is not the power spoken of with regard to racism.

  • What? Did black activist Khogali’s utterly racist example take you by surprise or something? Sure sounds like it. You should have known about that mess already. Gotta do thine homework around here.

    By the way, it’s kind of “wack” (and that’s the charitable term!), to accuse a person of not taking certain college classes without checking their transcript first (or in the alternative, simply asking directly.) Since I do have a media degree along with the religious stuff, I’ll let you ask me if I’ve taken any sociology classes.

  • Floyd made a valid point with support and you dismiss it with a silly comment about him not having a background in sociology?
    Why? Because it counters your belief that only white people can be racist?
    Yes – bigot is applicable to you

  • You show an example from Canada, a different country with an experience far different from the racial strife of the USA. But still sociologically speaking, it’s an example of racial prejudice, not racism.

    Second, your constant and consistent misunderstanding of the difference in racial prejudice and racism demonstrates that at most you’ve perhaps taken Sociology 101 and nothing beyond basic entrance to the field. Media degrees don’t emphasize sociology based on a web search for current degrees in the field. None of them, out of 15 major universities that I perused offered sociology courses as part of a media degree.

  • That statement is totally contingent on the Marxist analysis of bigotry as being an issue of power. That same Marxist analysis underlies the feminist movement involved in the Women’s March.

    The problem, of course, is that is NOT the definition of bigotry:

    https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/bigotry

    bigotry – noun

    Intolerance towards those who hold different opinions from oneself.

  • He didn’t make a valid point about anything, his example was Canadian, not US, a country with a vastly different experience with racial strife. Apples & oranges.

    It isn’t my belief that only white people are racist in the US, it’s the stand taken by experts in the field that while anyone can be racially prejudiced, in the US only white folks are in a position to be racist. If that makes me a bigot in your mind, because I stand with the current understanding in the field in which I actually have a university education, a Lic in Human Behavior*, I don’t really care.

    You’re one of the biggest bigots here when the topic is the lives of LGBTQ folks.

    *A five year degree in Mexico. One year more than a Bachelor’s degree in the US. Which is why I’m a licensed industrial psychologist in Mexico.

  • We weren’t speaking about bigotry. We were speaking about racism vs racial prejudice.

    A dictionary doesn’t always use the working definition of a word as it is used in a particular field of study or expertise.

  • What you believe about an accepted field of study in the majority of respected universities worldwide is of no importance.

  • I responded to:

    https://disqus.com/home/discussion/religionnews/jewish_women_divided_over_womens_march_face_difficult_choices/#comment-4289903387

    “I’m not hiding behind anything, I’ve explained these things before. Bigotry?”

    Prejudice is closely related to bigotry, and is given as a possible synonym:

    https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/prejudice

    prejudice – mass noun

    1 Preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.

    1.1 Dislike, hostility, or unjust behaviour deriving from preconceived and unfounded opinions.

    Floyd Lee gave an excellent example of prejudice, in his example racial prejudice, and also racism.

    https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/racism

    racism – mass noun

    1 Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.

    1.1 The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.

    The commonality to my point was that NONE of them involve “power”.

  • What you think the definitions of words in common use in the English language SHOULD BE is of no importance.

    The underlying problem is the attempt to mount a stealth argument by changing definitions.

    The same thing occurred with the redefinition of marriage, and has been attempted with the redefinition of “assault rifle”.

    Pointing out the attempt is fair play.

  • Sorry, wrong answer on the sociology gig. Sure, I took 101. Don’t we all? (And by the way, that’s where I first heard that black sociology cop- out lie.)

    But, did some more than 101. Ask again?

  • What do you mean by “all those women’s organizations?” I’m only talking about one organization, the National Women’s March run by the women in the picture in the article. I thought Ms. Becker’s op-ed (referenced in the article) provides some good evidence. If there wasn’t good enough evidence, in your opinion, why have all these organizations dropped their sponsorship of the March?

  • I’m guessing Parker12 was using the dictionary definition rather than the definition created by people in a particular field of study. Telling him “no, you’re wrong” when he’s using a different definition of the word than you are doesn’t make much sense. Though, I’d add that Jewish isn’t really considered a race by people who like classifying people by race, therefore saying hateful things about Jews isn’t truly racism at all. It’s something else nasty that no one here should be supporting.

  • David,
    According to your formulation, can a person of color of one racial minority group be racist vis a vis a person of color of another racial minority group?

    Also, saying “He’s not racist, he’s just racially prejudiced” doesn’t sound like that much of an improvement.

  • By all means show me an example of non-white racism being adopted as law in the US?

    Minorities certainly have racist members. But only white people in the US have a history and the political majority to turn their racist beliefs into laws.

  • It makes no difference if a minority is racist. They lack the clout to give their ideas color of law. They can’t even come up with decent insults for white people which are on the same level of offensiveness as slurs for everyone else.

  • ” But only white people in the US have a history and the political majority to turn their racist beliefs into laws.”

    And guess which party did that time and time again, voted against ending slavery, voted against counting black people as full persons, who voted against giving rights to women, who voted against desegregation…. oh right… DEMOCRATS.

  • Does anyone read stuff like that and NOT call you a fool?

    Looks like someone’s history book stops at 1968. Look up “The Southern Strategy”. All those Democrats are now Republicans. Hence Neo-nazis were chanting “unite the RIGHT”.

  • Words and deeds of outright Racism, are NEVER limited to mere laws & politics. You ever see a white person bullied by a black racist, law or no law? Well, I have. The question is whether only your white race can be racist, or whether ALL the races (like blacks, in my case) can be equally racist.

    The obvious answer, is the latter. If blacks were the big majority of Americans during its 240+ years, WE could do the very same sins of racism, with colors reversed. We’d be equally capable of doing anti-white Jim Crow laws. Even today, not even Trump has tweeted the mess that some of US have openly tweeted.

    So Racism is not about SKIN. Racism is always about SIN. And the Bible says that we’re all sinners (Romans 3:23), regardless of political majorities. Therefore, no more PC excuses for black racism.

  • Nice dodge …. now it’s only racism if it’s a law.

    Let’s communicate in English using the ordinary meanings of the words:

    https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/racism

    racism – noun – mass noun

    1 Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.

    1.1 The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.

  • Now it’s only racism if it’s a law?

    Let’s communicate in English using the ordinary meanings of the words:

    https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/racism

    racism – noun – mass noun

    1
    Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.

    1.1
    The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics,
    abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to
    distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.

  • I get that the ramifications are greater when a white guy displays racism than when, for example, a black man displays racism. But the question I was asking was is it possible, for example, for a black man to be a racist when it comes to his views or actions regarding other racial minorities? You seem to be saying that he can be, but it doesn’t matter because the black man lacks power. From David’s original comment he seems to be saying that he can’t be, because he lacks political power. But I get the feeling that he’s only talking about power compared to white people, so I wanted clarification.

  • There is a huge difference between bigotry of a majority, which is likely to become discrimination and exclusion than bigotry of a minority which is typically a (over)reaction to it.

    White supremacists have political clout and influence to give their policies harmful form to society. Minority racial supremacists have none of that and are likely to be perceived as merely a joke by the rest of society (and usually their own communities).

    I can’t think of any tangible political power of minority supremacists in American society. Even Malcolm X (the ur-example of a minority supremacist) was not largely supported by the Black community, nor capable of influencing any tangible political change.

    ” But I get the feeling that he’s only talking about power compared to white people, so I wanted clarification”

    I hope I helped there.

  • What you say here is true, but it actually doesn’t clarify what David Allen thinks in regards to my question. You’re saying “yes, racial minority can be racists, but it’s not that big a deal, at least compared to when white people are racists.” He appears to be saying “no, it is impossible for racial minorities to be racists.”

  • I am not going to put words in David Allen’s mouth. He can explain his own position.

    I put in my 2 cents on the subject. I will leave it at that. 🙂

  • The word ‘racist’ is being coopted. Stick with using the terms ‘prejudice’ or ‘bigot’.

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