Point/Counterpoint: Attending 2019 Minnesota Women’s March

In the past two years since the 2017 Women’s March, there has been much written about two of the founders of the Women’s March and allegations of anti-Semitism and anti-LGBTQIA+ actions. Please read this piece (and many others that linked throughout) to get some context over why this is proving to be a contentious issue. 

To March

NCJW Minnesota will pray with our feet at Women’s Wave Minnesota alongside thousands of our siblings in the struggle for social justice next Saturday, January 19. We humbly, respectfully and joyfully invite you to join us if your observance of Shabbat permits it. Wear tallit if that is your practice. Carry signs (Zioness has some great ones here). Help us build a proud and powerful Jewish presence. NCJW Minnesota’s endorsement and invitation do not come without a struggle and a deep reckoning with the problems that have beset the Women’s March movement, including serious allegations of anti-Semitism and anti-LGBTQIA+ actions among its national leadership that have rocked and wounded us, individually and collectively. We are neither dismissive of nor apologists for any of this, and if despite the movement’s ongoing reckoning, struggle, and work toward reconciliation you’re not able to march with us, we get it. We hear you. And, as we continue to work in relationship with our progressive allies, we invite you to continue to be in a relationship with us.NCJW Minnesota has a 125-year history of bold action to support our mission – to improve the quality of life for women, children and families. We step in when others retreat. We engage in hard conversations. We build relationships. We mess up sometimes. We work hard to honor our history and our struggle, while we strive to notice, acknowledge and change the ways in which we are not active enough in dismantling systems of oppression. We ask for grace from our friends and allies, and we are committed to offering the same to them. We know that anti-Semitism forms the core of white nationalism, and we are grateful to national leaders like Eric Ward who amplify this truth outside of Jewish circles. We understand that if we retreat from the movement, we risk erasure from it.

NCJW Minnesota was the first organization to endorse Women’s March Minnesota (WMM) in November, 2016. It is important to know that WMM has always welcomed, supported, included and valued us as partners. Jewish women have been in leadership positions since its inception. While Women’s March Minnesota remains affiliated with the national organization, it is its own organic, nascent organization run by passionate, progressive, committed and kind volunteers. They have grappled with their short history in a thoughtful and measured way that has been Talmudic in nature. Like Tevye in Fiddler, they seek to understand “the other hand.” They acknowledge and we know that this has sometimes been frustrating to those who have become accustomed to quick responses and immediate actions. They sought our guidance as they developed position statements and responses. We are proud to know them and honored to partner with them in support of their Unity Principles, which are in complete alignment with NCJW’s mission, principles and resolutions.

We are inspired by the Jewish values that guide our work. Next Shabbat we will speak at the Women’s Wave rally alongside our Muslim sisters as representatives of NCJW Minnesota and of Muslim & Jewish Women of Minnesota. We are grateful for this opportunity to demonstrate solidarity, celebrate intersectionality, and speak out against anti-Semitism to an audience of thousands. We will do as Hashem requires – “to do justly and to love mercy and to march humbly (Micah 6:8).” Join us.

Beth Gendler, Executive Director NCJW Minnesota

Not To March

As women, we are called upon to make compromises and difficult choices every day. As American Jews, we are blessed with the freedom to live our Jewish values and religious traditions, while at the same time fully embracing and engaging in our lives as American citizens. And as Jewish American women, we believe that we should never be asked to choose between two of the most cherished and interwoven aspects of our identities – being proud Jews and proud feminists. But the words and actions of the current national Women’s March leaders have forced us to make that choice.

Though we are completely aligned with the Women’s March goals and vision for the future, because of the virulent anti-Semitism that is endemic in the national organization – not only by their leaders’ Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory’s association with Louis Farrakhan, but also through Sarsour and Mallory’s own words and actions – we cannot participate.

The third spokesperson for the March, Carmen Perez, supported Mallory by tweeting, “People need to understand the significant contributions that these individuals have made to Black and Brown people,” as if that should excuse their own contributions to the rise of anti-Semitism and the threat to our very safety.

We believe that participating in the local march, which is affiliated with the National movement, while Sarsour and Mallory remain the faces of and spokeswomen for the movement, would not only provide a tacit endorsement of their hate, but would allow others to infer that they represent our values as Jewish women or as American women. They do not! Quite simply, they have sought to vilify, exclude, and erase Jews from our own narrative.

However, we did not come to our decision to skip the local march lightly. We acknowledge that there is truth in the position taken by NCJW and others which reasons that if you are not part of the conversation, you don’t know what is being said and you can’t help advocate for change. They have a right to their opinion and they are our sisters. Any negativity emanating from the Women’s March is not a result of differing viewpoints within the Jewish community but is squarely because of the actions and lack of contrition by Sarsour and Mallory. It is unfortunate that the anti-Semites on the right and on the left are now exploiting our differing viewpoints as a way to blame the Jews for the problems in the Women’s March with a goal of creating dissension in our community instead of addressing the elephant in the room- the anti-Semitic verbiage, affiliations and positions of the national leaders of the Women’s March.

We have met with the local organizers and know them to be welcoming and inclusive and believe that they recognize the undeniable anti-Semitism that is now associated with the National March and its leaders. They have made steps to denounce anti-Semitism and bigotry and have stated that they welcome those that have felt excluded and disenfranchised, including members of the Jewish and LGBTQ communities, to join them. While we appreciate these efforts and acknowledge the stronger statement that they issued yesterday, we need them to go further and have asked them to take the following steps in advance of this year’s march:

  1. That a statement be published in advance that will also be read at the march specifically disavowing not only anti-Semitism in general, but the anti-Semitic statements and actions made by the National Women’s March leaders, Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory.
  2. That specific directives be given to the local speakers prohibiting any political statements which could be deemed anti-Semitic or regarding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict or Zionism.
  3. That we receive a list of speakers in advance.

Though a stronger statement denouncing anti-Semitism has been disseminated from the local leaders, it does not call out Sarsour and Mallory specifically, and thus our requests have not yet been met.

Many local marches around the country have chosen to address the anti-Semitism of the national march leaders head-on by either canceling their march for this year or by completely disassociating themselves from the national march and condemning Sarsour and Mallory without reservation.

We believe in the power and purpose of the Women’s March and will continue to be in conversation with our local leaders so that the Minnesota march will, if not this year then in the future, completely disassociate itself from the anti-Semitic national leadership and rise to the expectations of civility and inclusivity that all of us should demand. We look forward to a time when we can stand shoulder to shoulder with our sisters and allies of all faiths, ethnicities, backgrounds and affiliations in solidarity and know that we are all united in our belief that hatred and discrimination of any group of people has no place when women come together to make change.

– A group of Twin Cities’ Jewish Women