Pro-Israel groups are trying to split the Women’s March with a Zionist alternative
|Amith Gupta – January 15, 2019|
A host of interconnected Zionist advocacy groups has launched an all-out assault on the annual Women’s March.
Selective and misleading allegations of anti-Semitism-by-association with Louis Farrakhan, who is not involved in coordinating the Women’s March, combined with straightforward Israeli war propaganda, are being used to undermine the largest single-day march in American history and the progressive values it represents. Perhaps most perniciously, WoMen4All, a bizarre rip-off of the Women’s March, has set up an alternate network of “sister marches” to split the Women’s March. The capitalization is designed to signify that men are included, accommodating the right-wing trope that presumes men should feel excluded from supporting feminist groups.
WoMen4All is dedicated largely to condemning Palestinian rights and promoting Zionism by mixing naked Israeli war propaganda with standard feminist causes, such as enacting the Equal Rights Amendment. The group’s mission statement notes, “We are leftists, we are progressives, we are Democrats, we are Zionists who believe a safe, secure and sovereign Israel must exist as antisemitism is too great a threat to Jews worldwide.” [emphasis in original]
WoMen4All’s leadership includes a blatantly anti-Muslim individual and its website supports organizations that allege Islam is an inherently dangerous and intolerant religion alongside right-wing pro-Israel lobbying groups. It claims that the movement to boycott Israel until Palestinian rights are respected is anti-Semitic and by extension that the Women’s March is anti-Semitic because Sarsour and others have condemned Zionism; WoMen4All absolves Zionism as simply a movement to protect the Jewish people, citing right-wing pro-Israel advocacy groups like CAMERA. And, it relays op-eds defending the indiscriminate mass shootings of fleeing Palestinian protesters at the Gaza border.
Beyond condemning of the movement to boycott Israel in its organizational description, WoMen4All heavily emphasizes Zionism in almost all of its materials. WoMen4All is an affiliate of March On, a coalition created by a disgruntled former leaderof the Women’s March who resigned over internal organizing issues related to mutual accusations of racism, to split the Women’s March.
WoMen4All has also issued a petition calling on Democrats and Republicans to endorse a definition of anti-Semitism written to conflate support for Palestinian rights with Jew-hatred.
Charges of antisemitism
Since the march came to prominence as the largest single-day demonstration in American history following Trump’s inauguration in 2017, Zionist groups have been attacking the organization based around highly publicized allegations that the organizers are anti-Semites, primarily over ties between Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour to Louis Farrakhan.
However, the Women’s March has vocally disavowed Farrakhan’s statement about Jews, LGBT people, and women, and has issued repeated statements condemning anti-Semitismas one of many forms of unjustifiable oppression. Mallory has continued to stand by her stance that she applauds what Farrakhan as done in the black community but is opposed to his anti-Semitism, most recently on The View on Monday. Also yesterday, the Women’s March added three Jewish women to its steering committee.
Farrakhan has made undeniably bigoted statements about Jews and others throughout his tenure as leader of the Nation of Islam, a radical black quasi-religious organization that fuses black nationalism, mythology about African-American community figures, and some Islamic traditions. His organization has a strong presence among black grassroots organizing, making it virtually impossible for anyone involved in black community work to avoid rubbing shoulders with him or his supporters. Indeed, in 2005, President Obamawas pictured meeting with Mr. Farrakhan during an event organized by the Congressional Black Caucus. The associations are not limited to critics of Israel; Charles Rangel, one of the longest-standing incumbent politicians in the House of Representatives, was a staunch supporter of Israel during his tenure — and a decades-old associate of Farrakhan.
Split over Zionism
But the Zionist organizations’ complaints go further than Farrakhan. A community advisory sent out by the Jewish Community Relations Council condemns the march because “American Jewish women and their allies should not have to feel torn between their identities as proud Jews and Zionists and as Americans advocating for justice and equality”. Zioness, a poorly astroturfed “progressive” Zionist organization founded by the head of another organization tasked with filing frivolous lawsuits against professors involved in Palestinian rights advocacy and education, similarly called off its participation in the March, citing the “anti-Semitism” of the March’s co-chairs. Though Zioness did not specify, separate statements made it clear that the “anti-Semitism” in question included Sarsour’s condemnation of Israeli oppression and those who enable it. And A Wider Bridge, a group that uses Israel’s gay community to sanitize Israeli occupation among liberals and has a history of issuing bogus anti-Semitism accusations against LGBT groups that support Palestine, will join the JCRC and Zioness for a propaganda panel dedicated to promoting the voices of Jewish women, which all three groups conflate with promoting Zionism.
These efforts are a destructive consequence of the slow but steady divorce between American progressives and Israel. Pro-Israel Jewish groups have repeatedly attacked leftists and progressives for slowly recognizing that Zionism is a right-wing movement dedicated to racial separatism and the mass expulsion and containment of large numbers of people based on their ethnicity, through the use of brutal — and illegal — military force sponsored by American tax dollars. In only the last month, pro-Israel groups have campaigned to fire or publicly dishonor prominent black leftists over Palestine, from getting Marc Lamont Hill fired from CNN for defending Palestinian freedom “from the river to the sea,” to pressuring the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute into rescinding an award to legendary Civil Rights Era academic Angela Davis over her support for boycotting Israel. Similarly, activist and author of The Color Purple Alice Walker’s endorsement of a fringe conspiracy theorist who trafficks in thinly veiled anti-Jewish tropes — a bizarre and regrettable endorsement that is several years old — has suddenlyresurfaced to be weaponized to discredit her work entirely, including her long-standing endorsement of the boycott of Israel.
And yet, despite these attacks on progressive campaigns, Zionists still demand a seat at the table. That Israel is becoming an increasingly partisan matter under the leadership of Netanyahu in Israel and Trump in the United States threatens the “special relationship” that has previously secured bipartisan support for Israel. Having long ensured the complete erasure of Palestine from progressive politics through manipulative accusations of anti-Semitism, Zionist groups appear unprepared to weather the reality of increasingly visible support for Palestine among left-leaning initiatives. The election of several endorsers of the boycott of Israel to the House of Representatives, the ironclad relationship between Netanyahu and Trump Republicans and their mutual support for walling off outsiders, the passage of laws to defend Israel that straightforwardly conflict with the First Amendment, and high-profile campus and community activism emphasizing the ties between marginalized US-based constituencies and Palestinians, have made Zionism a liability.
While the majority of pro-Israel lobbying organizations take on a decidedly and unambiguously right-wing, militaristic, and pro-Trump character following Netanyahu’s example, apologists for Israel have also taken to directly attacking or undermining the Women’s March, Black Lives Matter, the International Women’s Strike, the Chicago Dyke March, the Democratic Socialists of America, the candidacies of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar, the Bernie Sanders movement, leftist professors, andOccupy Wall Street largely or wholly over campaigns, statements, or actions revolving around advocacy for Palestinian rights.
Notably, Sarsour, Angela Davis, and others vocally criticized Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians during speeches in 2016 and 2017. The International Women’s Strike, a leftist rally held in the wake of the Women’s March in March of 2017, was unambiguously anti-Zionist. Incidentally, the Women’s March initially received heavy criticism from opponents of Zionism at its start over rumors that the March leadership was purposely watering down support for Palestinian rights, and because some of the March’s speakers in 2016 and 2017 were pro-Israel advocates.
Several authors in the pages of Mondoweiss have debated the desirability of having Zionists at left-wing marches. While some emphasize that the presence of Zionist advocacy violates anti-racism norms among leftists, others note the importance of a broad-based coalition and the difficult reality that racism, including Zionism, is normal in American society. But while activists may disagree, the Zionist organizations themselves have ironically become some of the strongest adherents of the former position, vocally and strenuously choosing to pick Israel over progressive politics when faced with a choice. Already, Israeli diplomats are discouraging Jewish groups from mentioning Israel when discussing matters with black groups, and Jewish donors are increasingly hesitant to fund Israel-related advocacy.