A few months after the first Women’s March in January 2017, a Twitter contact sent me some material suggesting that the leadership of the hugely popular organization had a soft spot for Nation of Islam leader and veteran Jew-hater Louis Farrakhan. When I looked into the matter, it turned out that three of the most prominent Women’s March organizers – Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory and Carmen Perez – had indeed not been shy at all about advertising their admiration for Farrakahn on social media. They were also very proud about having been invited by Farrakhan to participate in a major 2015 event that was described as “a pageant for Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam.”
Even though the information eventually filtered through to influential outlets like the New York Times and The Atlantic, the leadership of the Women’s March apparently felt that they could contain any potential damage by issuing vacuous condemnations of “hatred in all forms.” At the same time, Linda Sarsour’s own preference was to denounce her critics as evil right-wingers – that’s how prominent CNN anchor Jake Tapper (who is Jewish) came to join “the ranks of the alt-right.”
So we should presumably conclude now that the most recent addition to “the ranks of the alt-right” is the actress and #MeToo activist Alyssa Milano. While Milano spoke at this year’s Women’s March in January, she recently indicated in an interview that she would not do so again as long as the Women’s March leaders failed to distance themselves from Farrakhan. Actress Debra Messing reportedly supported Milano’s stance, and there have been attempts to convince other celebrity allies of the Women’s March to insist on a clear distancing from Farrakhan.
But while the renewed concern about the ties of the Women’s March leadership to Farrakhan is welcome, I can’t quite help feeling that it is also too little too late.
One reason is that the astonishing grossness of Farrakhan’s always proudly displayed Jew-hatred leaves no doubt that self-defined progressives are all too willing to overlook even the most blatant expressions of antisemitism in order to avoid offending the sensibilities of those who live by the dictates of intersectionality and identity politics, which require suspecting Jews of being too attached to the “white privilege” they apparently got right after being killed in their millions for not being white enough.
Moreover, anyone who takes the fight against antisemitism seriously should also realize that the ties of some prominent Women’s March leaders to Farrakhan are just the tip of the iceberg. Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory have been most vocal about their refusal to sincerely condemn Farrakhan, but even if they were to declare that they have come to abhor him and swear that they’d never again post anything nice about him on social media, they would still share some long-held views with him.
This is certainly true for Sarsour. In an endlessly long “Letter on Loyalty, Agency and Unity” (that Alyssa Milano politely shared with her Twitter followers), Sarsour complained recently that the “labels of antisemitism were here before the Minister Farrakhan controversy 8 months ago.” Let’s first note that “the Minister Farrakhan controversy” has been going on for considerably more than eight months; Sarsour probably prefers this time frame because this is when the Women’s March finally felt compelled to address its leadership’s ties to Farrakhan.
But she’s definitely right to claim that the “labels” – she probably means “libels”—of “antisemitism” predate “the Minister Farrakhan controversy.” I first wrote about Sarsour’s antisemitism in March 2017, documenting numerous tweets and statements going back several years that leave little doubt about her intense hatred for the world’s only Jewish state.
Of course, Sarsour is one of the many “progressives” who think that all it takes to pose as an ardent opponent of antisemitism is updating the Nazi-slogan “the Jews are our misfortune” to “the Jewish state is our misfortune.”
But while many on the left keep insisting that it must be just some kind of regrettable slip whenever Sarsour comes out with yet another antisemitic trope or dog whistle, some rather unabashed antisemites have no problem understanding what Sarsour is actually saying.
One of the best examples of how much Sarsour shares with Farrakhan is a by now three-year-old clip that Sarsour re-posted last fall on her Facebook page. The clip shows her delivering a short speech at the 2015 rally organized by Farrakhan to mark the 20-year anniversary of the 1995 Million Man March.
Farrakhan and his Nation of Islam are notorious for their relentless efforts to blame Jews for many of the problems and hardships experienced by blacks in the United States. Sarsour chose to echo this antisemitic theme in her speech at Farrakhan’s 2015 rally when she told her audience that “[the] same people who justify the massacres of Palestinian people and call it collateral damage are the same people who justify the murder of young black men and women.”
When Sarsour re-posted the clip of this speech last fall, she added defiantly: “2 years ago today. I stand by every word.”
This comment may have been meant as a response to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which had sharply criticized efforts to blame Israel and American Jews supportive of Israel for police brutality against blacks in the United States. It’s not only that Sarsour was of course allied with the supposedly “progressive” and “pro-Palestinian” groups that worked hard to somehow tie Israel to misconduct of US police forces; she also had long advertised her intense dislike for the ADL on social media.
It was thus also hardly surprising when Sarsour’s dear “sister” Tamika Mallory launched a determined and ultimately successful campaign this spring to get the ADL booted from Starbuck’s efforts to provide anti-bias training to all its employees. Needless to say, Farrakhan’s NOI was very pleased and its “research group” tweeted: “Sister Tamika Mallory’s strong stand exposing the racist spy agency ADL forces Starbucks to drop them.”
Ultimately, any condemnation of Farrakhan and his NOI that might be issued by the Women’s March leadership can hardly be more than a PR move as long as the organization is led by people who share some of the anti-Jewish bigotry that Farrakhan and NOI have promoted for decades.
This is a cross-post by Petra Marquardt-Bigman