The Women's March leadership has been accused of anti-Semitism, and many local chapters are disassociating from the national organisation

Ethan Miller/Getty ImagesWomen’s March Co-Chairwomen Bob Bland, Carmen Perez, Linda Sarsour, and Tamika D. Mallory during the Women’s March Power to the Polls voter-registration tour launch at Sam Boyd Stadium on January 21, 2018, in Las Vegas. Demonstrators across the nation gathered over the weekend, one year after the historic Women’s March on Washington, to protest President Donald Trump’s administration and to raise awareness for women’s issues.
  • A bombshell report in Tablet depicts pervasive anti-Semitism among the Women’s March leadership.
  • The national Women’s March vehemently denies the allegations, but one of its PR partners made bizarre demands of journalists who shared the Tablet article on Twitter.
  • Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, and Carmen Perez have challenged their former colleagues turned detractors to a public conversation, and accused them of lying.
  • A growing number of local and state chapters have disassociated from the national organisation.

There’s a problem in the leadership of the Women’s March, and it’s leading to the splintering of the movement nationally.

An article in Tablet last week depicted the Women’s March as an organisation whose very first official meeting included anti-Semitic tropes spoken by those still in the organisation’s leadership.

Some of these had been widely propagated by Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, such as “Jews were proven to have been leaders of the American slave trade.”

Several witnesses, including women of colour, corroborated allegations that later meetings among the Women’s March leadership also included anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish women in the room. This included an accusation leveled at one Jewish organiser, Vanessa Wruble, that “your people hold all the wealth.”

The story, by Leah McSweeney and Jacob Siegel, details how Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, Linda Sarsour, and Bob Bland solidified their roles as the collective public face of a movement that was actually far more decentralized than the public was led to believe at the time of the historic January 2017 marches across the country. At the historic march protesting the inauguration of President Donald Trump, anywhere from 3.6 to 4.6 million people marched in cities across the US.

But as the Women’s March brand grew in stature and the organisation brought in millions of dollars in donations, as well as a fortune from branded merchandise, the murky financial management of the organisation has come under scrutiny. Also criticised is the relationship between the leadership – Mallory and Sarsour, in particular – with the Nation of Islam (NOI) and Farrakhan, whose long history of anti-Semitic and racist statements is well documented.

Accusations of anti-Semitism among the leadership

Mercy Morganfield, former president of the DC Women’s March and daughter of blues legend Muddy Waters, has been vocal in her criticism of the Women’s March leadership, saying that an organisation that prides itself on intersectional activism left anti-Semitism out of its stated “unity principles” and has no Jewish women on its board.

Morganfield also asserted that Bland had told her outright that the NOI provides security for the leadership. Bland denies saying any such thing to Morganfield. A May 2015 photograph posted to Linda Sarsour’s Facebook page (which was well before the Women’s March existed) features the caption “FOI [Fruit of Islam] Brothers, security of the movement.”

Bland and Mallory also denied to Tablet that the Women’s March contracts directly with the Fruit of Islam (NOI’s security detail), but conceded “the likelihood” that the Women’s March had used a private security firm that “employs some guards who are practicing members of the NOI.” They added that they “denounce anti-Semitism, and there should be no confusion about that.”

But two other Women’s March cofounders who have since left the organisation – Evvie Harmon and Teresa Shook – also directly accused Mallory and Sarsour of making anti-Semitic statements during Women’s March meetings.

Given the prominence of the Women’s March in US politics – Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York called the organisation’s leadership “the suffragists of our time” in a blurb for Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2017 – the muted response to the Tablet article is puzzling. But what’s even stranger has been the Women’s March’s response.

Last week, scores of journalists (myself included) who had tweeted the Tablet story received an email from a representative at Megaphone Strategies, which stated that Tablet was “in the process of making several corrections to the story.”

Megaphone offered to share a list of fact-checks, but only if some bizarre parameters were met, including a promise to keep the fact-checks off the record unless Megaphone gave permission. But the email took an even stranger turn with the request “You will let us know if you intend to delete your tweet pushing an article that includes sources/allegations, which were not vetted properly and in line with journalistic ethics?”

The email was met with swift mockery and condemnation from many of the journalists on its receiving end.

For its part, Tablet ended up publishing a total of four minor corrections to the over 10,000 word article, some of which actually strengthened the case of the article.

Megaphone Strategies declined a request for comment from INSIDER, but the Women’s March responded to emailed questions with a statement which read in part, “The Women’s March organisation disagrees with these allegations. The organisation and its leaders have dedicated themselves to liberating women from all forms of oppression, including anti-Semitism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, racism, white supremacy, xenophobia and Islamophobia.”

The Women’s March also directed INSIDER to a March 2018 statement made after Mallory was widely criticised for attending a Nation of Islam rally in February where Farrakhan declared “the powerful Jews are my enemy” and “the Jews have control over agencies of those agencies of government,” while also blaming Jews for “degenerate behaviour in Hollywood turning men into women and women into men.”

In that statement, the Women’s March declared, “Minister Farrakhan’s statements about Jewish, queer, and trans people are not aligned with the Women’s March Unity Principles, which were created by women of colour leaders and are grounded in Kingian Nonviolence … Our external silence has been because we are holding these conversations and are trying to intentionally break the cycles that pit our communities against each other.”

In an updated statement to The New York Times earlier this week, Mallory said that since the group’s first meeting, “we’ve all learned a lot about how while white Jews, as white people, uphold white supremacy, ALL Jews are targeted by it.”

Read more: How the photographers behind the Women’s March are capturing and archiving history

‘These three women have lied on us’

In a video posted to Tamika Mallory’s Facebook page, Mallory – flanked by Sarsour and Perez – said that instead of wasting time by responding to reporters’ queries, they want to have a “public conversation” with Wruble, Harmon, and Morganfield.

“These three women have lied on us,” Mallory said. “We want to have these conversations in public, not behind closed doors, but in public. So we challenge the three of” – at which point the video abruptly cuts off.

Sarsour wrote a long post to her Facebook page, which read, in part: “The headlines, the character assassination, the undermining of leadership, discreditation campaigns are nothing new but in fact a bedrock of American society when the status quo is challenged.” Sarsour added: “A million newspapers can write and for those of us who are Black and Brown and from communities under attack – we cannot let hurtful and unvetted words by those who have the luxury of speaking but not fighting to take us off our tracks.”

In another video on Sarsour’s Facebook page, the four Women’s March leaders talked for nearly 30 minutes, at certain points arguing that activists of colour are held to an unfair standard. At one point, Mallory alluded to the “dirty laundry” she could share regarding her former Women’s March colleagues, but demurred, saying, “that’s for another day.”

Morganfield addressed the challenge made to her by Mallory, Sarsour, and Perez in a message to Refinery29, characterising the video as an intimidation tactic and adding, “The way you you respond to criticism shows more than the criticism itself.”

What’s next for the Women’s March?

As said in the Tablet article, a number of local and state Women’s March chapters have disassociated from the national Women’s March organisation. Last week, Angie Beem, Washington State Women’s March Board Director, released a statement which read, in part, “I and my team can’t sit idly by and ignore the antisemitism the four National Team co-chairs have supported and continue to support.”

But Planned Parenthood has notably chosen to stand by the national Women’s March organisation, releasing a statement to Refinery29 reading, in part, “We will continue to work with the Women’s March to hold ourselves and each other accountable to the Unity Principles that are the basis of our partnership.”

The Women’s March is moving ahead with its third march on Washington, DC, on January 19, 2019, with at least 130 marches also scheduled on that date across the US.

Chicago’s previously scheduled Women’s March, one of the nation’s largest, was cancelled Wednesday. Its organisers blamed exceedingly high costs to stage a rally for hundreds of thousands in Grant Park, as well as too few available volunteers. The Chicago Tribune reports one member called the decision “disappointing” on the group’s Facebook page but added: “Women continue fighting to be heard in this patronizing patriarchal society. We are not done.”

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