Organization Trends

Women’s March Leaders Fail to Disavow Farrakhan

Last week, the Women’s March attempted to, yet again, downplay its leaders’ past praise of Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader known for his anti-Semitic comments. In an effort to save the movement’s reputation, the group tried to portray the push for a condemnation of Farrakhan as an attack on left-wing politics.

Since actress Alyssa Milano—and more recently Debra Messing—said they will not be speaking at future Women’s March events until its leaders adequately condemn Louis Farrakhan, new light has been shed on the relationship between the Women’s March leaders and Farrakhan.

Instead of starting the statements on Facebook and Twitter with an immediate condemnation of Farrakhan and his anti-Semitism, the official Women’s March began its new statement on the Farrakhan issue by saying the organization stands with board member Linda Sarsour and co-president Tamika Mallory, who both have ties to Farrakhan and have openly praised him in the past.

The Women’s March and its leaders’ ties to Farrakhan have plagued the group since its creation in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election.

In 2016, Mallory shared a photo claiming she was “super ready” for Farrakhan to give his speech at that year’s Nation of Islam Saviours’ Day. In a now-deleted photo also posted in 2016, board member Carmen Perez is seen holding hands with Farrakhan. In the post, Perez wrote, “And one thing I know whether people agree with his message or not is that the Minister often speaks his truth.” In the replies to the photo, Sarsour praised Farrakhan, writing, “the brother does not age. God bless him.”

In 2017, Mallory shared a photo she took with Farrakhan two years prior. In the summary of the photo, Mallory wished Farrakhan a happy birthday and added, “Thank God this man is still alive and doing well. He is definitely the GOAT.” (“GOAT” is a colloquialism meaning the “Greatest Of All Time.”) This means Mallory was calling Farrakhan, a man known for saying Jews are members of the Synagogue of Satan and for comparing Jews to termites, the “Greatest Of All Time.”

In a post on Instagram in February, Mallory posted a video she took while attending the 2018 Saviours’ Day. Even CNN described Farrakhan’s remarks as “anti-Semitic.” During his speech, Farrakhan said, “the powerful Jews are my enemy.”

As criticism spread after the Saviours’ Day video made the rounds of the internet, Mallory shared a series of tweets seemingly comparing Farrakhan to Jesus by saying, “My point . . . Jesus had a number of enemies as do all black leaders. Period point blank [sic].”

Sarsour’s original defense of Mallory’s involvement with the Nation of Islam included replies demanding concerned parties, such as Jews, take a “nuanced” look at what Farrakhan has done for the black community. In one thread of replies, she asked, “Have you ever had a conversation with anyone from the NOI? They have leaders all over the country who have deep relationships in Black communities?”

She also wrote, “people want Tamika to unequivocally condemn Farrakhan and no one other than you so far has actually recognized from the perspective of Black communities that Farrakhan and the Nation have done good for the Black community. This is the exact nuance that I am talking about.”

In another thread of replies, someone asked for context, to which Sarsour responded, Mallory was “being attacked for attending Our Saviour’s Day in Chicago led by Farrakhan.” When the individual replied, “Just LOOKING for something to be salty about. Who’s hating? Is it faux-gressives[.]” Sarsour said, “don’t get us started.”

The Advocate reported Sarsour even said, in a now-deleted comment, “What work are we willing to do and are we willing to be open to the true idea that members of the NOI are not all anti-Semites? Are we cool with broad brushing a whole group?”

The last time the Women’s March reluctantly tried to condemn Farrakhan in March 2018, the group wrote, “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 color leaders and are grounded in Kingian Nonviolence.”

This time, the Women’s March wrote, “We recognize the danger of hate rhetoric by public figures. We want to say emphatically that we do not support or endorse statements made by Minister Louis Farrakhan about women, Jewish and LGBTQ communities.”

“Do not support or endorse,” however, does not mean “emphatically condemn and reject.”

Rather than grapple with the “nuance” between tacitly approving and actively rejecting Farrakhan, the group tried to divert attention away from Farrakhan by asserting that the calls for condemnation were a right-wing ploy to divide the Left:

It’s important to remember that many on the right are thrilled to use any tool they can find to divide and undermine our movement—one that inspired the #WomensWave we saw this week in the midterm elections . . . . We all know the real cause of violence and oppression of our communities. This is well-documented and inspired by vile rhetoric coming from the Trump administration and from members of the Republican Party.

Just days after the Women’s March’s alleged second disavowal of Farrakhan over his comments about Jews, Sarsour and Mallory yet again tried to portray the move to condemn anti-Semitism, regardless of its form, as an attack on left-wing politics.

On Facebook, Sarsour shared a post by radio host and Farrakhan’s Million Man March emcee Mark Thompson, saying he “sees right through it” in his post that claims Mallory and Sarsour are not anti-Semitic, but that their “enemies want you to be anti-WOC.” In the replies, when a user pointed out Sarsour has praised Farrakhan, she replied, “You are just parroting conservative talking points with no back-up.”

Sarsour also shared a post by the executive director of Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, saying his words have “always been very clear” to her. The post read in part:

. . . Leftists here in the U.S. may or may not be anti-Semitic. It is optional. Anti-Semitism is not core to U.S. left ideology and it is not an animating force of our social justice movements. When the conservative American Jewish establishment and other conservative forces attack leftist anti-Semitism, it is an attack ON THE LEFT. It is not ultimately in service of the safety and protection of Jews. The fight to keep American Jews safe is the fight against white nationalism. Period.

Mallory went further, sharing an article titled “No, Farrakhan Is Not the Problem.” In the post accompanying the link, Mallory called it “required reading” for white people.

Required Reading* for any white person who has actively thought or stated their opinion of how they think the women of color leading the Women’s March should respond or relate to Minister Farrakhan. Please read in its entirety and share if you feel so inspired. This really needs to be cleared up. As a person who is deeply enmeshed in and deeply accountable to both Black and Jewish communities, we’ve got to clean this up and it won’t come from white people telling POC leaders what to do, because, whether you realize it or not, that is a manifestation of white supremacy.

One of the post’s “likes” happens to be Sarsour.

Renewed interest in the concerns about Farrakhan have not stopped members of the Women’s March from focusing on what appears to be one of their most important feminist issues: Israel.

Women’s March deputy head of communications Sophie Ellman-Golan, who at first brushed off the defense of Farrakhan from her fellow organizers as an understanding gap, conveniently tweeted over the weekend that in her ideal “intersectional” movement, “our movement and institutional leaders can’t legitimize [Zionist Organization of America president] Mort Klein, [Israeli Prime Minister] Bibi Netanyahu, or Louis Farrakhan. The hatred they spout and enable has surpassed what they have done for their own constituencies,” comparing the rhetoric used by Farrakhan to Netanyahu and Klein.

In another tweet, she walked back her condemnation of the current Israeli government to one about “the government of Israel” in general: “We can’t build the world we want to live in with people like Mort Klein, the government of Israel, or Louis Farrakhan.” She went on to say that the government of Israel is the “past,” while her movement is the “future.”

Similarly, days after the Pittsburgh tragedy, Sarsour appeared on Democracy Now to say that the Democratic Party’s “downfall” happens to be its support for Israel—not the current Israeli government, but the state of Israel in its existence.

All of these comments about Jews and Israel were reportedly enough for a German think tank to revoke the Human Rights Award it planned to give the Women’s March. The Jerusalem Post reported on Sunday that the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, which constructs policies for the left-of-center German Social Democratic Party, penned an open letter that read:

We believe that the Women’s March USA does not meet the criteria of this award, as its organizers have repeatedly attracted attention through anti-Semitic statements, the trivialization of anti-Semitism and the exclusion of Zionists and Jews since Women’s March USA’s establishment in 2017. Women’s March USA does not constitute an inclusive alliance.

The Women’s March’s patent refusal to condemn Farrakhan and insistence on making everything about Israel has now made the organization lose some of its high-profile supporters. Instead of offering a coherent, clear condemnation of Farrakhan, the leaders of the Women’s March would rather blame the people Farrakhan targets for not understanding the supposed nuance of his arguments and for falling for an alleged right-wing plot to divide people.