The all-sides controversy of the Women’s March

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Linda Sarsour, co-chair of the Women’s March

The 2019 Women’s March went off pretty much without a hitch, despite controversy looming over the event. Concerns that Women’s March Co-President Tamika Mallory has ties with anti-Semitism in the form of her support for Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam movement, had appeared before the march .

Farrakhan has called Jewish people his “enemy” and said other violently anti-Semitic things in the past. He has also expressed homophobic views. Neither of these things are stances the Women’s March wants to align itself with, but Mallory has refused to denounce him. Presumably, this is because of his work for the black and Muslim communities.

But, the acknowledgement from the media and subsequently the supporters of the march that maybe this isn’t the best person to call an ally has caused a lower turnout for the march as well as an alternate march held in New York City.

Groups like Jewish Women of Color spoke during the event and were included on the steering committee for the march.

Mallory addressed the anti-Semitism concerns during her speech. She said only she could define who she was and that marchers shouldn’t let others define her. She also specifically addressed Jewish women.

“I see you,” she said.

While the leaders thought they were addressing the problem, they didn’t ever take direct responsibility for the problem or even acknowledge why people might have concerns about the leadership or the march.

Linda Sarsour, march co-chair, deflected by using “whataboutism” instead of looking at problems the march leaders may have had a hand in creating.

“The media can talk about any controversy they want. But the real controversy is in the White House,” she said.

It’s also interesting they decided to blame the concern about the march on the media. The idea that the entire media is a hivemind out to misinform the public by creating false narratives to drive backlash against people and groups has roots in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

Mallory and Sarsour didn’t seem to do much research on the history of anti-Semitism before trying to convince the world that they definitely aren’t anti-Semitic.

Now, personally, I don’t think the entire Women’s March and it’s leaders should be “cancelled.” I understand why people might feel like they should be out of the public eye and no one should support the march. But, because of the backlash, tons of Jewish voices were included in the leadership. Pretty much every group that spoke mentioned Jewish women specifically and the controversy enabled more people to talk about anti-Semitism.

I do think Mallory should’ve still cut ties with Farrakhan. I think she should have taken more responsibility for the backlash, instead of taking it as a personal attack on her from “the media.” But her actions spoke louder than her words and she has included more Jewish women in the conversation.

Many people on the right tweeted about the march, listing women who didn’t seem to be welcome at the march. These lists were usually just copied and pasted from each other and included white women, anti-abortion women and Jewish women.

They are clearly co-opting the Mallory controversy to denounce the march because they don’t agree with the march itself. Breitbart, a far-right site that has been known for anti-Semitism in the past, published an article about how Mallory is anti-Semitic.

In some ways, I feel Mallory’s concern that this backlash only came about because people wanted to discount the march itself is true. However, it just doesn’t give her the right to seemingly ignore the problems she did have a hand in. They have done a good job at including as many voices and perspectives as possible, but they have left too many questions unanswered.