This is an intra-community type post about the NYC Women’s events Jan. 19, 2019: a Women’s March Inc. “Unity Rally” downtown and the Women’s March Alliance march uptown. It’s also only one side of an argument among three people. Two of them being white-presenting middle-aged Ashkenazi Jewish men, and one of them being me (white-presenting middle-aged Ashkenazi Jewish woman). They both thought that 1) organizer Tamika Mallory’s support for/failure to rebuke Louis Farrakhan was evidence of unacceptable anti-semitism, and 2) the fact that the Rally organization also supports BDS and criticizes Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is more such evidence — and there therefore participating in the Unity Rally is tolerating intolerance. One even said I was excusing bigotry and on the wrong side of history. I argued a different point. I won’t include their words without their permission (which I won’t seek) but here are mine:
I’n going to the Unity Rally downtown. I disagree or at least hope they are not saying that the uptown event doesn’t care about women of color.
I do believe they are saying that the Alliance isn’t willing to put WOC forward as a priority.
It’s a question of degree, and I want to act more in solidarity across all cultures than to center my Jewishness as the most important criterion… but further, I *definitely* don’t want to prioritize uncritical support for the State of Israel as my deciding factor. I can show up as Jewish woman who has concerns about Israel’s policies/actions and anger about rising anti-semitism while also asserting that racism must end, white supremacy hurts everyone, and gender nonconforming people have an equal right to safety and dignity. Despite there being problematic leaders for both events, I felt the Rally better addressed those sentiments than the Alliance’s march.
I also appreciated that the Rally listed all its participating groups while the Alliance’s march did not. AND there’s an organized Jewish coalition at the Rally, so our presence will be notable. I don’t know that’s true at the uptown march.
I weighed the factors and made a choice. Staying home didn’t feel like an option.
A lot of Jews are being extra critical of the Rally organizers, because Tamika Mallory repeatedly has chosen not to specifically denounce Louis Farrakhan, and because Linda Sarsour is openly pro-Palestinian and anti Israel policy. They are both complicated women with complicated views. I’m trying not to demand perfection and purity from people who are doing otherwise important work. And extrapolating out from these two women, I’m also putting a lot of effort into not telling black people how to respond to other black people, and not telling Muslim people how to feel about things that affect Muslims and Arabs.
It is very awkward, and your concerns are mine/ours too. (But it is also typical NYC, there’s always something else happening, and maybe not so bad to have options.)
Paradigm shifts are messy, radicalism is messy, social justice tectonic shifts are messy. It’s our “the ’60s” — it was awkward and messy then too. Literally exactly the same issues the nation was struggling with, here we are again, and so it’s going to be a struggle again. The conversations and the discord are necessary. It’s unfortunate but true, so we make the best decisions we can at any given moment and go forward.
Letting one person’s failure to condemn another person’s poor opinion be a factor that determines whether I support a coalition of 50 organizations strikes me as either self-centered, short-sighted, or unreasonably demanding a perfect ideological purity. The right wing can be unified around a few core messages, but the left wing has to gain power by broad coalition and consensus… which means compromise. I am not ashamed to be a person who is willing to compromise. Farrakhan is just one character in a very large landscape; he has very little actual power, and his metaphoric power is only as strong as we imagine it to be. I will never be concerned about Farrakhan when we have Trump, Pence, DeVos, McConnell, and dozens of others of actually powerful people in actual positions of power who are actively fighting against me, and almost everyone I know. I don’t feel that I can blithely write off the valid daily concerns of my brothers and sisters outside the Jewish community just because my feelings are hurt by Nation of Islam propaganda, which holds no authority or power over any of us. At least NoI are open in their loathing, instead of hiding their desire for our genocide in fake love for Israel like the Christian Right. I don’t tolerate intolerance — I look at the bigger picture and recognize who are true enemies and who are just gadflies and then I act accordingly.
Sarsour feels the treatment of Palestinians is a humanitarian crisis. She’s consistent there, and that’s the position of Women’s March Inc and much of the Left. I don’t have a problem with criticism of Israel’s government and its policies, just as I don’t have a problem with criticism of America’s government and its policies. There’s a lot worth criticizing.
Tamika Mallory does not define the movement, nor does she define the philosophies of the dozens of other groups involved in the event today. She refuses to rebuke Farrakhan, OK. Her opinion and his opinion are not meaningful to me. If either one of them gets elected to a position of legislative or administrative authority…. heck, even if they just campaign for such a role, get back to me in my opinions and actions will be different.
Today’s action was not in support of Tamika Mallory or Linda Sarsour, and it was not a BDS rally. These things were part of a whole. I am just not going to put my personal opinion as being more important than the concerns of many other kinds of people who are actively being persecuted by powerful people. I am in a position where I can deemphasize my personal concerns and instead act in support of others with less leverage. We have anti-semites in office in this country that I’m far more concerned about. When there are true threats to human safety all around me, I am just not going to be distracted by anger at activists who I don’t agree with 100%.
[comparison of Farrakhan to David Duke invoked] Okay, the way that Farrakhan and Duke are different is that I do not know what Farrakhan has done for black people, but I do know what Duke has done for white people. What Duke does is uphold white supremacy at the expense of everyone else. What Farrakhan does is try to repair some of the damage people like David Duke have done. Farrakhan is not an active threat to me or other Jews. David Duke is an active threat to thousands of people. Farrakhan’s followers are not out here murdering Jews. David Duke’s followers are out here murdering both Jews and black people. If Tamika Mallory knows something that Farrakhan has done that is positive for black people, she has weighed that against what is negative that he has done for Jewish people. David Duke has done nothing positive for anyone except those who are already at the pinnacle of power. I do not see them as comparable except in a superficial way of hate speech, which I do not enjoy, but I see the threats as definitely distinctively different and therefore I do not have the same opinion about both of them.
[How can a leader say one form of bigotry is abhorrent but another form she will tolerate?] I am far more concerned with the talking out of both sides of their mouth that is being done by the evangelical right which is taking over the judiciary and driving the White House, and currently the Senate. Those are people who can say that they love Israel while actively hating Jewish people. End Times theology has far more power in this country than the Nation of Islam.
Considering one form of bigotry is tolerable and another as not, is because the conditions surrounding them are complicated and non-identical. It’s also something that literally every single one of us does all the time. I am not a fan of hers, and therefore I share in the criticism of her beliefs and her role. I just don’t choose to conflate the full organization and the event today with her personally.
I am very aware we have intercultural problems in New York, and I’m concerned for my safety and for other Jews on a daily basis. I am not blithely writing off anti-semitism here, nor violence, nor every kind of rhetoric.
“You believe one form of bigotry is tolerable?” — No I do not, but I am saying that I can understand how someone can hold multiple opinions that are sometimes in conflict. It’s a core tenet of intersectionality, and a human failing. I can’t separate my experiences as a woman from my concerns as a Jewish person or from my American POV. But I can prioritize and act accordingly. I believe others do too.
I am not here to support Mallory. I wouldn’t be sorry if she stepped away from leadership. I am OK with saying her relationship with Farrakhan is not sufficiently important to me that I would boycott anything she’s part of leading. Right now, it’s important to me that I am listening to and supporting people who are less powerful, some of whom disagree with me or who may be angry at people who look like me. It’s uncomfortable but I am not letting my personal perspective keep my view narrow.
I’m also frustrated by how a lot of us on the left demanding ideological purity (a variable and moving target) from our leaders. It is destructive to our progress as we squabble and the Right gets more concentrated and gains more power. Evangelicals hold their nose and vote for those who will turn around and execute their agenda, no matter how disgusting and flawed they are. Like DJT is a Christian now, hahahaha OK. But Lefties would rather stay home than vote for someone imperfectly aligned with their ideals. I think that’s a problem too.
I am not in favor of any hate speech, least of all anti-semitic hate. I agree it can spark negative action. I’m more concerned about anti-semitism than I ever have been. That’s a clear point we can agree on. But the specific discussion here is very messy. I never said anti-Jewish speech or philosophy didn’t matter, I just said I decided it wasn’t my top priority in deciding where to spend my time and energy today, and that generally I don’t want my concerns about anti-semitism to rule the prism through which I view and hear other people’s opinions and experiences.
I’m working on being a better person, a Jew with a broader perspective, and a more effective ally for people with less power and privilege than me. It’s not easy, but compromise and coalition isn’t either.
I am taking a lot of cues from groups like JFREJ and Bend the Arc, who are actively cooperating with Jews of color and members of other cultures to end all racial bigotry and anti-semitism within and across our respective communities.
I didn’t come in here trying to talk anyone into anything, just sharing my choices and my thinking. When challenged, I have tried to explain my position, to be greeted with more challenges, and then further explanations, which then finally was told that I’m full of air, and contorting myself to accommodate hate, and turning a blind eye to bigotry — when it’s literally that I’m doing the opposite.
If Jews want to put your concerns as a Jew above all else, please, go right ahead. That benefits me, and thank you.
Thanks for the discussion. But I feel like I’m just repeating myself now for a disinterested audience, so I’ll bow out.