Rachel Druck (first row, first on right) at Women's March Tel Aviv 2017.
(photo credit: COURTESY RACHEL DRUCK)
The Women’s March movement and its first demonstration in January 2017 was a spontaneous, grassroots campaign against the incoming US president, Donald Trump, his comments about women, allegations of sexual harassment against him, and more broadly to promote women’s rights.
But a pall has been thrown over the movement and its 2019 march scheduled for this Saturday in the US and around the world, due to concerns that have risen regarding how Jewish women in the movement have been treated and problematic associations of some of its leadership with antisemitic figures.
Several alternative marches have been organized for Saturday in several states and cities in light of these problems, including in New York.
Rachel Druck, a Givatayim resident and activist in the Pantsuit Nation Israel Facebook group, was one of the organizers of the Women’s March Tel Aviv 2017, which espoused the same sentiment of protest against Trump and advocacy for women’s rights as the US chapters of the movement did.
But Druck says the troubling associations that the Women’s March leaders have engaged in and the revelations regarding how Jewish women in the movement were treated are “painful” and have reduced the initial energy and enthusiasm for it.
Druck said that because of what has transpired she did not feel comfortable organizing a Women’s March in Tel Aviv in 2019, and noted that other previous organizers had not taken up the mantle either.
Nor would she participate in the Washington Women’s March event this weekend if she were in the US.
“I could not justify participating as a Jewish woman or asking other Jewish women to come out for something that has become so dismissive of Jewish women and the Jewish experience generally and it has become really painful,” Druck told The Jerusalem Post.
She said the response by the Women’s March leaders to criticism of sounded like they did not view antisemitism as important and even failed to understand the complaints against them.
Druck also noted that the Tel Aviv Women’s March had brought together a broad range of people, and that the organizers had deliberately taken time and energy to communicate with and listen to the different partners to create an event everyone was comfortable with.
Druck says she’s proud to have been involved in the Tel Aviv event and is “a proud member of the resistance to Trump and his agenda,” but says that “major changes” in the Women’s March leadership are now needed.
Either new leaders need to come in or the current leaders need to make “an educational push” so that the movement becomes more inclusive.
Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie, who is also an author and academic on gender studies, was a supporter of the Women’s March movement, but spoke out strongly against the false historical narratives that she says have been embraced by its leaders.
Like Druck, she is very critical of the way in which Jewish women have been made to feel unwelcome in the movement, describing it as “a slap in the face” for telling Jewish women to take responsibility for the oppression of black people based on false historical sources, specifically by Farrakhan himself.
“Bringing in radical groups with fake history was not the purpose of this movement, and I want to encourage Jewish women who are in the US to fight against this behavior and restore the debate to what it the movement was originally designed to address.
Elana Sztokman, an author, academic and feminist activist in Israel, was involved in the organization of the Tel Aviv march through the Democrats Abroad group, and has also been critical of the Women’s March leadership.
But she also insists that the new women’s activism and the dynamism of the movement since 2017 is too important to cast aside because of antisemitism amongst parts of the leadership.
“There is antisemitism in many places, and there are antisemitic feminists, no one is denying that,” she said.
“It exists but it doesn’t define feminism, it doesn’t define the Women’s March, it doesn’t define the entire movement,” Sztokman argued, saying that the new activism was “too important to cast aside.”
She cited the fact that “a sitting president who admitted to assaulting women before he was elected and was still chosen by 60 million people,” the selection of US Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh against whom several allegations of sexual assault were raised, and the limiting of women’s right is the US as just some of the reasons why the current movement is so important.
Sztokman also said Jewish women “are trained to put being Jewish first and foremost above everything else” and that Jewish women today have to put the well-being of women at the top of their priorities.
“Jewish women have to be part of this, there is so much at stake here and so many battles we are fighting as women and we need to prioritize women’s well being the same we prioritize the Jewish well being.”
Nevertheless, because there are alternatives events, Sztokman says she would participate in those instead of the Women’s March rallies because of the problems with antisemitism and antisemitic associations that have arisen with its leadership.
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