Antisemitism claims against Women's March leaders shatter unity

Amid an antisemitism scandal, progressive Jewish women struggle to find a home in this weekend's events.

People line Central Park West as they participate in the Women's March in Manhattan, New York City, New York, U.S., January 20, 2018 (photo credit: ANDREW KELLY / REUTERS)
People line Central Park West as they participate in the Women's March in Manhattan, New York City, New York, U.S., January 20, 2018
(photo credit: ANDREW KELLY / REUTERS)
It was once an easy choice. For two years, many progressive Jewish women in the United States were enthusiastically involved with the Women’s March, showing up in full force at events around the country.
But this weekend – which marks the third incarnation of the protest movement that began after the inauguration of US President Donald Trump in 2017 – the decision is no longer so simple.
Plagued by scandals and repeated accusations of antisemitism against its leaders, the Women’s March has been the center of controversy for months.
With the 2019 march approaching, many Jewish women have found themselves forced to choose between several options: Sit the march out; find an alternative event; or reluctantly join with the organization whose relationship with the Jewish community is shaky at best.
Carly Pildis told The Jerusalem Post this week that instead of joining a march on Saturday, she’ll be attending synagogue.
“I would love nothing more than to put on my sneakers and join the Women’s March,” said Pildis, a progressive activist and political organizer in Washington. “But I feel like I have to stand up for my community. Once my community is being treated well, I would love to be there.”
Pildis, who worked on the Obama campaign and is a nonprofit professional, said that the Jewish community deserves better.
“I feel like I owe it to my community to fight for them,” she said, “and not to accept a place in a movement that seems wishy-washy on our humanity... on respecting us, and on what we deserve.”
The most prominent march this weekend in the capital is run by Women’s March Inc. – the scandal-plagued organization led by Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, Bob Bland and Carmen Perez.
In recent weeks, a number of groups have removed their endorsement from the organization, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Democratic National Committee and the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York City.
Across the country, there are alternative events and unaffiliated women’s marches, which have consciously distanced themselves from the controversial group.
In New York City, two competing events will be held on Saturday morning – a march on the Upper West Side run by the Women’s March Alliance, and a rally downtown linked to Women’s March Inc.
The rift between the events – and the organizers – is tied directly to the antisemitism accusations and ensuing debate. The Women’s March Alliance, which ran the New York march in 2017 and 2018, is helmed by Katherine Siemionko, and affiliated with the NGO March ON.
March ON was founded by Vanessa Wruble, one of the original founders of Women’s March Inc., who left the group after being exposed to the antisemitic sentiments of Mallory, Sarsour and Perez.
Wruble has made it clear that March ON is an independent group, and that it has zero tolerance for antisemitism.
Marilyn Kaskel, a spokeswoman for the Women’s March Alliance in New York, told the Post that it has also taken a clear stance against antisemitism.
“We’ve repeatedly and strongly condemned antisemitism or hatred of any kind,” Kaskel said via an email. “And we celebrate our organization’s diversity and inclusiveness. All are welcome and we look forward to marching on Saturday!”
Nissan Jacobs, a filmmaker from New York, told the Post this week that she proudly marched last year, and found the experience powerful. But in February 2018, after hearing that Mallory attended Louis Farrakhan’s Saviours’ Day speech and praised him on social media, she felt compelled to break out on her own.
“I basically couldn’t breathe or carry on” after hearing about it, Jacobs told the Post. “I was just too distraught... I was kind of looking around for a community and support and I wasn’t really finding it. I was finding a lot of people more or less afraid to speak out because [the Women’s March] had such an enormous popularity.”
So Jacobs founded WoMen For All, a group that defines itself as “leftists, progressives, Democrats and Zionists,” and welcomes “all genders, ethnicities and races in our united front against bigotry of all kinds.”
Jacobs said that her group, which is now affiliated with March ON, has given comfort to many voiceless women.
“There are people coming to us and saying, ‘I’m so glad to have found you. I was so worried and I felt so confused and alone, and now I see that there are a lot of people that see the situation the way I do.’”
Regardless, Jacobs said that she hopes this year is the last time a march is held to coincide with the anniversary of Trump’s inauguration.
“I think women want to get away from this date, which is about Trump,” she said. “Hopefully by next year we’re not necessarily focused on his inauguration, and he [won’t be] the center of this march.”
WoMen For All is not the only NGO founded in the past couple of years to unify those who are unabashedly liberal and Zionist. The Zioness Movement, which was established in late 2017 by Amanda Berman, says its goals are “ending discrimination and injustice” and “providing a home and platform of support for Jews and Zionists in progressive circles.”
In DC, New York and Los Angeles this week, Zioness scheduled “Pre-Women’s March Teach-In” events, which are designed to address the struggles of being a liberal Zionist in the US.
In a statement last month about the march and its controversy, Berman said: “We understand why many are feeling so marginalized that they are considering staying home, but we believe that we absolutely cannot cede the American feminist movement to bigotry and we must choose to lead with radical love and empathy.”
Pildis was one of the speakers at the Zioness Teach-In in the capital on Tuesday evening.
And despite the organization’s pro-march stance, Pildis said none of her friends in the Jewish community are “willing to go this year.” But she said she’s still hopeful that Women’s March Inc. – and the liberal movement as a whole – can learn from this.
“The Women’s March in some ways is like this touchstone moment,” Pildis said. “In some ways, the progressive movement for a very long time has allowed antisemitic comments and behavior to manifest, and people weren’t talking about it or calling it out... [The Women’s March] did not create this antisemitism. This is a moment [that] the entire progressive world – far beyond the Women’s March – should take as a learning moment.”