On January 19, 2019, women will once again take to the streets of Washington, D.C. to march in protest against…well, what, precisely, is not entirely clear. The mission of the Women’s March, according to its website, is “providing intersectional education on a diverse range of issues.”
The third annual Women’s March will no doubt again be energized by pussy-hat-wearing haters of Donald Trump, and this year’s gathering is scheduled to begin outside the gates of the White House.
But although the organizers are branding the march with the hashtag #WomensWave, a nod to the success of Democratic women who ran and won in the midterm elections, it is the Women’s March brand that has recently suffered a mortal blow. As a deeply reported and damning investigation by Tablet revealed, the leadership of the organization has spent the past two years avoiding tough questions about its finances and purging people who depart from its radical orthodoxy—all while cozying up to hatemongers like Louis Farrakhan.
In the two years since the Women’s March came together in Washington, the fog of intersectionality descended over it. The umbrella organization lists a broad range of missions on its website, including gender justice, racial justice, economic justice, and environmental justice. It pursues these missions, it claims, on behalf of “all women—including Black women, Indigenous women, poor women, immigrant women, disabled women, Muslim women, lesbian, queer, and trans women.”
The four female public faces of the organization are Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, and Bob Bland. Notably absent from this vision of gender justice and from the leadership of the Women’s March organization? Jewish women.
This should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the relentlessly anti-Semitic career of Women’s March leader Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American professional activist who has been confidently tweeting her bigotry for years. “Nothing is creepier than Zionism,” she tweeted a few years ago. She’s also argued that “while anti-Semitism is something that impacts Jewish Americans, it’s different than anti-black racism or Islamophobia because it’s not systemic.” (Sarsour might want to examine the statistics on hate crimes in the U.S. The group most frequently targeted isn’t blacks or Muslims; it’s Jews.)
Similarly, Tamika Mallory (who has tweeted praise for Fidel Castro and cop-killing fugitives and proudly defended convicted serial rapist Bill Cosby) has been fawning over Louis Farrakhan for years, posting pictures of herself smiling next to Farrakhan at public events and “thanking God” for him on Instagram. Imagine a prominent conservative activist posting pictures of himself with David Duke, thanking God for the man’s existence. Perez has also commended Farrakhan for “speaking truth to power.” This is praise for a man who said Hitler was “a very great man” and who called Jews “termites” and Judaism a “gutter religion.”
Is it any wonder that, during the very first meeting of the Women’s March leadership, according to Tablet, “Perez and Mallory allegedly first asserted that Jewish people bore a special collective responsibility as exploiters of black and brown people—and even, according to a close secondhand source, claimed that Jews were proven to have been leaders of the American slave trade.”
Feminists have long argued that corporate boards and C-suites should include more women because it would make those businesses more accountable and ethical. More women, the argument goes, means a greater diversity of perspectives, which presumably would be better for business. That sentiment seems to have disappeared at the door of the Women’s March when it comes to Jewish women.
Furthermore, the Women’s March leaders have practiced their activist arts with a stunning lack of transparency about their organization’s financial dealings and status under federal laws governing nonprofit organizations. Where are the profits from all those $25 “Believe Women” T-shirts they hawk on their website? Who is in charge of the many millions raised online for the national Women’s March organization? Why did the organization delay filing its proof of non-profit status with the IRS? Why are local chapters of the organization seeing none of the money coming in while national leaders enjoy large salaries and budgets? The confusion and concern about the group’s finances have grown large enough that activists within the movement have called on its leadership to step down.
Women’s March leaders have demonstrated a near-pathological defensiveness when confronted about their behavior. When the New York Times’ Bari Weiss wrote an excoriation of the bigoted views of Women’s March leaders, Bland responded by calling her and other critics “apologists for the status quo, racist ideology, and the white nationalist patriarchy.” After the Tablet story appeared, Women’s March leaders hired a PR firm that sent out a bizarre series of emails to journalists who had tweeted or retweeted the story, hinting that Tablet would have to issue a correction but demanding that journalists would have to agree that the evidence the firm was offering for the correction be kept off the record.
In doing so, the Women’s March leadership offers further proof that the favorite feminist canard about women’s special leadership skills is bunk. Sarsour and her colleagues join a growing list of other feminist heroines who have lately been revealed as less than sisterly in their professional lives. Theranos grifter Elizabeth Holmes, who defrauded investors and lied about her company’s supposedly revolutionary blood test, set a new bar for corporate malfeasance. Troubles and leaks at Facebook have recently shown Lean In guru Sheryl Sandberg to be less than empathetic and sisterly when it comes to taking on the company’s rivals, prompting some of her acolytes to distance themselves from the tarnished Sandberg brand. “Flawed people were involved in the civil-rights movement,” Shelley Correll, a gender-studies professor from Stanford, told the Times. “We don’t give up on a movement because people aren’t perfect.”
In the case of the Women’s March movement, maybe we should.
The strong reaction to the Tablet story about Sarsour and her fellow anti-Semites at the Women’s March is a heartening sign that perhaps the longstanding, casual anti-Semitism of the left will no longer be treated quite so casually (a similar unmasking of the left’s anti-Semitism has been happening with Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour party in the UK). The message to Sarsour-wannabes? Your bigoted tweets will find you out.
As well, perhaps it’s a sign (albeit an ironic one) of just how far women have come. Feminist leaders, who have for so long told us that, if only the patriarchy would give them a chance, women would prove better rulers and leaders than men, have instead proven themselves as inept and corrupt as many male leaders who came before them.
But the implosion of the Women’s March is also a reminder of the perils of a particular kind of professional activism. People often become anxious when large groups of leaderless protestors take to the streets—the Yellow Vest activists who set fire to Paris in December are a recent example. They fear (not incorrectly) that populist mobs, without leaders to guide them, will succumb to extremism and violence. But what happens when hatred is embraced by a movement’s leadership, as anti-Semitism has been by the Women’s March?
In that case, a different but no less disturbing form of destructiveness ensues—one involving hubristic self-dealing and the abuse of power that offer ample cover to a range of questionable actions and hateful ideas that should have no place in any movement for justice.
The leadership of the Women’s March likes to cloak itself in the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil-rights movement. As their bigotry, their comfort with anti-Semitic conspiracists, and their questionable ethics reveal, their behavior is much closer to the “white nationalist patriarchy” they denounce than it is to the ideals embraced by movements for equality. Sisterhood might be powerful, but the leaders of the Women’s March have now reminded us of another lesson about power: It corrupts.