Women’s March losing steam, supporters amid anti-Semitism concerns
The Women’s March, which was hailed as an international rebuke of President Trump in 2017 when throngs of activists took the streets the day after his inauguration, is steadily losing supporters amid an anti-Semitism scandal that won't go away.
The march will be held in D.C. again on Saturday at the National Mall, but the controversial ties of organizers have caused the campaign to lose steam. Groups ranging from EMILY’s List to The National Council of Jewish Women as well as high-profile Democratic politicians are keeping their distance, even as other prominent organizations stand by the movement -- and newly announced 2020 candidate Kirsten Gillibrand schedules an appearance at the march's Iowa offshoot.
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At the center of the controversy are leaders' ties to and statements about radical Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Both Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian activist who has embraced the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and co-President Tamika Mallory have ties to Farrakhan. The controversy picked up after Mallory attended a Farrakhan speech last February.
“White folks are going down. And Satan is going down. And Farrakhan, by God's grace, has pulled the cover off of that Satanic Jew and I'm here to say your time is up, your world is through,” Farrakhan said in that sermon.
Sarsour, in particular, has made a number of controversial statements related to Israel. She defended Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., when she was attacked for her support of BDS and said that the criticism was coming from the right-wing as well as “folks who masquerade as progressives but always choose their allegiance to Israel over their commitment to democracy and free speech.”
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The controversy caused Teresa Shook, the founder of the Women’s March, to call for the current leaders to step aside in November.
“In opposition to our Unity Principles, they have allowed anti-Semitism, anti-LBGTQIA sentiment and hateful, racist rhetoric to become a part of the platform by their refusal to separate themselves from groups that espouse these racist, hateful beliefs,” she wrote on Facebook.
She singled out Mallory and Sarsour, as well as members Bob Bland and Carmen Perez.
Last year, a Washington state chapter of the Women's March disbanded in protest because of the national group's links to anti-Semitism. Celebrities Debra Messing and Alyssa Milano also pulled their support from the march last year.
“Any time that there is any bigotry or anti-Semitism in that respect, it needs to be called out and addressed. I’m disappointed in the leadership of the Women’s March that they haven’t done it adequately,” Milano said in a statement to The Advocate in October.
Lengthy reports in Tablet and The New York Times, which spelled out allegations of anti-Semitism, further fueled the fire. While the group’s leaders have denounced anti-Semitism, an apparent reluctance to condemn Farrakhan personally has led to further problems.
Sarsour told The Washington Post that the leaders reject Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic, homophobic and transphobic statements. But she didn’t specifically denounce Farrakhan, saying she has never met him and the organization believes in “attacking the forces of evil” and not individuals.
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“I say to all my Jewish sisters that you are welcome, and we have a common enemy that is white supremacy,” Sarsour said.
On Monday, Mallory and Bland appeared on “The View” and said they condemn anti-Semitism. But when co-host Meghan McCain asked if Mallory condemned Farrakhan's statements, Mallory (who called him the "greatest of all time because of what he’s done in black communities") clarified that she “does not agree” with his statements.
“You won’t condemn it,” McCain pointed out.
Soon after that, The Democratic National Committee removed itself from the organization’s list of sponsors.
"The DNC stands in solidarity with all those fighting for women's rights and holding the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers across the country accountable. Women are on the front lines of fighting back against this administration and are the core of our Democratic Party," DNC Deputy Communications Director Sabrina Singh told Fox News, making clear the organization still supports the cause of women's rights even as it keeps distance from the group itself.
According to The Daily Beast, EMILY’s List, The National Council of Jewish Women and the Southern Poverty Law Center are among the groups who have pulled their support.
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Yet many groups are still backing the march, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood. The ACLU did not respond to a request for comment, while Planned Parenthood referred Fox News to a blog post in which it said there was "no place for anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, or any kind of bigotry in our communities, our movement, and our country."
"Specifically: Louis Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic, homophobic and transphobic remarks stand in opposition to our commitment to equity and justice and the work Planned Parenthood health centers do everyday to provide non-judgmental, quality health care to anyone who needs it," the post said.
Lawmakers also appeared to be distancing themselves from the march.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., wrote in a USA Today op-ed that "sadly, I must walk away from the national Women’s March organization, and specifically its leadership. While I still firmly believe in its values and mission, I cannot associate with the national march’s leaders and principles, which refuse to completely repudiate anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry. I cannot walk shoulder to shoulder with leaders who lock arms with outspoken peddlers of hate."
She noted she still plans to "join a movement of women around the nation who are participating in local marches that have distanced themselves from those national Women’s March leaders who still ally with bigotry."
New York State Assemblywoman Amy Paulin put out a statement saying that she would not be participating and made reference to the Farrakhan controversy.
"I have dedicated my public career to fighting for equality. But to my mind, you can't fight against equality and discrimination for women but support it for Jews," she said.
In Congress, Buzzfeed News reported that Democrats eyeing 2020 bids are steering clear of the event. The outlet got no response from aides to former Vice President Joe Biden, Julian Castro, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
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Sen. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who announced her run this week, is one candidate who is still supporting the movement -- by attending a march in Iowa this weekend. Her campaign reportedly said she condemns anti-Semitism, but "will not turn her back on the thousands of Iowa women who are joining this locally organized march to advocate for the issues that deeply impact them and their families."
Meanwhile, spokespersons for Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., said that they would not be attending.
Fox News’ Brian Flood and Lukas Mikelionis contributed to this report.