Facing mounting criticism amid another anti-Semitism flap, leaders of the Women’s March fired back Wednesday by placing the blame in part on racism and sexism, arguing that they have been held to a higher standard than white women and men.
The four national co-chairs — Bob Bland, Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour — took on their critics in a Facebook live-stream, two days after an explosive report in Tablet magazine said that Ms. Mallory and Ms. Perez berated a Jewish organizer using anti-Semitic canards at a 2017 meeting.
None of the leaders mentioned anti-Semitism or the report during Wednesday’s event, but the decision to take on their detractors publicly came with the leadership facing calls to resign on the cusp of the third annual Women’s March on Jan. 19 in Washington, D.C.
“One of the things that has happened is that we have been put to such a high standard, unreachable standard, that we would never hold any men in the movement to,” said Ms. Sarsour.
Ms. Mallory said the problem went deeper than that. “I don’t think it’s just men. Women also. Even other women who are at the helm of leadership in different organizations that are mainly white-led organizations are not held to the same standards that we’ve been held to,” she said.
Ms. Sarsour also criticized other feminists for “the undermining of our leadership,” saying “there is a lot of talk about ‘smash the patriarchy,’ when in fact the very people who uphold the patriarchy are women, and women who claim to be part of the movements that we’re a part of.”
The co-chairs chalked up some of the issues to the growing pains associated with any movement of its size, as well as the complexities involved in “building something that has never been built,” said Ms. Perez.
“There has never been an intersectional feminist movement,” said Ms. Perez, who breast-fed her baby during the 30-minute live-stream.
Women’s March Founder Teresa Shook last month urged the co-chairs to resign, accusing them of allowing “hateful, racist rhetoric” to infiltrate the platform, as discontent over the leadership spreads within the feminist movement.
Ms. Sarsour has been denounced for embracing Rasmea Odeh, a convicted Palestinian terrorist who served jail time for her role in a 1969 bombing that killed two Israeli students and who was deported last year for lying on her U.S. visa application.
Ms. Sarsour, Ms. Mallory and Ms. Perez have also come under fire for appearing with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, described by the Anti-Defamation League as “one of the leading anti-Semites in the United States.”
Ms. Mallory, who attended a Farrakhan event in February and called him the “GOAT” [greatest of all time] in a 2015 Instagram post, said her critics have skewed her words and accused them of trying to “rewrite history.”
“I also think that people need to understand that it is a form of black-on-black violence in my opinion to pit black people against each other,” said Ms. Mallory, adding, “That’s not something that anybody’s ever going to see me participate in.”
The leaders have condemned Mr. Farrakhan’s statements without denouncing him personally. Not mentioned Wednesday were the Farrakhan and Odeh associations — Odeh was also involved in the international Women’s March — although Ms. Bland teared up as she apologized for her white forebears.
“I cannot do enough work in this space to make up for the oppression that white people, generations and generations of people, my ancestors, have done to your people and to your people and to your people and to so many other people,” said Ms. Bland.
The latest controversy hit Monday when Tablet reported that Ms. Mallory and Ms. Perez made anti-Semitic assertions at a 2017 post-march briefing, such as that Jewish people bear responsibility for exploiting minorities.
Evvie Harmon, an early organizer who attended the meeting, said that Ms. Mallory started out by saying she “didn’t trust white women,” especially Southern white women, but then began blasting Jewish people.
“I suddenly realized that Tamika and Carmen were facing Vanessa [Wruble], who was sitting on a couch, and berating her — but it wasn’t about her being white. It was about her being Jewish,” said Ms. Harmon. “‘Your people this, your people that.’”
Ms. Harmon added, “I was raised in the South and the language that was used is language that I’m very used to hearing in rural South Carolina. Just instead of against black people, against Jewish people. They even said to her ‘your people hold all the wealth.’ You could hear a pin drop. It was awful.”
Both Ms. Mallory and Ms. Bland denied to Tablet that the incident occurred, saying there was no discussion at the meeting of Jewish women. Ms. Wruble, who left soon after and founded March On, declined to comment.
The inner circle has also been criticized for its use of Fruit of Islam bodyguards; the absence of Jews in the top leadership; the lack of transparency on its prodigious fundraising, and the failure to denounce anti-Semitism in the Unity Principles or mention Jewish women.
During Wednesday’s live-stream, Ms. Sarsour said that the group planned to enlarge its tent by unveiling a 30-member women’s steering committee and revamping its Unity Principles.
“We will have a great program of women leaders,” said Ms. Sarsour. “You will be very proud of the updating of the Unity Principles. You will see the efforts we have put in to keep making the table bigger.”
She added that the group deserved credit for its accomplishments, such as the 2017 and 2018 marches and the Power to the Polls midterm election campaign, and urged progressives to focus on the “common enemy.”
“I want to bring this back to why we are here: We have a common enemy and it is white supremacy and white nationalism,” said Ms. Sarsour. “Amongst us we will have differences, we will fight amongst us, but we are family.”