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Ten Thoughts About Antisemitism and the Women’s March

I’ve written before about the conflicts involving the Women’s March leaders and their associations with Louis Farrakhan, whose antisemitic and homophobic behavior is well-known. But in the wake of the antisemitic shooting in Pittsburgh and in anticipation of the 2019 Women’s March, I have been puzzling through it all again.

I don’t have any easy or solid answers, but here are 10 brief thoughts to add to the conversation:

1. There are no perfect leaders or perfect allies. Everyone, regardless of political views or religious, racial, or cultural identity, has blind spots and inconsistencies. But we all have the potential to grow and change.

2. No one should have to choose among their identities when participating in social movements. African American women and Jewish feminists, among others, have taught us this again and again.

3. When movements encounter internal struggles and divisions, we need to ask ourselves: Who benefits most from the fight? What purpose does agitation serve? Are we able to use inquiry and empathy as tools for the greater good? And how might we express disagreement in a way that advances our collective agenda instead of tearing it apart?

4. Antisemitism is complex and misunderstood because it operates differently from other kinds of oppression. At its core, antisemitism is not about dominating Jews but about erasing them. Jews are perceived as simultaneously powerful and powerless. As Alana Newhouse delineates in Tablet, Jews have been described in contradictory stereotypes:

“We are archcapitalists and at the same time the primary carriers of the viruses of socialism and Bolshevism. We are physically weak, yet also hyper-aggressive and violent. We are presented as right-wing, left-wing, sexual, asexual, straight, gay, light-skinned, dark-skinned, childless, over-breeders, publicly argumentative and nefariously invisible, creatures of the dark shadows.”

5. In theory, if not always in practice, feminism is incompatible with antisemitism or any kind of racism or hatred based on identity. Though feminism begins with attention to gender and power relations, it ultimately demands equality more broadly. And if you are committed to supporting all women, you cannot write off or subjugate one subset.

6. White people, including white Jews, are very comfortable making demands and expect to be heard. People of color, including Jews of color, are understandably angered and threatened by this behavior because it’s a symptom of white supremacy.

7. We can only come to understand the pain and vulnerability of others—and vice versa—by being in relationships with people whose identities, experiences, and ideas do not mirror our own.

8. Safety and comfort are not the same thing, and we must learn to discern between the two. Safety is a fundamental right. Being uncomfortable, on the other hand, is a good thing to experience sometimes, as it can lead to learning, insight, and new relationships.

9. Ideology isn’t rational. It grows from a complex soil of history, community, trauma, and idealism. We should acknowledge how this tangled web of influences can turn up the heat in a complex debate.

10. Finally, we must affirm our dignity as Jews but also understand that we might not be at the center of the struggle. In diverse and intersectional movements, the work will always be larger than ourselves. Because, as Emma Lazarus wisely wrote, “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”

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15 Comments

1. Allowing anti-semitism to increase and flourish is what caused the holocaust.  One basic lesson is not to tolerate it and vigorously protest. 

2. A horrible double standard has pervaded  Middle East discussion.  Jews have been vigorously persecuted in Libya, Syria, Iran, Iraq and others (note these countries have thereafter suffered severe economic problems.

3. The countries which suggest Israel compromise borders and security would likely do nothing if israel were attacked, and the world did little when Israel was facing annihiliation from 5 countries in 1967 and a sudden attack in 1973.  France which trumpets various peace plans readily gave up its Jews during World War II, with thousands who had been good citizens sent on trains to Nazi Germany.  Farrakhan and others consider discussion of this irrelevant and time-consuming.  

4. We do need to recognize that in our lifetimes others will suffer and that it is our moral obligation to help and speak out.    

I read this with the hope that it would both inform and guide, but it was just a stream of  astoundingly vacuous statements. I don't think this issue is going to be resolved  with a highbrow Hall mark card.

Agree

I question whether the author would call for empathy and understanding if one of the leaders of the Women’s March had aligned themselves with a leader of the KKK, especially if she refused to denounce him

Antisemitism is antisemitism no matter the reason and to overlook it for a so called more important bigger issue is wrong because all that does is  encourage more antisemitism. It is not the same but similar to the thinking of the liberal Jewish community before and during WWII, telling the Jewish community not to make waves, so in someways they were  complicit in the  murder of 6 million Jews. When will they learn you cannot excuse antisemitism for any reason.

Thank you, Judith, for this thoughtful and helpful piece. I hope you will be on our call on Monday when we discuss our various organizational responses to the March and the swirling controversy surrounding it.

How do we find out your stance on the march? As a Jewish women I am not sure it is appropriate to go this January.

Thank you for linking the Alana Newhouse article whose most germaine paragraph is

"People who argue that powerful people who consort with anti-Semites don’t mean it, or can’t be held responsible for their actions or alliances, are not our friends—whether they claim to represent the right or the left. They are the friends of people who want to kill us. Those who argue—from the right or the left—that anti-Semitism should be tolerated as part of a larger struggle against some much bigger force of darkness, those people are arguing for the tolerance of anti-Semitism, against the interests of our community. They are encouraging anti-Semites, some of whom, like Robert Bowers, will inevitably kill us." 

It is appropriate that #5 begins "In theory, ..." In practice Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Caty Stanton expressed their opposition to the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in vile, racist language.

 

Thank you.  A well-articulated response.  For many, the hardest of these questions to face is #3, who is this struggle really helping?  I am pro choice, but was saddened and thought it short-sighted to see a pro life group of women who hated Trump's mysogeny pushed out.  I was mortified when a group of Jewish LBGTQ women carrying a rainbow flag with a Star of David were pushed out.  When we stand as women, we are powerful.  When we fight as women, we lose much of our power.  

While I agree with much of this post, the mental gymnastics people are willing to go through to essentially not hold certain people responsible for not condemning Farrakhan is exhausting.  We would not engage in this Barnum and Bailey act for anyone else—and this, in and of itself, is very racist.  This is not about white people “demanding to be heard.” This is about Jew hatred and people using racism to DEMAND a pass.  Sorry lots of if come from disenfranchised groups and don’t special exceptions when our leader behave in terrible ways.  Stop making excuses.  You’re winning over no one.

Apologies for the typos. Using my iPhone.

Like governments, political movements are instituted to accomplish particular ends. When a movement becomes destructive of the ends themselves, it is appropriate to alter or leave the movement. And if alteration proves impossible or seems likely to require effort better spent directly working for those ends, then exit is the right choice.

In thinking about the possibly politically-fatal association between some principal leaders of the Women's March and Louis Farrakhan, one may ask, what are the ends that the Women's March is trying to achieve that led those of us concerned by the association with Farrakhan to support it in the first place? How does this association affect the possibilities for achieving these ends? And, how does a Women's March with the associations it has with Farrakhan affect other ends of importance to us?

One of the ends may be resisting Trump and achieving political victory over him and his supporters as an imperative step towards protecting those he and they put at risk and as a necessary precondition for political, social, and economic justice in a post-Trump era. I may be wrong, but I think this is this end that provided the impetus for the vast throngs that turned out in January 2017. I suspect further that, for the most part, the Women's March simply provided an opportunity for people, women and men, to demonstrate support for this end. And especially today, after nearly two years of Trump and the results of the recent elections, I doubt the need for the Women's March to accomplish this end. (That a particular vehicle for expressing and mobilizing support for this end may not be necessary does not mean that the vehicle should not exist. But it does provide some perspective on the importance of continuing to support the existence of a flawed vehicle, if one has good reasons to think it flawed.)

To the extent this is so, one is entitled to be concerned that a close association of one or more leaders of the Women's March with Farrakhan, together with a refusal of other leaders to criticize that association, may be a substantial impediment to achieving this end. Indeed, the likelihood of this being so appears to me strong enough to place on those who would defend the association the burden of providing reasons why this association with Farrakhan is not a substantial impediment.,

Another end may be fostering a movement that in its relations with its members/supporters and being in the world prefigures the kind of society in which we want to live and which we hope to achieve despite and after Trump.To the extent this is so, one may ask, is tolerating a leadership that associates itself with a man (Farrakhan) and a movement (the Nation of Islam) that is vociferously and deeply homophobic, transphobic, and antisemitic is consistent with the kind of society and social relations we want?

I'm sure there's more to be said. And I've intentionally not addressed Judith's tenth point: what I have said should be of concern to all supporters of the Women's March, not just Jews.

Hi David,

I agree with much of what you posted, except for the demand by some that we accept an arrogant, self-righteous stance from others that NOT repudiating Farrakhan is ok because we all care about women’s lives and women’s freedom/. Would we support a gay rights activist who hated Blacks?? This is absurd. This mental gymnastics is exhausting, dishonest and inherently racist. The fact that this is being turned into a whites trying to control others (or really a Jews trying to control others) smacks of the Jew hatred that these folks will just not repudiate. I also don’t think in this current day, you can say you are for Jewish civil rights when you have spent the overwhelming amount of your political action trying to decimate the only Jewish state. The silence about 500,000 Syrians murdered is, well, deafening

Nailed it!Thank you for posting.

Well put!

 

Judith and daughter at the 2017 Women’s March in Cambridge
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Judith and her daughter at the 2017 Women’s March in Cambridge. Photo courtesy of the author.
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How to cite this page

Rosenbaum, Judith. "Ten Thoughts About Antisemitism and the Women’s March." 14 November 2018. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 14, 2018) <https://jwa.org/blog/ten-thoughts-about-antisemitism-and-women-s-march>.

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