‘Work to Do’

Nine Days After Women’s March Co-President Shared the Love With Louis Farrakhan, the Group Got Around to Gently Rebuking His Anti-Semitism and Homophobia

In the meantime, several of its leaders seemed to stand by the Nation of Islam leader, with one even suggesting that the real issue was somehow Israel.


Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

It’s no secret that Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan is virulently homophobic and anti-Semitic, but it seemed to be news to leaders of the Women’s March.

Last Sunday, February 25, Tamika Mallory — the March’s co-president — attended  the Nation of Islam’s annual Saviours' Day event, where Farrakhan proclaimed that “the powerful Jews are my enemy,” and that “the Jews were responsible for all of this filth and degenerate behavior that Hollywood is putting out turning men into women and women into men.”

In that same speech, Farrakhan commended the Women’s March and personally acknowledged Mallory (who’d previously shared a photo of herself with Farrakahn on Instagram with the caption “Thank god this man is alive and doing well. He is definitely GOAT”).

While the speech, and Mallory’s presence there, were immediately criticized, the group remained formally silent for over a week, reviving questions about who is, and is not, welcome with the intersectional movement.

Almost exactly a year ago, the International Women’s Strike singled out just one country other than the United States—Israel, as its charter called for the “decolonization of Palestine” as the “beating heart of this new feminist movement.” One of the original organizers was Rasmea Odeh, a woman convicted of terrorism for her role in a 1969 bombing that killed two students at Hebrew University. When I and others voiced concerns about this, Women’s March co-chair Linda Sarsour — who’d herself appeared at a Nation of Islam event in 2015 — told feminists to check their Zionism at the door.

Sarsour has said that  “Nothing is creepier than Zionism,” and apparently that includes anti-Semitism, which she has previously discounted: “I want to make the distinction that while anti-Semitism is something that impacts Jewish Americans, it’s different than anti-black racism or Islamophobia because it’s not systemic.”

Carmen Perez—another of the Women’s March’s four leaders who reposted Mallory’s instagram from Saviours’ Day—had previously posted a photo of herself holding hands with Farrakhan, and shared videos of him “dropping knowledge” and  “speaking truth to power.”

“In regards to Minister Farrakhan, I think that is a distraction,” Perez told Refinery29 earlier this year. “There are no perfect leaders. We follow the legacy of Dr. King, which is Kingian non-violence. We say we have to attack the forces of evil, not the people doing evil. We never attack people.”

As criticism mounted since last Sunday, the Women’s March offered no official statement even as some of its leaders and prominent allies spoke for themselves.

After Mallory was asked on Twitter on Wednesday, “Why do you support Farrakhan? Hate speech towards Jews is great?” Kirsten John Foy, a prominent minister and advocate in New York, replied “Why do you support Netanyahu?” Sarsour then jumped in and declared that “Brother Minister Foy” was “too blessed to be stressed” and praised him as a “man walking the path towards justice & standing up for the most marginalized.”

Mallory tweeted on Thursday: “If your leader does not have the same enemies as Jesus, they may not be THE leader! Study the Bible and u will find the similarities. Ostracizing, ridicule and rejection is a painful part of the process...but faith is the substance of things!”

CNN personality and former national press secretary for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign Symone Sanders told Mallory “I’ve got your back sis” (she later deleted that Tweet) and then said it was “categorically false” to call Mallory an anti-Semite, warning people not to “callously throw around” the term.

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On Saturday, Mallory tweeted that she, Sarsour, and Perez “live under constant attack. So while some folks say all they want is to understand more about me, other people don’t care who I am, they just want to tear us down.”

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, came to Mallory’s defense Sunday, calling her “an unflinching and early voice against gun violence, a fearless fighter against racism, and stood strong and proud for equality, justice and dignity for all…”

Mallory tried again Sunday to put the controversy behind her, without directly mentioning Farrakhan, tweeting that “I am committed to ending anti-black racism, antisemitism, homophobia & transphobia. This is why I helped create an intersectional movement to bring groups together.”

Tuesday morning, nearly nine days after Farrakhan had praised Mallory, the Women’s Group finally issued a statement:

“Minister Farrakhan’s statements about Jewish, queer, and trans people are not aligned with the Women’s March Unity Principle.” The statement went on to explain, “Our external silence has been because we are holding these conversations and are trying to intentionally break the cycles that pit our communities against each other. We have work to do, as individuals, as an organization, as a movement, and as a nation.”

Hours after the Women’s March statement was released, The Final Call, the house paper of the NOI, posted a new lead headline: “Farrakhan’s defenders challenge Jewish lies.” The article declares that the “Jewish efforts to force Black leaders and activists to publicly disavow the Minister were largely unsuccessful,” and—while making no mention of the official statement—quotes one of Mallory’s tweets from earlier this week, apparently defending her association with Farrakhan:

"Family...thank you for loving me and for knowing the truth about who I am. My work speaks for itself...my words have been clear...my love for people is deep. Whatever else they say about me is a LIE. Thank you for continuing to hold me up. I stand on my reputation!"