Amid the cloud of anti-Semitism hanging over the leadership of the third Women’s March in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 19, at least one Jewish group stuck with the march’s controversial leaders.
Jewish Women March for Justice, a group of Jewish women of color, marched the half mile from Pennsylvania Avenue to Freedom Plaza with shouts of “I believe that we will win,” “Tell me what Jews look like. This what the Jews look like” and “We will build this world with love.”
Koach Frazier, a 41 year old from Philadelphia, kept rhythm on his drum. “I come here in support of the Jewish women of color. As a Jewish person of color, this is my family,” he said.
Rebecca Sharpe traveled from San Francisco for the march.
“I’m here because as a Jewish woman of color, as a child of immigrants and as someone whose ancestors didn’t survive the pogroms, I feel like it’s my duty to be here,” she said.
“This is one of the first places I’m able to stand in on my intersectionalities and be seen,” said Rachel Plotkin, who was born in Ecuador and adopted by a Jewish family in Virginia.
Women’s March leader Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian American, has been criticized for her support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. Another leader, Tamika Mallory, has embraced Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who repeatedly has made anti-Semitic and homophobic remarks. Mallory, who is African American, has said she does not agree with Farrakhan, but has refused to condemn him.
Controversy over the march’s leaders led several liberal groups to withdraw their participation. The Southern Poverty Law Center, National Council for Jewish Women and the Democratic National Committee, among others, withdrew from partnership agreements. U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida) and the Jewish Democratic Council of America also severed ties with the march.
But for many members of Jewish Women for Justice, the controversy was a non-issue.
“As Jewish women of color, we support the unity principles of the Women’s March and believe that this is the time for our communities to affirm together that women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights,” according to a statement by group leaders Yavilah McCoy, Shoshana Brown and Shifra Bronznic.
“What I want to say is we’re here standing as Jewish women of color for ourselves and for our community. The proof is in the pudding that we’re here,” said Yaya Rosaeo-Trorres, 42, from Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, another rally, WomenMarch4Equality, was taking place as an alternative to the Women’s March.
“The Women’s March 2017 was about equality for all,” said organizer Cheri Borsky. “I wanted something that continued to feel that way. It didn’t feel that way with Women’s March Inc. and I wanted an alternative that was available for people in the D.C. area.”
Natalie White, 30, said, “I believe that discrimination anywhere is a threat to freedom everywhere. I do not agree with the time that it took for someone to say that the words of Louis Farrakhan are not acceptable. It wouldn’t take me a week to tell you that I disagree with someone that says that Jews and gays should be exterminated.”
Three of the speakers on the main stage at the Women’s March were the three Jewish women named last week to the march’s steering committee: transgender rights activist Abby Stein; former Union for Reform Judaism staffer April Baskin; and McCoy.
In her speech, Sarsour voiced opposition to anti-BDS legislation.
“We will protect our constitutional right to boycott, divest and sanctions in this country,” she said.
Before the march, Sarsour on Saturday morning told CNN’s New Day Weekend with Victor Blackwell and Christi Paul that the Women’s March rejects anti-Semitic and homophobic statements by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
“We unequivocally have rejected the comments made by Minister Farrakhan on LGBTQ communities and on Jewish communities. We have said multiple times on our statements at womens march.com, we unequivocally denounce transphobia and ask people to ask us directly and to read our statements and understand we have been doing this work before there was a Women’s March,” she said. “And our track records are very clear: That we have stood up for all communities. We are the first people on the front lines when there is a fight for justice in this country.”
She noted her meeting earlier in the week with 13 rabbis from the New York area, after which nine of the rabbis endorsed her and the Women’s March.
When Mallory spoke, she said: “To my Muslim sisters, I see you. To my Latina sisters, I see you. To my Asian sisters, I see you. To my disabled sisters, I see you. And to my Jewish sisters: Do not let anyone tell you who I am. I see all of you.”
Samantha Cooper is a reporter at Washington Jewish Week, a sister publication of the Baltimore Jewish Times. JTA News and Features contributed to this article.