The Women’s March, Antisemitism & Intersectional Jewish Women

January 15, 2019

Many activist and feminist Jews are wondering whether to participate in the 2019 women's marches this weekend in light of concerns about antisemitism. It is a complicated con...


Begin the discussion about the Women’s March by finding out what your participants already know.

  • What do you know about the Women’s March?
  • What (if any) issues related to the Women’s March have you talked about with your parents, friends, teachers or others?
  • If you have gone to a march, what was your experience like? Are you planning to go this year to your local/a national march? If not, do you know people who do plan to go to one of the marches?

Antisemitism and the Women’s March – Background

Share some or all of the following with your group. For a more robust overview of the history of the march and connections between the march and antisemitism, see this New York Times article: 

  • The first Women’s March was held on Jan 21, 2017 and was organized by a diverse group of women united by their concern about protecting women’s rights and civil rights.
  • The March was the biggest protest of its kind in American history, remarkable for its size and its inclusive nature. Sister marches all over the world were planned by grassroots activists passionate about working toward improving many issues related to the lives of diverse women.
  • Over the course of the past year, particularly after one of the Women’s March organizers, Tamika Mallory, posted a photo of herself at an event with Louis Farrakhan, (long time head of the Nation of Islam & known for his antisemitic and anti-LGBTQ ideology) calls for change and questions began to surface about the Women’s March and its leadership.
  • Several articles have been published questioning the link between the Women’s March Leadership and antisemitism, stemming from the early days of the March and raising other questions about the Women’s March organization. The Women’s March leaders have issued a statement of apology as has Linda Sarsour, one of the key organizers. Tamika Mallory has not individually issued an apology statement.
  • Also, many meetings have taken place between Jewish activists, women rabbis and Women’s March leaders. These meetings have resulted in some substantial changes in the Women’s March. The March’s Unity Principles now include specific mention of Jewish women. Additionally, the March’s leadership structure now includes Jewish women — specifically Jewish women of color and intersectional Jewish women activists.
  • For some, these changes, the ongoing commitment to dialogue with the March leadership, and the larger agenda of progressive women in the United States are a reason to remain active and march in a Women’s March this year. Individuals of this mindset believe that in order to achieve social change, we often have to work with people we don’t fully agree with.
  • For others, the changes haven’t been significant enough. People of this mindset believe that the pain and sense of betrayal of learning about antisemitism expressed by Women’s March leaders is enough of a reason not to march this year.
  • Jewish women of color and other intersectional Jewish women have experienced particular turmoil around this controversy. It has felt at times, like Jewish Women of Color are being asked to choose between different aspects of their identity and to prioritize either their commitment to fighting racism or their commitment to fighting antisemitism. Rejecting this false choice, many Jewish Women of Color have been organizing #JWOCMarching (Jewish Women of Color Marching).

What do you think?

Ten Thoughts about Antisemitism and the Women’s March by Judith Rosenbaum

Invite participants to read this article:

  • What are your reactions to Judith Rosenbaum’s thoughts?
  • Which of the ideas is the most interesting, surprising, and/or troubling to you? Why?
  • How do you think your various different identities (gender, religion, race, etc.) affect your reaction to the conflicts regarding antisemitism and the Women’s March?
Facilitator’s Tip: This article, and the other articles that follow include the term/concept of “intersectionality.” If you have not yet spoken about intersectionality with your group, ask participants what they know about the term. Then share some or all of the following definition:
Intersectionality: the concept that describes how overlapping social identity such as race, class, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, religion, etc, affect a person’s experience in the world, particularly having to do with one’s experience of discrimination or oppression. For instance, an upper middle class 18 year-old black lesbian experiences oppression differently from a 50 year-old middle class white lesbian woman, who experiences oppression differently from a 15 year old, working class Hispanic boy or a 50 year year old middle class Hispanic woman, and so on. Oppression here refers to the ways that groups of people are advantaged or disadvantaged as a result of a part of their identity (race, gender, etc.).The term was originally used in the context of feminism and law by Dr. Krimberle Crenshaw.

Women’s March’s Response to Recent Critiques

Invite participants to look at the Women’s March’s response to critiques, released on November 20, 2018:

  • What is your response to this apology?
  • What is a leader’s responsibility when she makes a mistake?
  • How does reading this affect your thinking about whether or not you want to attend a women’s march?

To March or not to March?

The first of the following two articles argues that Jews should march this year. The second article argues that Jews should not march this year. Finally, the third piece is a letter written by the leadership of #JWOCMarching. We recommend sharing the arguments of all three articles side by side as a way of sparking conversation in your group.

“We Jewish Women Must Show Up at the Women’s March” by Shifra Bronznick

The following is a summary of Bronznick’s arguments within the article:

  • It is essential for Jewish women to march at the Women’s March in Washington DC.
  • At the first women’s march, many people from different backgrounds gathered to launch the resistance. Social movements like the Women’s march collaborated to galvanize folks across the country to take action – to protect the undocumented, save affordable health care, protest Kavanaugh, and elect a congress that can influence the 2020 elections.
  • Many of us know this is a critical time for Jewish women to be at the table, but many Jewish women are contemplating stepping away from the table because of antisemitism and antisemitic affiliation within the march.
  • The women’s march is a growing eco-system that gains power from our collective participation, so the best thing we can do is to participate.
  • Debate, dialogue and learning will help the movement to grow.
  • Jewish women must step up to the challenge of showing up with our complex, intersectional identities.
  • What are your reactions to Bronznick’s article? What do you agree with, what don’t you agree with?
  • Bronznick urges Jews to attend the national March. Would you be more or less likely to attend the national march as compared to a local, unaffiliated Women’s March? Why?
  • Bronznick mentions that it is valuable to be part of a movement that involves women of diverse identities. What’s your reaction to this? What in your experience has been valuable and/or challenging about being in spaces with people of diverse identities?

The Women’s March is an Abusive Boyfriend. It’s Time to Break Up by Ariel Sobel

The following is a summary of Sobel’s arguments within the article:

  • Many Jewish women feel that Women’s March Inc.’s have done too little too late to be inclusive to Jewish women. Under the current leadership, many Jewish and LGBTQ women do not feel safe in the Women’s March organization.
  • Tamika Mallory remains loyal to the antisemitic organization, Nation of Islam. When asked about her antisemitic behavior, she has called white Jews out on their privilege – a move that many have interpreted as antisemitic.
  • At first, Women’s March Inc. was everything Jewish and LGBTQ people wanted, but the organization has since made a lot of mistakes, not apologized enough, and not changed enough. The Women’s March is an abusive boyfriend and it’s time to break up.
  • The Women’s March is one institution; it is not the Women’s Movement. It’s more worth our time to support organizations that inherently understand that intersectional feminism includes Jewish women. Some such organizations are Planned Parenthood, Emily’s List, RAINN, Time’s Up, Women’s Prison Association, and End Rape on Campus.
  • People who were drawn to the Women’s March, can also continue advocating for Women of Color, disabled women, LGBTQ women, and other marginalized women through a range of great organizations whose organizing comes out of love for oppressed women, not hate for their oppressors.
  • What are your reactions to this article?
  • After hearing the arguments made in this article and in Shifra Bronznick’s article, which arguments do you find most compelling? Less compelling? Why?

Jewish Women of Color Women’s March Sign On Letter

This letter is in part a plea and a wake up call for white Jewish women and all Jewish women of intersectional identities to think not just about themselves but also about Jewish women of Color in making their decisions about whether or not to march. Specifically, the letter asks us all to consider the following (among other things):

  • When Jewish women’s organizations don’t show up for a movement/events fighting racism, these organizations are not honoring the fact that some Jewish women, specifically Jewish Women of Color, face racism daily and systemically – in the Jewish community and outside of it. Therefore,  when white Jewish women walk away from fighting racism, they are also walking away from Jewish Women of Color.
  • Jewish Women of Color are leaders and organizers of US social justice movements and have been for a long time but are often invisible. Many Jewish Women of Color are choosing to organize, lead, and be visible now. All Jewish women have a choice about whether to support their leadership and visibility.
  • Of the 1,986 anti-Semitic incidents identified by the Anti-Defamation League in 2017, less than a handful of these incidents were perpetrated by African Americans or other People of Color. White Nationalism is a significant threat to Jews and People of Color and that is where most of our attention should be placed.
  • Jewish Women of Color live at the intersection of racism, sexism and antisemitism.
  • Jewish Women of Color who are committed to standing against white supremacy, patriarchy, and religious oppression in all its forms, will play an integral role in the healing and unification of communities that have been in conflict (around the Women’s March and beyond).
  • We should resist perfectionism as a leadership model and firmly reject the idea that some leaders need to be thrown away.
  • All Jewish women, including those with more privilege (affluent, heterosexual, cisgendered and White) and those with less privilege have an equal stake in ending the gender oppression that the Women’s March protests.
  • What are your reactions?
  • How, if at all, do the arguments in this letter shift your thinking about attending the Women’s March or supporting those who do?

Jewish Wisdom

Share the following, well-known text from Rabbi Hillel, from Pirket Avot (Ethics of our Ancestors) 1:14:

If I am not for me, who will be for me? And when I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, then when?


Holding Rabbi Hillel’s words in your mind, what is now the time for, for you?

Additional resources: