Linda Sarsour writes on the Women's March & Facing Anti-Semitism

Dear Shalom Center members,  friends, and readers,

In recent days there have been some calls from some people in the Jewish community to boycott the planned Women’s March on January 19. This call has been explained on the ground that some of the March leaders have been unwilling to specifically denounce Minister Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam for his many blatantly anti-Semitic views and speeches.

One of the March leaders cited in this call has been Linda Sarsour, an important leader of the Women’s March movement that became powerful the day after Mr. Trump’s inauguration as President, and onward from then.  I know that Ms. Sarsour has not only spoken words but also taken action strongly condemning anti-Semitism.  She has, for example, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help repair desecrated Jewish cemeteries and to assist the survivors of the “Tree of Life” synagogue mass murders in Pittsburgh.

[In this photo, Linda Sarsour is at the far right, next to Gloria Steinem along with other leaders of the Women's March in 2017]

So I was very surprised by these attacks, and very open to hearing Ms. Sarsour’s views on them. When I received a privately circulated letter from Linda Sarsour explaining her views on these matters, I was and am deepy moved by it, and asked her permission to share it with The Shalom Center‘s community.  She wrote back, “Please share as you see fit. Hope it brings some healing to broken hearts.  – Linda”

Here is her letter: Shalom, Arthur Waskow

I am requesting for all who read my email to approach it with an open mind and an open heart with the understanding that you may not agree with what I will put forth and that is okay with me. This is not an email to persuade or to convince, it is an email with my voice and my experience and my truth - one that may not be comfortable for some.

I know and recognize that our Jewish family is experiencing real pain, hurt and trauma. I know this stems from generational trauma and history of genocide and that these past few weeks have triggered insecurity, fear and anxiety. This is a difficult time and it requires us to be clear-eyed and also recognize the real threats so we can protect each other. We are all we got and this movement is all we got. 


The Farrakhan controversy began 8 months ago when Jake Tapper and Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL "exposed/ promoted" a video of the Minister Farrakhan at an annual gathering for the Nation of Islam called Saviour's Day where Tamika D. Mallory was present along with 15,000 other people including many Black celebrities, business people, dignitaries and pastors. She was not a speaker.

Tamika has already discussed in length her longstanding relationship with the NOI after the brutal murder of her son's father 17 years ago and the positive role NOI played in this Black single teen mother's life. I won't rehash this but note it here for context. We heard painful and yet loving critiques from our Jewish friends, we had conference calls, meetings, we put out a statement that came out a few days late BECAUSE we have Jewish women on our staff who were impacted personally and working through a statement that was going to speak to all the concerns was not something that could happen overnight. Since then conversations continued and our important work continued.

Then the horrific Tree of Life shooting happened that took the life of 11 innocent Jewish Americans and all of a sudden Women's March was being asked to condemn the Minister Farrakhan. There was nothing new that happened between Women's March and the Minister. Folks decided to rehash 8 months ago. A white supremacist walked into a synagogue and killed 11 innocent people and the focus became the Minister Farrakhan and the NOI.

A few days before that a white supremacist sent dozens of pipe bombs to notable figures and a day before that a white supremacist killed two Black people at Kroger's (my Muslim American community also raised funds for these two innocent souls as well) after he could not get in to a locked Black church but here we were three women of color who are leading a powerful effective movement with millions of members being demanded to denounce Minister Farrakhan who had no relation to these white supremacists or these acts of violence.

Instead of coming together as a country to call out white supremacy and the violence being inspired by this Administration --- the deflection went to a Black man who has no institutional power. ---  This is a feature of white supremacy. 

This is not an email in defense of Minister Farrakhan. He can do that for himself. We have been CRYSTAL CLEAR in BOTH of our statements that we REJECT antisemitism and all forms of racism. We have been CLEAR that Minister Farrakhan has said hateful and hurtful things and that he does not align with our Unity Principles of the Women's March that were created by Women of Color. Minister Farrakhan will tell you himself that he does not belong to nor adhere to our progressive movement or yours. 

We are trained in Kingian nonviolence, the ideology of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that at its core calls us to attack the forces of evil not those doing evil. We believe in redemption for people of color who have been discarded, denounced and condemned for centuries in this country. People who engage in acts or behaviors or hold beliefs based on their own historical trauma. It's why we are not ashamed to work with formerly incarcerated individuals who have committed crimes that for some in society would have determined and decided to give them death. We have been slandered for working with criminals - but we are committed to a movement that leaves no one behind.

Some folks who claim to be in the resistance or represent the resistance have no ideology or theory of change and have no understanding of the nuance that comes with organizing with communities of color because they have not done the work - and I pray that they do meet, build and learn because it will transform how they show up so they can help and not harm. 

Last year when a St. Louis Jewish cemetery was desecrated, with no hesitation I raised close to $165K for its restoration and because of the generosity of many in my community it allowed for the restoration of another Jewish cemetery in Colorado that was neglected for years. Immediately after the Tree of Life shooting, my colleague Tarek and I (through MPower Change) raised $206K to pay for ALL the funerals of the 11 innocent Jews that were killed. My role as a movement leader is not just to say profound words it is to set an example of what meaningful allyship looks like that is beyond thoughts and prayers. This was all erased.  oped after oped after oped after quotes from people who want to see their names in print and barely any mention of our contributions when they decided to tear us down. 

The labels of antisemitism were here before the Minister Farrakhan controversy 8 months ago. Who remembers when a campaign was started by the alt-right and right-wing Zionists to get me disinvited from a CUNY commencement speech last June? Who remembers the campaign against me last fall around my participation in a New School panel about the importance of combatting antisemitism in this moment with Jewish Voice for Peace and Jacobin Magazine? Minister Farrakhan was not even a factor yet in the conversation. I was already being labeled an antisemite and by extension the Women's March.

It's very clear to me what the underlying issue is - I am a bold, outspoken BDS -supporting Palestinian Muslim American woman and the opposition's worst nightmare. They have tried every tactic at their disposal to undermine me, discredit me, vilify me but my roots are too deep and my work is too clear and they have not succeeded so by proxy they began attacking my sister Tamika Mallory - knowing all too well that in this country the most discardable woman is a Black woman.

Tamika has been disinvited from some things, and her twitter account that I have access to is full of hate that is unfathomable, saturated with the N-words and worst things said to Black women. I will NEVER throw Tamika away. My loyalty to Black women who have risked their lives for all of us is and will be unshaken. I will continue to hold Tamika up because she has done that for too many people that society has written off. 

Tamika and I are women with our own agency. We speak for ourselves and ourselves alone. We are being stripped of our agency when every few months we are asked to condemn the Minister about words that we did not say, nonetheless the words of a man who did not consult us on his words. We are being held to standards that no one would hold themselves to.

I can share numerous examples of times when movement leaders could have said more and done more for various communities or in response to hateful things that have come from their communities and their "leaders"- blatant anti-blackness,  Islamophobia, anti-Palestinian rhetoric -  yet that is UNFAIR which is why I don't expect it nor demand it. As a Muslim, I know all too well that I am expected to answer for other Muslims’ actions when white folks never have a second thought about having to do that. ---  This is a feature of white supremacy. 

Let's also recognize who the majority is that leads the attacks against women of color leaders - not people of color led institutions or activists.  Wonder why. Who benefits when a powerful, effective and proven organization is attacked? Who benefits when the movement is divided? Who benefits from the confusion and the fractures? Not us. Not marginalized people. Not those who are counting on us to win.

Let us not fall for the longstanding tactics of white supremacy of divide and conquer. Unity is NOT uniformity. I am not building a unified movement where we will all agree on every single point and issue. I am building a complex, intersectional movement with the clear understanding that it will be messy and uncomfortable because if it was going to be easy someone would have done it a long time ago and we would all have our rights and be enjoying our lives in a free democratic country that treats us all with dignity and respect. But here we are.

We have seen UGLY. I pray that none of you have to experience what we have. A litany of death threats, unsolicited hate mail some with threats of violence. FBI visits to notify me of credible threats to my life that I had not even seen, the need for security detail, surveillance systems for my home - I don't say this for any pity or sympathy because I am NOT a victim, I am a survivor of a white supremacist system that wants to ban and rid itself of people like me and Tamika, I say this to say that these public toxic conversations invite these things to happen to us and we all have a responsibility to want us to be safe and out of harm's way. Tamika and I did not choose to be activists, this work chose us.

This is not a side job, or a labor of love - this is a matter of life and death for the communities we love and come from. 

I ask you all to model how we approach each other in the movement. Have conversations, reach out, ask questions, give benefit of the doubt, contextualize moments outside of your own personal feelings, remind yourself of the good this person or persons or organization has done. Use critical thinking skills.

Be honest with your feelings, speak from the I, propose solutions and not demands. Challenge people in your circles, engage people. Tearing down, threatening movement leaders with "say this or else we won't do this or if you don't say this then its meaningless" is not the way. 

The Women's March is an important institution in this resistance. We have organized the largest single day demonstration in American history, we have been the catalyst for 20,000 women to run for office, we have trained thousands of women in civil disobedience and direct action, organized the largest women led civil disobedience back in June around family separation, co-led close to 30 days of organizing around Kavanaugh and shifted the entire narrative, worked diligently with many of you on elections in key states winning back the House and NOW we are in the midst of organizing another HISTORIC mobilization to remind the Administration that we are still here as a resistance and send a message to Congress and yes to our friends in Congress that we will create the political will for them to be brave and hold them accountable to the platforms they ran on. 

Thank you for reading this far. I know for some this may not have been easy and may have triggered you and I see you. Sit with this. Absorb it from a place of love and commitment to making this movement work. I pray that our Jewish family recognizes that this resistance is for you too and that you embrace the solidarity we have shown because we have a lot more to give. I am available for one-on -ne conversations and am committed to making the time. 

Stay focused. The real threat is white nationalism and white supremacy. They want to destroy us all. We are all we got and you know that you can count on me and the Women's March leaders to continue to be bold and put it all on the line. We hope to see you on January 19th, 2019. We promise you that we have remarkable things in store and you will leave inspired once again. 

I will leave you with a quote that guides the way I show up in this work and I hope that it speaks to all of you. It is by an aboriginal woman by the name of Lila Watson and she said:

"If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time; but if you have come here because you believe that your liberation is bound up with mine, let us work together."

My liberation is bound up with all of yours. 

In solidarity, 

Linda Sarsour 


*** *** ***

(Arthur back again:) As I said, I am deeply moved by this letter. Yet I do not agree with all of Ms. Sarsour’s views. I have, for example, publicly disagreed with the call of the “official” BDS [“Boycott Divest Sanction”] movement for total boycotts of all Israeli institutions, and I have publicly debated with its Palestinian leaders. (At the same time, I have supported boycotts of companies that are directly supporting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories on the West Bank.)  

My own opposition to a total BDS directed against all of Israeli society, along with my strong opposition to the Israeli government and the Occupation, comes from my own ties to the decent elements in Israeli society. So from my own rresponses I learn to respect the responses of a Palestinian-American with strong ties to the Palestinian community under Occupation in its homeland, and to understand why such a person would feel drawn to BDS. In this way I honor our disagreement  --  both sides of it – even while I hold strongly to my own view.

Should my disagreement on this question push me toward boycotting a movement that I strongly support – the Women’s March -- in which Ms. Sarsour is a leader? God forbid!

Indeed, just the opposite.  Contempt for women and their subjugation is an aspect of the white nationalism that also encourages fear and hatred of immigrants and refugees, Muslims, Blacks, Latinx, Native Americans, and the free press; that emboldens anti-Semitism; and that through the Trump-Netanyahoo alliance subjugates Palestinians. Resistance to white nationalism connects the fuller liberation of American women from sexism with the fuller liberation of the Jewish community from anti-Semitism.

In our very diversity, our different cultures, our disagreements, we are the rainbow refractions of ONE light. The Quran teaches that humanity was created in many different cultures precisely so that we can learn to understand each other. Jews affirm in the Sh’ma that the Divine Interbreath of Life is ONE. The Torah’s call that we pursue “justice, justice” – in its different voices --  is ONE. The love we owe each other is ONE.

To Lila Watson's and Linda Sarsour's challenge, I respond: We have indeed come together because we do believe that "your" liberation is bound up with "mine."  So let us work together!


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 


Louis Farrakhan

This Mexican proverb says it much better and accurately than I ever could. "Tell me who your friends are and I'll tell you who you are".

In response to Linda Sarsour's email

I think is what I find so troubling about this -- the repudiation of hatred becomes so complex when it should simpler and self evident. It should be enough for Ms. Sarsour and Tamika Mallory to adamantly repudiate ALL expression/manifestation anti-Semitism. The fact remains that crimes against Jews have soared. Whenever there is even a cubby-hole of justification -- whether it's Israel or Farrakhan's delusional rants -- it must be repudiated without qualification. Without a long letter of self justification which inevitably suggests that Jews are responsible for the bigotry projected onto them. Why is it so difficult to say, it's unacceptable and I repudiate it all on all counts and for all reasons. And then back up your words with actions that you also don't use to self-justify or self-glorify. The same is true for anyone who is subject to Islamophobia or racism...there is an epidemic of brutal police killings of black men that is out of control. There is social media awash in hatred of all kinds.I clicked on an Islamic link that called for the annihilation of all Jews shared on FB by a liberal Islamic cleric whom I'm quite certain does not share those views and would find them repugnant. And yet he shared the link that keeps being re-shared. Is he responsible or merely passive in the face of how hatred mutates. We must be simple and clear and unequivocal -- NO HATE. PERIOD. FOR ANY REASON. Find political solutions for political problems but insist that hate has no sanctuary, no cover. Period. It is viral and pernicious. It's like an opportunistic infection -- if it finds a congenial habitat, any congenial habitat, it will spread. So, if Ms. Sarsour is genuine, I urge her not to always lecture and gives us 'hard' medicine which she thinks we need but to be simple. Generous. Compassionate. And unequivocal. It would go a long way.

working together

Thank you for publishing this.
it seems to me that working together in spite of some differences is the only possible way for different groups to support each other such that we can reach for redress of the hurts that we each live with.
Jews have always known that we may -- and often do -- disagree with each other passionately on one or another matter, but that underneath it all we must stick together. This principle applies, for example, to those of us who greatly desire Israel's success but utterly dissent from some of its government's actions. And I would say that this principle must also apply to joining with groups like the Women's March and MPower (and so many others) so that we can help each other attain justice and a good and peaceful life together. And if this means overlooking our differences in order to focus on our common goals, then that is surely what we should do.

Linda Sarsour letter

To my friend Art. Once again you are ahead of the pack. Thank you for sharing this important letter and for your brief comment about it.

Linda Sarsour's letter

Thank you for posting Linda Sarsour's letter and more importantly, for supporting her. We need not agree with every one of our allies' views. In fact, it would probably be a very boring world if we did. And we would never accomplish anything if we only allied ourselves with people with whom we agreed 100%, 100% of the time.

As a Jew of European descent, I feel ashamed that the Anti-Defamation League -- which once enjoyed a reputation as one of the country's oldest and most important civil rights organizations -- has reduced itself to an obsession with forcing prominent Black and brown people on the left to denounce one man: Louis Farrakhan. Where is their outrage at the white people who ally themselves with Steve King, Steve Bannon, or Donald Trump? Why aren't they holding every white politician's feet to the fire until they denounce Stormfront?

They seem determined to tear down people of color "by any means necessary", and today's Black and brown people don't play that game. They don't have any respect toward the Farrakhan-obsessed ADL, which no longer works to protect civil rights, *nor should they*.

Anyway, thanks again.

Sarsour and Waskow messages

I read both and am extremely impressed with the candor, the spirit and the articulation of ideas. Yes - let us work together. There is much that we can do together. There are too many who would want to divide us and alienate us from each other. Let us not give them that "satisfaction." we SHALL overcome!!!

Linda Sarsour & Anti-Semitism

Linda Sarsour is NOT a little bit anti-semitic. That's impossible. She's bold, upfront, and totally Anti-Semitic. Why Jews align ourselves with individuals or groups who hate us, enigma. Or, maybe hope springs eternal. Enough already. Jews and true liberals, those who welcome Freedom & Equality for ALL, leave those groups & individuals who are NOT 'for real' Progressives.

I'm so glad, Arthur, you

I'm so glad, Arthur, you posted this and added your comments to show that further nuances are possible without threatening the building if the Beloved Community. This was the first I heard of the Women's March on 1/19/19, and I'm so excited! We'll be at the end of a three-week silent (Jewish) meditation retreat, and many of the folks who sat in silence two years ago joined us from there at the Women's March then, and how wonder-full this time I'll get to do both. Thank you again, Arthur, and thank you, Linda. (I was also among a large group of Jewish folks at the No Muslim Ban Ever March, and remember Linda speaking there. Blessings for peace to all!

the Women's March

This is the Women's March and it is for All Women - every color, size, shape, religion, country of origin, sexual preference, marital status, with/without children, reproductive choices, job/profession. financial status ... and anything else you can think of. This about the overthrow of the patriarchy and the liberation/empowerment of all women - everywhere. You have stolen this from us for the sake of your own personal agenda focused on the Israel-Palestinian tragedy - an extremely horrifying and critically important subject - but NOT the purpose/goal/focus of the Women's March. The furor over NOI is NOT just about anti-semitism, but their despicable misogyny and homophobia - they are a hate group plain and simple - and if you have any doubt check out SPLC - our guiding light on such matters. And please, no excuses for Mallory because they helped her in a time of need - they are still a hate group. The Women's March is not yours to define - it does not belong to you. All of you need to resign before you destroy everything we have worked for ... check out the petition authored by the Founder of the Women's March at demanding your resignations - thousands have signed already - thousands more to come.

Womem’s march

Thank you. After reading it totally, I am in agreement with you. I will no longer publicly or privately suggest a boycott. I live in Seattle and cannot attend this march for health reasons, but I will be there in spirit. I appreciate your post.

Linda Sarsour

I thank you Rabbi, You are a firm believe in truth and our Teachings. This letter has helped me, as a Jewish woman. I agree about the BDS movement & it's many faults ..All anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.
One more thing. L Farrikkah is not only an ignorant, racist, & predjudiced person. He is also a supporter and defender of Scientology. Scientology is a misoginist, destructive, cruel cult...This must be viewed as additional large problem with Ms. Sarsour defending him. He might have helped her when she suffered a terrible loss....But that one deed does not negate his evil policies & beliefs. Thank you for your time & all of your good works, Rabbi.

Linda Sarsour's letter

Sorry, but not deep enough. She does not comprehend--is not "woke" to--the link between her anti-Zionism and her anti-Semitism. Yes, she has done wonderful work in supporting Jews in America after shootings, etc. No question. But the fundamental denial of our right to self-determination (from a person proudly devoted to the cause of her own people's self-determination) is moral blindness. That we agree on issues of white supremacy, contempt for Trump, fighting for women's integrity, etc., excuses nothing. So, too, with NOI. I would never, ever, be standing on a stage with David Duke, no matter what kind of positive causes he espoused. What someone did in their earlier years after the death of a child is one thing. What they do today, knowing what they know, is something else entirely.
As for you, I would have hoped for a more fervent response. You understand the meaning of the shadow side of human behavior. You of all people are in a position to enlighten Ms. Sarsour, and her colleagues, on the danger of being so convinced of your righteousness that you miss, disguise, or project your failings.
Rabbi Robert L. Wolkoff

Article in Times

Ignorance is found in all races and religions when faced with the “other.” I have heard Jews talk of “schwartzes” black people and African Americans talk of money
grubbing Jews. The women’s march is about unity what is same in all groups. Prejudice is also universal, point it out, accept and march on with awareness.

Personal response to Linda Sarsour letter shared w/ ShalomCenter

Thank you for your clear message to all women, including any conflicted by our beautiful, important differences. We must stand for each other, even in our differing perspectives. Your strength makes me proud to be a woman, a Jewish woman, a part of all the ways women are coalescing across all barriers FINALLY! Don’t let anything stop you, us, all women!

White supremacy????

What’s all this white supremacy shit? YOUR OK WITH THIS RABID RACUST WOMAN???????

She calls everyone a white suprematist.

“, I am a survivor of a white supremacist system that wants to ban and rid itself of people like me and Tamika,

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