Sarsour speaking in a radio studio
Muslim activist Linda Sarsour at SiriusXM event “Muslim In America” at SiriusXM Studios in New York City, Oct. 26, 2015. (Photo/Robin Marchant-Getty Images for SiriusXM)

Jewish supporters of Women’s March must confront reality

The Women’s March that followed Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017 was one of the largest demonstrations in recent U.S. history. However, coming up on the third annual Women’s March, the leadership is now in a quandary. Three of its co-chairs, Linda Sarsour, Carmen Perez and Tamika Mallory, have a close relationship with the Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan, who is arguably one of the most prominent anti-Semites in the United States today.

While representing a movement that purportedly is dedicated to fighting sexism and racism, these women have not dared to condemn Farrakhan, who continues to exacerbate tensions with Jews and damage their relationship with many members of the African American community.

It’s important for the Women’s March co-chairs to understand the animus of Jews across all denominations toward Farrakhan, whose admiration for Hitler seeps through his sarcastic rhetoric. People forget that Farrakhan on numerous occasions has described the Nazi leader as “a very great man.”

Farrakhan’s recent claim that he is “anti-termite” was a not-so-veiled allusion to Hitler’s grand plan to “exterminate” Jews. Extermination is a word used to describe getting rid of rodents, cockroaches and termites. Why did Farrakhan compare Jews to termites? Because termites enter a home through the cracks in the foundation. They eat up the wooden support beams that hold up a house. The damage can be considerable when these pests remain undetected.

By referring to the Jew as a termite, Farrakhan was implying that the Jew is responsible for undermining society in countless ways. Farrakhan, like Hitler, seems to believe that the only way to get rid of the Jewish infestation is through extermination.

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I cannot understand how anyone identifying with the Jewish faith can give the Women’s March co-chairs a free pass and act as if their support of Farrakhan is morally acceptable. Jewish supporters of the Women’s March who have been willing to overlook this egregious issue need to grow a moral backbone and confront evil whenever they see it rising.

According to Jewish ethics, to be silent in the face of great evil is tantamount to complicity and is moral cowardice of the worst sort. Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” If Jewish women associated with the Women’s March are unwilling to confront anti-Semitism, they are abdicating their role as Jewish leaders.

All would be wise to take to heart this piece of wisdom offered by the Lutheran theologian and Holocaust hero Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Farrakhan unabashedly refers to us as “Satanic Jews.” During one recent Nation of Islam talk, he said, “When you want something in this world, the Jew holds the door.” As if that remark were not contentious enough, at the end of his speech he proclaimed, “White folks are going down, and Satan is going down, and Farrakhan by God’s grace has pulled the cover off of that Satanic Jew — and I’m here to say, your time is up.”

While Perez last October tweeted that “Farrakhan is in the headlines again, which means three women of color are … being held accountable for his words,” some might be surprised to know that in November Sarsour and Mallory released a statement of apology for “causing harm to the movement’s Jewish members and for being too slow to show … commitment to fighting anti-Semitism.”

“We should have been faster and clearer in helping people understand our values and our commitment to fighting anti-Semitism. We regret that,” the recent statement read. “Every member of our movement matters to us — including our incredible Jewish and LGBTQ members. We are deeply sorry for the harm we have caused.”

Still, they refuse to condemn the Hitler-fawning Farrakhan. To the three co-chairs, I must say this: You cannot have it both ways.

If Martin Luther King Jr. were alive today, what would he say to all of us regarding the silence of these three leaders of the Women’s March and their Jewish associates? He might say: “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” Or : “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”

Jewish supporters of the Women’s March must be willing to confront Linda Sarsour, Carmen Perez and Tamika Mallory and demand that they disavow Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic rhetoric. History will not fondly remember our people’s moral cowardice should we remain silent — once again.

As Jews, we cannot look the other way. Not now, not ever. Never again.

A version of this piece previously appeared in the San Diego Jewish World.

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel
Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel is a native San Franciscan and a former rabbi of Congregation Chevra Thilim in the Richmond District. He is now the rabbi of a small congregation in Chula Vista, California.