a woman in sunglasses holds a sign that says "OY VEY" in pink letters, with the words, health, immigration, womens rights and human rights written around the edge
A woman holding a sign at the 2017 Oakland Women's March (Photo/file)

Yes, go ahead and participate in Women’s March, JCRC says

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Updated January 19

A leading Jewish community organization is encouraging people to participate in local versions of the Women’s March this Saturday, saying that Bay Area segments of the march have distanced themselves from anti-Zionist comments made by some organizers of the national march.

The S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council issued a policy statement on the Women’s March last week saying that “we encourage Jews who do attend to do so while proudly expressing all aspects of their identity, including being Jewish.”

The JCRC said the national and local marches set for Jan. 19 “have always been completely separate,” and organizers of marches throughout the Bay Area have worked hard to disavow the anti-Zionist comments made by some national march leaders. Also, the JCRC pointed out, many local marches have Jewish women in leadership positions.

The events this upcoming weekend will be the third annual marches that were started with the goals of gender equality, civil rights, reproductive rights and other feminist issues.

The movement drew controversy when one of its founders, Linda Sarsour, said in 2017 that Israel denies basic rights to Palestinian women and that “you either stand up for the rights of all women, including Palestinians, or none.”

Another national march founder, Tamika Mallory, has had connections with the Nation of Islam and its leader Louis Farrakhan, who has a long history of anti-Semitic statements.

And Lara Kiswani of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center said from the podium at the 2018 Women’s March in Oakland that “Zionism [has] absolutely no place in the women’s movement” and referred to Israel as a “settler, colonial and apartheid state.”

But the JCRC said leaders of the Oakland and other Bay Area marches have taken “meaningful steps to ensure that Jewish women can express their multiple identities and proudly contribute to and participate in local marches.”

“The Women’s March is not monolithic. Regional Women’s Marches are separate entities from the national organization,” the JCRC said.

Northern California locations of marches on Jan. 19 include Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento, Pleasanton and Walnut Creek. In recent weeks, marches in cities such as Eureka, Chicago, New Orleans, Cincinnati and Statesboro, Georgia have been cancelled for various reasons, from organizing hardships to fears over a lack of diversity among march participants.

Rabbi Chai Levy of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley said some of her congregants were concerned about anti-Zionist statements coming from national Women’s March leaders. Ultimately, because her synagogue is Shabbat observant and because “there didn’t seem to be enough interest,” she decided not to organize a contingent to attend the march. But she did encourage her congregates to decide for themselves.

Levy said she spoke with women within and outside the synagogue about whether to participate. “I didn’t want to boycott, as some around the nation were suggesting, and I preferred to find a constructive way to participate as a Jewish community,” she said. “But I am supportive of participation in the local marches, especially those that are addressing the issues of anti-Semitism and including Jewish women’s leadership.”

Levy said she remains supportive of any congregant who wants to participate in the local marches and pointed out that Leili Davari-Bitton, a Netivot Shalom member, will be a speaker at the Oakland march on behalf of the Jewish-led social justice group Bend the Arc.

The JCRC statement stressed that the marches are just one part of an overall social justice movement and encouraged people to “work on the social justice issue of your choice, as a Jew and as an expression of your Jewish values.”

The statement added: “Don’t let anti-Zionism and hate divide the Jewish community or marginalize you from causes in which you deeply believe.”

Updated to more accurately reflect Rabbi Chai Levy’s thoughts about the Women’s March controversy.

Rob Gloster

Rob Gloster z"l was J.'s senior writer from 2016-2019.