Farrakhan gave a speech on the Nation of Islam’s Saviours’ Day in Chicago last week saying that “the powerful Jews are my enemy” and announcing to them “your time is up, your world is through.” This would have been just another day, had Farrakhan not shouted out the Women’s March’s Tamika Mallory, who attended the event. And had Mallory not initially refused to denounce his anti-Semitism when the Web took notice, responding instead that “If your leader does not have the same enemies as Jesus, they may not be THE leader!” And had other Women’s March bigwigs such as Linda Sarsour and Carmen Perez not defended Farrakhan in the past.
On Tuesday, after days of silence, the Women’s March finally released a statement acknowledging that Farrakhan’s views were “not aligned with the Women’s March Unity Principles, which were created by women of color leaders and are grounded in Kingian nonviolence” — but not outright denouncing him, and not apologizing for promoting him. The same day, a Jewish GOP group called for the resignation of seven Democratic representatives from Congress because of their ostensible ties to Farrakhan.
This has set off a string of back-and-forths between those furious at some left-wingers’ hesitance to condemn Farrakhan and anyone who associates with him, and those frustrated at conservatives, centrists and even other liberals for focusing on a fringe figure when there’s a white nationalist-lite in the Oval Office.
It’s true that the Farrakhan frenzy looks overblown compared to the collective reaction to the rise of the alt-right. Sure, Trump’s praise for the “very fine people on both sides” of the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally riled people up, and sure, they pay attention again every time a publication prints a profile of a neo-Nazi. But few conservatives have disavowed the Trump administration for its part in priming the pump of prejudice, or fought to expunge that hatred from GOP politics. Indeed, Republicans seem far more exercised about tariffs than about white supremacy. And considering the president’s position of power, the alt-right resurgence poses a greater on-the-ground threat to Jews (not to mention other minorities) than the rantings of a marginalized religious leader.
But just because the right has failed to confront anti-Semitism within its ranks doesn’t mean the left should fail, too. The Women’s March organizers should understand this better than anyone. It’s a poor look for those who call themselves activists, and who say they’re concerned with inclusivity and intersectionality, to defend someone who has crusaded against both of those ideas. Some may see Farrkhan as a truth-teller when it comes to race relations, but his record reaches beyond that. He’s an anti-Semite, he’s a homophobe and he’s a misogynist. Spearheading a movement that’s about building a better world for women of all colors and creeds means opposing advocacy that attacks women of any color or creed.
Many in Farrakhan’s corner seem to miss this point. They like to reply to criticism by citing the Israeli occupation. But respect for Judaism and those who practice it doesn’t require approval of each and every action the Israeli state takes, no matter what some of this week’s AIPAC conference attendees might suggest. A feminist who really believes in inclusivity and intersectionality would fight for the Palestinian women who suffer under Israel’s policies and for the Jewish women here and abroad who suffer when anti-Semitism extends its reach. And she could do that without suggesting either of those forms of oppression is the same as the everyday suffering of black women in a racist America.
If progressives want to argue that it’s silly to pay so much attention to Farrakhan because he’s irrelevant, they should make sure he stays that way. That means not endorsing him, and not elevating those who do. The Women’s March organizers seek to shepherd a generation of activists. If they can’t keep hatred out of the flock, maybe the rest of us should look elsewhere for leaders.