Why Jewish leaders rally behind a Palestinian-American Women’s March organizer -
Linda Sarsour makes no secret of her opposition to Israel and support of BDS, the women’s rights activist kept that rhetoric out of the event — to the relief of her Jewish allies.
NEW YORK — When online attacks against Women’s March co-chair Linda Sarsour started this week, progressive Jews were among the first people to back her on social media.
“Jews are some of my biggest supporters,” Sarsour told Haaretz in an interview. Sarsour, a born-and-bred Brooklynite whose parents are of Palestinian origin, directs the Arab American Association of New York, an advocacy and social services group, and is considered a rising star in city politics.
She has for several years worked closely with groups on the far-left edge of the Jewish community, like Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews for Racial & Economic Justice. Because Sarsour is an outspoken critic of Israel and backs boycotts, divestment and sanctions, mainstream Jewish groups have long held her at arms’ length.
But that is changing as mainstream players like Rabbi Sharon Brous of Los Angeles’ Ikar and the National Council of Jewish Women work with Sarsour on issues of shared concern, like the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., which attracted hundreds of thousands of participants on January 21. NCJW was one of dozens of partner organizations and helped ensure substantial Jewish involvement.
Sarsour was a Women’s March national co-chair. Early Monday, politically conservative publications and figures began publicly attacking her. Their charge? That she supports Hamas and favors sharia, or Islamic religious law, because she opposes municipalities and states banning it. That, say sources, is a dog-whistle way of suggesting that someone is an ISIS-type extremist, though in many respects sharia parallels halacha, the system of Jewish law.
First out was an article in online Front Page Mag, titled “The Anti-Semite Who Organized the ‘Women’s March on Washington,’ and the half-million lemmings who showed up in ‘solidarity.’” Front Page is part of hard-right conservative David Horowitz’s “Freedom Center School for Political Warfare,” a network that includes anti-Muslim websites “Jihad Watch” and “Truth Revolt.”
Backed by Sanders
That article’s allegations spurred others that quickly circulated online. But it also galvanized others to stand behind Sarsour.
From left: Carmen Perez, Gloria Steinem and Linda Sarsour onstage during the Women’s March on Washington on January 21, 2017Theo Wargo/AFP
Among those tweeting their support for Sarsour are former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders — for whom Sarsour spoke as a surrogate after his final debate with Hillary Clinton — and actor Mark Ruffalo.
So did Brous, who Sarsour invited to speak at the Women’s March in Washington D.C. They have known each other since starting as Senior Fellows at Auburn Seminary, an interfaith institution in New York, in 2015.