In her first interview since calls began for the Women’s March leadership to resign amid allegations of anti-Semitism, Jewish director of communications Sophie Ellman-Golan speaks about confronting anti-Jewish prejudice within the movement, the attempts to delegitimize the organizers, and how the March is putting forth a more inclusive vision.
After the mass shooting of 11 American Jews in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue on October 27, the first person who called Sophie Ellman-Golan — the communications director for the Women’s March — was Linda Sarsour, in tears. She asked Ellman-Golan, “What are we going to do?” and said her next call was going to be to the Islamic Center in Pittsburgh to talk to people there about ways to support the Jewish community.
In the days and weeks following the massacre, even as much of mainstream media was reporting on the disproportionally high levels of white nationalist violence in the U.S., attention pivoted back to the Women’s March’s failure to directly condemn Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan for his anti-Semitism, specifically referring to Jews as “termites” in a speech late last year.
Allegations of anti-Semitism within the leadership intensified after the Jewish American magazine Tablet published a report in which unnamed sources claim that co-presidents Tamika Mallory and Carmen Perez said Jews played a significant role in the African slave trade, and that they berated march co-founder Vanessa Wruble for her Jewish identity. Women’s March denied both allegations.
As a Palestinian-American and vocal supporter of BDS — which the Israeli government and its advocates equate with anti-Semitism — Sarsour has been targeted since joining the Women’s March. But as opposed to Mallory and Perez, Sarsour does not have a relationship with Farrakhan and has worked closely with Jewish communities for years.
The allegations against Mallory and Perez led to calls for the Women’s March leadership to resign, culminating in the withdrawal of partners ahead of the recent march, held on January 21, by the Democratic National Council and National Organization of Women, among others.
The only senior Jewish staff member on a small staff of about a dozen in Women’s March, Inc., Ellman-Golan, 26, is in a difficult position. She has in many ways taken upon herself the responsibility of serving as a go-between of sorts between the organization — which has become a symbol for all things left — and the Jewish community in the United States, which is diverse and increasingly polarized. On several occasions, Ellman-Golan expressed her desire for a firmer public...