On Wednesday, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan tweeted a message that Jews control government agencies, with a video of himself calling them the "enemy" and telling an audience "if you go to work tomorrow and Jews are your boss, don't tell them where you been."
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Chelsea Clinton were among those condemning the anti-Semitism on Thursday. Though they did not draw lines between Farrakhan and Women's March organizers, others have been.
Women's March organizer Tamika Mallory attended a Farrakhan speech in February where he used similar language about Jews and also accused Hollywood of turning "men into women" and the FBI of using marijuana to feminize black men. Farrakhan has long been outspoken against both Jews and the LGBT community, including opposing gay marriage. Farrakhan gave Mallory a shout-out during the event, from which she posted Instagram photos that Women's March co-organizer Carmen Perez commented on with “raise the roof” emojis. Since then, many called on her to distance herself.
On Tuesday, the Women's March issued a statement saying it "will not tolerate Anti-Semitism, racism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia." However, some criticized the organization for failing to respond more swiftly — and failing to apologize once it did.
Some, including her co-organizers and other activists, came to Mallory's defense.
Her co-organizers, however, have also come under fire in the past on this issue.
In January, Perez told Refinery29 that in regards to Farrakhan, "people need to understand the significant contributions that these individuals have made to black and brown people."
Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American Women's March organizer of the Women’s March, faced backlash last year for saying that Zionism, a nationalist movement in support of Israel, and feminism are incompatible.
“It just doesn’t make any sense for someone to say, ‘Is there room for people who support the state of Israel and do not criticize it in the movement?’ There can’t be in feminism. You either stand up for the rights of all women, including Palestinians, or none. There’s just no way around it,” Sarsour said in an interview with The Nation.
The question of whether the Women's March has an anti-Semtisim problem is the latest controversy to embroil organizers. Even at the height of unity a little more than a year ago, the Women's March on Washington revealed cracks in the feminist movement. Women of color were suspicious of a mass mobilization that began with white women. Many trans people felt excluded. During the "Day Without a Woman" strike a year ago Thursday, women who could not afford to participate in a day of unpaid labor lamented it was an action only the privileged could embrace.
With the march now in the history books and the movement it ignited continuing to agitate, the latest controversy underscores how difficult it can be to organize with intersectionality in mind, under such a big tent. But experts say this is a quality of all movements, and if its goals are to be realized, it must be overcome.
"We don’t have to understand each other in order to agree on the focus. More important ... is that the infrastructure of the movement have an inclusive and compelling enough message and a relentless insistence that media and others focus on that message, rather than distractions like Farrakhan or other in-fight opportunities," said Karla Holloway, a professor emerita of English at Duke University who has written multiple books on gender and race. "Once you divide the attention to putting out 'little fires everywhere' ... the bonfire loses its watch."
Holloway said these incidents show how difficult it is to disentangle multiple identities. But many still see support of Farrakhan as something that runs counter to the movement's self-proclaimed goal of intersectionality, something that could cost it powerful activist and voting segments, including Jewish women and the LGBTQ community. According to the Pew Research Center, Jews are among the most strongly liberal groups in U.S. politics.
Anti-feminists, meanwhile, added fuel to the fire on social media.
Holloway said activists should look to history for lessons on how to proceed.
"We wasted so much time attending to the Malcolm [X] vs. Martin [Luther King Jr.] distinctions back in the day," she said. "That’s a trap ... What we’ve learned is if you have managed to set an agenda, understand that monumental achievement and direct your energies there. Talk back and loudly to those who would pull you in a different direction. Power comes with relentless and insistent focus, and persistence in the face of the fight is a battle worthy of the cause. To the extent that difference allows us to refine and fix the focus, all the better. But notice when difference begins to shred the agreed-upon focus."
Contributing: N'dea Yancey-Bragg, USA TODAY