For the past couple of years, Republican leaders, and Donald Trump in particular, have been plagued by accusations of condoning anti-Semitism in the far-right segments of Trump’s base. But the latest anti-Semitism scandal has erupted among progressive left-wing Democrats — and they aren’t handling it any better than the Trumpists.
On Feb. 25, Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, gave a speech in Chicago in which he repeatedly and venomously assailed the “satanic Jew.” Anti-Jewish invective from Farrakhan is nothing new; the Anti-Defamation League calls him “the leading anti-Semite in America.” He has blamed Jews for the Sept. 11 attacks, apartheid, the slave trade and Hollywood degeneracy.
What raised some eyebrows is the fact that Tamika Mallory, a co-chair of the Women’s March — the flagship of the anti-Trump resistance — attended the event and posted about it on Instagram.
This is no isolated incident. Mallory wrote an enthusiastic social media post about Farrakhan’s appearance in Detroit two years ago. And she was involved in organizing his Justice or Else rally in Washington in 2015, along with two Women’s March co-chairs, fellow New Yorkers Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour (who has faced allegations of anti-Semitism).
The Women’s March leaders’ Farrakhan connections have been the subject of controversy. His anti-Semitic speech, replete with such observations as, “When you want something in this world, the Jew holds the door,” revived the issue.
Yet Mallory would not disavow Farrakhan. Instead, she made some self-exculpatory Twitter posts, affirming her abhorrence of anti-Semitism and anti-gay hate — which Farrakhan has preached — without ever mentioning Farrakhan or her reaction to the hateful speech she attended in person.
Many progressives (especially progressive Jews) expressed their dismay at Mallory’s stance. Yet no less dismaying was the rush of other progressives to express their support for her — among them Sarsour, fellow Women’s March co-chair Bob Bland, Black Lives Matter activist and writer Shaun King, and New York Civil Liberties Union executive director Donna Lieberman, who tweeted that she was “proud to stand with” Mallory and called her “a fearless fighter against racism.”
This cavalier attitude underscores something critics of the modern left-wing social justice movement have said for a while: Progressives who pay lip service to intersectionality — the interconnected dynamics of different kinds of oppression and bias — often turn a blind eye to anti-Semitism. In their worldview, Jews tend to be perceived as privileged, so bigotry against Jews is seen as punching up more than punching down.
Yet in Farrakhan’s case, his status as a supposed champion of the oppressed seems to mitigate other bigotries, too. His Chicago speech blamed Jews for encouraging people to become transgender. He has slammed women for being too lazy to cook for their families. Imagine the meltdown the Women’s March would have if someone from the Trump administration had made such a comment.
It’s not just the Women’s March that has a Farrakhan problem. Illinois Democratic Rep. Danny Davis has called the minister “an outstanding human being.” On Sunday, he confirmed his personal ties to Farrakhan in an interview with the conservative website The Daily Caller and remarked that, “The world is so much bigger than Farrakhan and the Jewish question.”
The Congressional Black Caucus also has refused to repudiate Farrakhan, with whom members of the caucus (including, we now know, Barack Obama) secretly met in 2005.
Progressives who denounce bigotry on the right need to start by cleaning house.
Cathy Young is a contributing editor to Reason magazine.