Anti-Israel activist and Women’s March leader Linda Sarsour gave the keynote address at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Minority Health Conference on February 22. Many community members were baffled that the UNC Minority Health Conference extended an invitation to Sarsour to give the keynote address. As one UNC graduate student told me, “One would expect an academic conference on public health to focus on public health.”
During the second of two question and answer periods, Sarsour brought up Israel, stating, “One of the areas where we don’t agree with some of our friends in the Jewish community is on Israel-Palestine. And I’m Palestinian. And I believe and I support the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement, aka BDS…I do not believe that critiquing a state or a government is akin to anti-Semitism.”
In an attempt to rationalize this singling out of Israel, Sarsour said she often critiques the United States, as well. The moderator did not ask Sarsour if she was boycotting the United States or any other country besides Israel. Sarsour’s comments targeting Israel went unchallenged.
This gets to the heart of why so many view Sarsour as anti-Semitic. Sarsour publicly says she rejects anti-Semitism. She said so at UNC. And then she promotes boycotting Israel – the only Jewish-majority country on the planet. Sarsour’s feminism and intersectionality is obsessed with demonizing Israel. Sarsour has even declared that Zionists cannot be feminists, alienating many Jewish women. To put it simply, Sarsour holds Israel to a different standard – she treats Israel and supporters of Israel differently than everyone else.
During her keynote, Sarsour discussed the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, saying, “We rounded up our fellow Americans and put them into concentration camps on this U.S. soil.”
The United States government was certainly correct to apologize and pay reparations for forcing Japanese Americans into internment camps. However, Sarsour’s use of the term “concentration camps” – a term with intense, personal, and solemn meaning to the Jewish people – was unnecessarily inflammatory and trivialized the Holocaust by inaccurately comparing the treatment of Japanese Americans by the United States during WWII to the treatment, indeed wholesale murder, of Jews by the Nazis of Germany’s Third Reich.
A 2018 survey found that Americans’ knowledge and memory of the Holocaust is fading at an alarming rate. The New York Times reported, “Forty-one percent of Americans, and 66 percent of millennials, cannot say what Auschwitz was.” Sarsour’s misuse of the term “concentration camps” only contributes to misinformation about the Holocaust. Not a single university official or conference participant spoke up to object to Sarsour’s use of the term “concentration camps.”
A flyer that protestors handed out to conference attendees before Sarsour’s keynote explained, “Sarsour has close ties to the National of Islam (NOI), which is a racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic hate group…Sarsour pays NOI members to act as her security detail and has embraced their hateful leader, Louis Farrakhan.”
Sarsour’s fellow Women’s March leader, Tamika Mallory, has publicly referred to Louis Farrakhan, a notorious anti-Semite, as the “GOAT” — the greatest of all time. Mallory has been widely criticized for refusing to explicitly condemn Farrakhan’s hateful speech. At UNC on Friday, Sarsour was asked to respond to charges of anti-Semitism within the leadership of her Women’s March organization. Sarsour admitted that Farrakhan is anti-Semitic but dismissed Mallory’s relationship with Farrakhan by saying, “Tamika is not responsible for the words of any man.” Such a response does little to welcome Jewish women, who Sarsour and Mallory have alienated, back to the Women’s March.
Josh Ravitch, a Chapel Hill resident and co-founder of the North Carolina Coalition for Israel, showed up to protest Sarsour’s invitation to UNC. Ravitch told me, “Linda Sarsour hides behind freedom of speech to propagate hate against Jews and other minorities. She’s free to be a bigot, but UNC leaders should be ashamed to have provided her with a very public platform.”
When responding to the question about anti-Semitism and the leadership of her Women’s March, Sarsour said, “This is an anti-Semitic administration. We have seen that the rhetoric and the hateful rhetoric of this administration has caused a Trump supporter to go into a synagogue and kill 11 innocent people.”
In fact, the Tree of Life synagogue shooter has been reported to despise President Trump. Sarsour exploited the massacre of eleven Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh to help repel charges of anti-Semitism within her own movement. About 20 seconds later, Sarsour told the moderator, “There’s also people who are in the opposition who would exploit moments of pain and trauma, for their own purposes.” It sounded like Sarsour was describing herself.
Sarsour spoke at length about the Women’s March and how she and Tamika Mallory took over the leadership. Sarsour said, “So we went to the Women’s March and said, ‘We don’t want to just be here for you to put us on a poster and say we were here. We want to have power. We want to be the national co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington.’ So we were the national co-chairs. We did have Bob Bland. Ya know, we didn’t want to leave the white woman out all the way.” Moments later Sarsour complained, “There is a lot of divide and conquer that happens in the movements that we are a part of.” Once again, it sounded like Sarsour was describing herself.
Sarsour complained during her keynote, “So, if we’re going to have a conference, the 40th anniversary of the Minority Health Conference, if we’re going to target the minority woman that’s coming to speak, that’s not what intersectionality is just to be clear.” Sarsour took the position that, as a minority woman, she should not be challenged on her beliefs when speaking on intersectionality.
While Sarsour will be speaking at New York University in March, it is also clear that many reject Sarsour and others who use intersectionality to divide communities. As the Tower recently reported, “Over 300 organizations have withdrawn their sponsorship of the Women’s March amidst controversy over the national leadership’s ties to Farrakhan and anti-Semitic remarks.”
The world is slowly waking up to Sarsour’s hateful and divisive positions.
[Photo: Peter Reitzes ]