Why I support Sarsour and the Women’s March

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum before Shabbat services following the shooting in October at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Photo by Tequila Minsky

BY RABBI SHARON KLEINBAUM | Now I’m doing a deep dive into the issues around the Women’s March and Linda Sarsour.

So here’s where I land on this. There are military-grade armed white supremacists emboldened and cheered on by the president of the United States. These white supremacists have been building caches of arms for years in anticipation of a civil war/race war in the United States. These folks are anti-Semitic as a deep part of their racist view of history. They and their ideology are a very serious threat to all we hold precious in our lives.

Those of us on the broad spectrum of the “left” have a long history of chewing up those who share many, maybe even most, of our values rather than facing the most serious threats that are much more difficult to overcome. I value and respect Linda Sarsour — and I don’t have to agree with her on everything. But that doesn’t make her anti-Semitic! Linda Sarsour is NOT anti-Semitic.

Lord knows, I don’t agree with people in my family of origin or my family of choice on everything. But I want to stay engaged, in discussion, and keep trying to learn more and make sure my reality is likewise respected. I know that the issue of Farrakhan is very, very disturbing. He is on record for a long time as an anti-Semite. And I would wish that those around him would forcefully denounce him. Ultimately, Farrakhan doesn’t have much power.

I know that Linda has distanced herself and I know that there are many who are in conversation with her about this. That’s an example of something that I would stay engaged with her about. But she herself, from what I have read, doesn’t share any of those ideas. I’m also aware of the many in my own community who are DEEPLY racist, or anti-Muslim.

And then there’s the fact of her support of BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions). I personally don’t support BDS because I don’t believe in abandoning those progressive forces INSIDE of Israel who are fighting every day to make Israel live up to our best dreams and expectations.

Right-wing American money, like Shelly Adelson and Irving Moskowitz, is pouring in billions of dollars to support the Israeli right wing. And the left is leaving our counterparts without the resources or support to be close to a counterforce to that right-wing support and money. The progressive forces in Israel often feel abandoned by the progressive forces in the U.S. and Europe.

I am against the military occupation of Palestine and disagree with the strategy of boycotting those who are likewise trying to change Israel’s policies. I want to believe that it is possible to be a progressive Zionist. And BDS often ends up strengthening Bibi rather than weakening him.

I do believe that we should engage with, discuss and engage more. I think Congregation Beit Simchat Torah needs to be a place where all these ideas are robustly debated and people exposed to these ideas. I know there are some who charge C.B.S.T. with being anti-Semitic, self-hating and anti-Israel because I support the rights of Palestinians to enjoy the full dignity of their humanity. And there are those on the left who refuse to come to C.B.S.T. because I support the right of Israel to exist. I don’t think supporting BDS is necessarily anti-Semitic, although I do think that it is sometimes used by some who ARE anti-Semitic as a weapon.

I believe that the future of Israel is bound up with the liberation of the Palestinian people. I live in a narrow place in this current world of polarization and heightened anger. And, as with many things, it’s not simple to achieve security and justice. It starts with deeply listening to the voices of all of us — and that’s not easy.

Linda Sarsour is an important voice in our world that I value, and I support the Women’s March. Even while we keep arguing, debating and demanding the most of all of ourselves — let us do it for the sake of heaven.

Blessings to all.

Kleinbaum is spiritual leader of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in Chelsea, the world’s largest L.G.B.T. synagogue

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