By now, the rise and decline of the Women’s March – once hailed as the most important mass political movement in a generation – is well documented.
Interestingly, it was a piece of investigative journalism by the online publication Tablet that pulled the thread which began the unraveling. Rumors of anti-Semitism within the national leadership of the March had been a staple of criticism of the organization’s leadership, as were questions regarding how those leaders were dealing with the millions of dollars earned through sponsorship, product sales and donations. But the detailed Tablet story added the names, dates and quotes needed to create a groundswell that couldn’t be swatted away as the work of racist critics by the March’s flawed and corrupt leadership.
I’m guessing most readers are aware of the sponsor withdrawals (some public, some quiet), failed attempts at explanations and apologies, too-weird-too-late shots at adding Jews back into the leadership fold, that led to movement’s main event (a March on Washington) declining precipitously this year. But I’d like to focus on a dynamic that Divest This readers are well aware of: how the infiltration of a high-profile, fast-moving, progressive organization by anti-Israel activists always leads that the host’s corruption and ultimate demise.
I wish I could find the quote where one of the women who began the March talked about how the organization’s openness to new blood and eagerness to include diverse names and faces left them vulnerable to predators. For if you look at the three women who became the flashpoint of controversy regarding the March, you can see that their agenda was not to move the fight for women’s rights forward, but to channel the momentum created by others towards their own political ends.
Phyllis Chessler highlights how little the agenda of the March has to do with issues specific to women. Women obviously make up half the planet’s population, so a focus on immigration, economic justice (whatever that means), and international affairs is going to impact women as well as men. But the point Chessler is making is that the concept of intersectionality (which links every injustice with every other) is so broad and amorphous that it allows anyone to claim the mantle of feminist leadership regardless of which issues they are actually fighting for.
Similar infiltration of progressive groups by anti-Israel activists is so well documented as to almost be a cliché. When the Occupy Wall Street project popped up a few years ago, one of its most well-known features was lack of leadership and direction. This was intentional, given that Occupy wanted to avoid hierarchy, relying on consensus to decide what would happen next (even if that turned out to never end in a decision).
The Israel haters would have none of this. As usual, their involvement in consensus building involved insisting that any consensus that did not embrace their agenda represented treason to the progressive cause (defined – by them – as an unquestioning embrace of the anti-Israel project). And so an organization that could barely rouse itself from camp somehow managed to march on a single consulate – guess which one – increasing suspicion of the entire project (which eventually made it easier to shut the whole thing down).
Infiltration of other people’s institutions can be seen wherever progressive politics is ascendant, notably college campuses where intersectional coalitions somehow always include support for BDS. BDS champions insist that this is simply a matter of justice, but as I’ve noted before, intersectionality seems to have ended up a one-way street where feminists and gay rights activists (to pick a couple of examples) must embrace an assault on Israel while shutting up about the abominable plight of women and gays everywhere else in the Middle East save Israel.
Why must everyone in a college intersectional coalition – including feminists and gay activists – submit to the will of mostly male, mostly straight BDS leaders far from campus? Because the boycotters are ready to do anything, including destroying any organization they join, in order to get their way.
Within the Women’s March you saw a similar drama play out as predators who have taken over a project they did not start were ready to see it go down in flames rather than free it from enslavement to issues of their choice.
I suppose it is good news that so many women are voting with their feet by abandoning the national organization and either running events of their own or exploring other ways to make women’s rights a higher priority in the US and around the world. But if any of these other groups find themselves taking off, best they learn a lesson on how to protect any institution they build from those who are ready to join it for the sole purpose of turning it towards different ends.