Thousands join US Women’s March amid discord over its handling of anti-Semitism
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Thousands join US Women’s March amid discord over its handling of anti-Semitism

As protests start, turnout expected to be lower than in past years, in part because of co-founder Tamika Mallory’s ties to Farrakhan

Demonstrators hold signs during the Women's March on January 19, 2019 in Washington, DC. Demonstrations are taking place in cities across the US in the third annual event aimed to highlight social change and celebrate women's rights around the world. ( Zach Gibson/Getty Images/AFP)
Demonstrators hold signs during the Women's March on January 19, 2019 in Washington, DC. Demonstrations are taking place in cities across the US in the third annual event aimed to highlight social change and celebrate women's rights around the world. ( Zach Gibson/Getty Images/AFP)

WASHINGTON — Thousands of women were gathering Saturday in the US capital and across the country for their annual message opposing Donald Trump and supporting women’s rights, but internal divisions appeared to steal some energy from the rallies.

In Washington, demonstrators arriving by car, bus or subway converged on the city’s Freedom Plaza as they prepared to march defiantly past the nearby Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Many wore pink “pussy” hats to protest Trump’s demeaning comments about women.

“We need to stand up for women all over the world — for races, gender, sexual orientation which are often misunderstood,” said Ann Caroline, 27, herself wearing a pink hat.

Some marchers carried signs portraying Trump as a Russian “puppet.” Other placards decried his comments about women or minority groups, while some demanded his impeachment.

Just blocks away, the president spoke to reporters outside the White House before traveling briefly to Dover, Delaware to console family members of four Americans killed in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group in Syria.

Trump was to return to Washington for a 4:00 pm (2100 GMT) announcement about border security and the partial government shutdown affecting the country.

As in earlier years, women were expected to join demonstrations in cities across the United States, and around the world.

In New York, several hundred people had converged on Manhattan’s Foley Square, near the Brooklyn Bridge, by late morning.

Among the protesters was Nydia Leaf, an energetic, pink-hatted 86-year-old taking part in her third women’s march.

She said she would “keep opposing Donald Trump and his policies. Look at what he’s done at the border, look at the shutdown — every year there is a new atrocity.”

In contrast to the 2017 marches, which drew more than three million, and last year when hundreds of thousands rallied, Washington police said they expected perhaps 20,000 demonstrators this year, not far from the 16,000 people who indicated interest on the event’s Facebook page.

Ties to Nation of Islam

The original march helped spark a rise in women’s political activism, with a record 131 women now serving in the new US Congress.

Last year, many women were galvanized by the confirmation of conservative judge Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court, despite allegations that he committed sexual assault as a teen.

Activists are also motivated by the fight over the Trump administration’s policy — since suspended — of separating undocumented parents from children at the border with Mexico.

But the movement has been riven by controversy, including allegations of anti-Semitism and poor accounting of funds.

The anti-Semitism controversy stems from march co-founder Tamika Mallory’s ties to controversial Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and her failure to condemn disparaging remarks about Jews he made at an event she attended.

Some Jewish groups have pulled support for Women’s March Inc. A Washington state chapter disbanded in protest.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.(AP/Richard Drew)

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said Friday she “must walk away” from the national Women’s March organization over the alleged failure of its leaders to condemn anti-Semitism.

Teresa Shook, the first woman to float the idea of a women’s march, has called for the movement’s four co-presidents — Mallory, Carmen Perez, Linda Sarsour and Bob Bland — to resign.

Sarsour pushed back, saying in a statement: “The Women’s March exists to fight bigotry and discrimination in all their forms — including homophobia and anti-Semitism.”

Some progressive groups declined to take part in this year’s marches, and several Jewish women said they felt torn.

One Jewish march organizer split off and founded a parallel organization, March On, which held a separate rally in New York.

Democratic New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who was part of the women’s wave elected to Congress in November, attended both rallies.

For her part, Ann Caroline called the controversy “heartbreaking,” but added that to march for women’s rights “doesn’t mean that I align myself with the founders’ values.”

From left to right, Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour and Carmen Perez at the Women’s March “Power to the Polls” voter registration tour launch at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, January 21, 2018. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images via JTA)

In an interview with PBS due to be broadcast Sunday, Mallory refused to answer a question on Israel’s right to exist.

Despite pleas for unity, an alternate women’s march has sprung up in protest and planned a parallel rally in New York on Saturday a few blocks away from the official New York Women’s March protest.

Many local chapters of the movement have said they are no longer willing to be affiliated with the national group over claims it has not done enough to disavow anti-Semitism.

JTA contributed to this report.

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