WASHINGTON — The Women’s March is prioritizing efforts to fight legislation that would curb boycotts of Israel, a policy paper laying out the group’s agenda released this weekend shows.
The organization has positioned itself as a powerful grassroots counterbalance to Trump administration policies, but has been roiled by accusations of rampant anti-Semitism among the group’s leadership, leading to a smaller than previous turnout to an annual protest march Sunday.
On Friday, the group released a 71-page document detailing its policy agenda for the first time, including 13 broad goals ranging from ending violence on women to migrants rights to healthcare.
One section, titled Civil Rights and Liberties, includes fighting state laws that, in one form or another, prohibit participation in Israel boycotts, as well as attempts to pass similar legislation at the national level.
“One of the biggest threats to speech today are the attempts to silence social movements, including those advocating for Palestinian rights, Black liberation in the United Sates, Indigenous rights and environmental progress,” the platform reads.
“Whether it’s the attempts to create federal or state laws banning political boycotts or criticism of Israel (including the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions tactic), targeting environmental protest or preventing students and faculty on college campuses from expressing their views or engaging in peaceable assembly, the silencing of one side of the debate is precisely what our First Amendment protects against.”
During the Women’s March annual protest in Washington on Saturday, one of the organization’s national co-chairs, Linda Sarsour, mentioned this portion of the plank to uproarious applause.
The movement would defend “freedom of speech and the constitutional right to boycott, divestment, and sanctions in these United States of America,” she said.
Many other leaders at the rally used their speeches to try and calm fears among members of the Jewish community that the group was not inclusive toward Jews.
Sarsour, a Palestinian-American activist, is one of the most high-profile backers of the BDS campaign against Israel.
Some see the BDS movement as anti-Semitic for singling out the Jewish state for boycotts, though backers defend the campaign as necessary to pressure Israel’s government to end policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians.
Anti-BDS laws, which have been passed in at least 26 states, are deeply controversial. Both the American Civil Liberties Union and the liberal Middle East advocacy group J Street have vociferously opposed the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, legislation introduced in Congress, on the grounds that it would unconstitutionally suppress the speech rights of BDS supporters.
The bill’s authors say it would protect US companies from needing to comply with boycott attempts called upon by international bodies, like the UN.
The Women’s March’s said more than 70 organization collaborated to formulate its agenda. It credits Jody Rabhan, the National Council of Jewish Women’s director of government relations and advocacy, for helping to author the document.
The Women’s March has been rocked in recent months by allegations of anti-Semitism by the group’s leaders, leading to divisions within the organization and many distancing themselves from the group.
Saturday’s marches nationwide were more subdued than years past, with crowds in the tens of thousands in Washington and even smaller elsewhere.
Women’s March leaders were accused last year of pushing out one of the movement’s co-founders because she was Jewish. In addition, two of the co-chairs reportedly said in a private setting that Jews were responsible for the oppression of people of color.
Leader Tamika Mallory has also been criticized over her close ties to the anti-Semitic black nationalist leader Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam.