Columns | First Person

At 2018 women’s march, anti-Israel rhetoric destroys sense of unity

Shaun Kozolchyk with her husband and daughters, ages 14 and 9, at the Oakland Women’s March on Jan. 20.

It started the day of the Oakland Women’s March with the same sense of hope and anticipation as loved ones who were marching across the country. As fate would have it, I was putting the finishing touches on a 1,000-piece Wonder Woman puzzle our family had been toiling on for weeks.

I am a feminist woman raising two strong girls with my feminist husband. We planned to march in support of all women, especially those of us who are victims of sexual harassment and abuse — a seemingly endless list, as recent, horrific reports underscore. We gathered signs and other march accouterments and piled into the car with friends. With a shared excitement, we made our way along beautiful Lake Merritt toward the march dais on a gorgeous, sunny day. A perfect setting to raise our collective voice and — as one community — tell our Congress, our president and the world that we will fight hateful and inhumane policies and behavior that are destroying lives. We will not be silent. We will be allies.

Unless, that is, you happen to believe that the Jewish people have the right to self-determination — one tiny sliver of land that is our indigenous home, pulsing with the heartbeats of our ancestors. In that case, you are not welcome and your ally credentials are revoked.

So went the message of one speaker.

Why would a march to elevate and empower women in this country have anything to do with the complicated and nuanced conflict between Israelis and Palestinians? If you are not familiar with Linda Sarsour, an organizer and founder of the National Women’s March, you might ask: How is it possible that you are not welcome as a Jew who claims a basic right enshrined in international law? Sarsour is, among other things, an unabashed anti-Israel extremist who seeks to delegitimize Israel. Her beliefs regarding an issue that has absolutely nothing to do with our government’s (and society’s) treatment of women have found some acceptance in the march messaging and ideology.

We arrived in time to hear what promised to be empowering speeches. Things started nicely, with slam poetry delivered by a powerful young woman among other inspiring words. Then Lara Kiswani, executive director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center and co-founder of Students for Justice in Palestine, spoke. She caught my attention. You see, I work for the Anti-Defamation League, whose enduring century-plus mission is “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people, and secure justice and fair treatment to all.” We have a dual mission because our extraordinary founders knew that you cannot have one without the other. I was prepared for her screed, “Zionism has no place in the women’s movement.” She followed that divisive statement — which necessarily meant my family and I were summarily banished — with several minutes of bombast and falsehoods impugning the State of Israel and anyone who supports its existence.

As a Jewish feminist committed to equality and working for an extraordinary Jewish civil rights organization — proudly partnering with the Muslim community, fighting for rights across religious, racial, gender and, yes, national boundaries — my family was struck with what felt like a bolt of lightning.

We heard many in the crowd cheer her piercing, offensive accusations and it became clear she accomplished her job. She misled people who did not fully understand her diatribe and its implications. Others undoubtedly understood and agreed. And some, ironically, were not moved to confront her bias. We became targets of hateful rhetoric, at a march targeting hateful rhetoric!

Last year, scrolling through march social media posts, I beamed with pride. This year, I am dejected and sad. Looking at photos from across the world, all I can think is “I wish that was here. I wish my children didn’t have to be the ‘other’ at an event that is supposed to be the ‘us.’”

My 14- and 9-year-old daughters’ takeaway: “What does Israel have to do with this march when not a single other country was attacked?” Great question.

Shaun Kozolchyk is a native Tucsonan and graduate of the University of Arizona. She  is the director of development for the Anti-Defamation League Central Pacific Region. Reprinted with permission from