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Linda Sarsour

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Linda Sarsour
Linda Sarsour speaking at a panel discussion
Sarsour in May 2016
Born 1980 (age 37–38)
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Residence Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Nationality American
Alma mater Kingsborough Community College
Brooklyn College
Occupation Activist, media commentator
Known for Co-chair of the 2017 Women's March

Linda Sarsour (born 1980)[1] is an American political activist and former executive director of the Arab American Association of New York. She gained national attention for her advocacy on behalf of American Muslims, and extended her advocacy to civil rights issues such as Black Lives Matter, immigration policy, mass incarceration, and stop-and-frisk. She has been a supporter of the progressive movement and the Democratic Party.

Sarsour was co-chair of the 2017 Women's March and of the 2017 Day Without a Woman strike and protest. Her involvement in the Women's March resulted in increased media attention along with criticism from pro-Israel Democrats, conservatives, and Jewish groups for her outspoken stance on Israel, including her support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and a one-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

Personal life

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Sarsour is the oldest of seven children of Palestinian immigrants.[2] She was raised in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and went to John Jay High School in Park Slope. Sarsour was married in an arranged marriage at the age of 17 and had three children by her mid-20s.[1][3][4] Both Sarsour's family and her husband are from the Palestinian city of Al-Bireh—in the West Bank, and about 9 miles (14 km) north of Jerusalem.[5]

After high school, she took courses at Kingsborough Community College and Brooklyn College with the goal of becoming an English teacher.[6] As of 2011 Sarsour lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.[2]

Political activism career

Arab American Association of New York

Sarsour's early activism included defending the civil rights of American Muslims following the September 11 attacks of 2001.[4][7] Shortly before 9/11, Basemah Atweh, a relative and founder of the Arab American Association of New York, asked Sarsour to volunteer for the organization.[1] Atweh, who held a prominent political role uncommon for a Muslim woman, became Sarsour's mentor.[6]

When Sarsour and Atweh were returning from the 2005 gala opening of the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, their car was struck by a tractor-trailer. Atweh died of her injuries, and two other passengers suffered from broken bones. Sarsour, who was driving, was not seriously injured.[1][6] She returned to work immediately, saying of Atweh, "This is where she wanted me to be".[1] She was named to succeed Atweh as executive director of the association at age 25. Over the next several years she expanded the scope of the organization, building its budget from $50,000 to $700,000 annually.[1][6]

Sarsour has gained attention for protesting police surveillance of Muslim Americans.[4][7][8] As director of the Arab American Association of New York, she advocated for passage of the Community Safety Act in New York, which created an independent office to review police policy and expanded the definition of bias-based profiling in New York. She and the organization pressed for the law after instances of what they saw as biased policing in local neighborhoods, and it passed over the objections of then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg and then-Police Chief Raymond W. Kelly.[6]

Sarsour became a regular attendee at Black Lives Matter demonstrations as well as a frequent television commentator on feminism.[7] According to The New York Times, Sarsour "has tackled issues like immigration policy, mass incarceration, stop-and-frisk and the New York City Police Department’s spying operations on Muslims — all of which have largely inured her to hate-tinged criticism."[9]

She has spoken of the importance of building a progressive movement in the United States,[10] and her activism has drawn praise from liberal politicians and activists.[3] In 2012, during the presidency of Barack Obama, the White House recognized Sarsour as a "champion of change".[4][7]

Sarsour worked to have Muslim holidays recognized in New York City's public schools, which started observing Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr in 2015.[4][11]

Black Lives Matter

Following the shooting of Michael Brown, Sarsour helped to organize the American Muslim community's response as well as the wider Black Lives Matter protests. Sarsour helped form "Muslims for Ferguson", and she traveled to Ferguson with other activists in 2014.[6][12] She has continued to work extensively with BLM ever since.[4][13]

In August 2017 Sarsour spoke at the "United We Stand" rally in front of NFL headquarters in New York in support of Colin Kaepernick.[14][15]

Democratic Party involvement

In 2016 Sarsour ran for a position as a County Committee member with the Democratic Party of Kings County, New York.[16] She placed third.[17]

Sarsour spoke as a surrogate for U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders during the 2016 presidential campaign.[3]

2017 Women's March and later activism

Teresa Shook and Bob Bland, organizers of the 2017 Women's March, recruited Sarsour as co-chair of the event, to be held the day after Donald Trump's inauguration as president.[18] According to Politico, Sarsour had by then become the controversial "face of the resistance" to Trump:

For Sarsour, Trump’s election came after years of standing up for people he had maligned—not just women, but Muslims, immigrants and black Americans, too. Her ties with activists from around the country helped her galvanize different groups during the disorienting period following the election [...] But the unyielding positions Sarsour took, and the friction they engendered, were also emblematic of a movement that has struggled to strike a balance between big-tent politics and the purity of its platform.[19]

Following her leadership role in the Women's March, Sarsour received personal attacks on social media and conservative news outlets, including false reports that she supported the militant Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and advocated imposing Islamic law in the United States.[4][7] She stated that while the march was a high point in her career, the media attacks that followed caused concern for her safety.[7]

Her critics among American conservatives[9][20] and pro-Israel Democrats[19] have accused her of anti-Semitism for her stance on Middle Eastern politics, including her support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Newsweek's Alexander Nazaryan has called Sarsour "a favorite target of the right".[21] According to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, "Detractors often focus in on Sarsour's frequent criticism of Israel's policies in the occupied territories [...] Ironically, Sarsour’s acknowledgment that Israel has a right to exist, her support of a Jewish man, Bernie Sanders, for president and her relationships with politicians like Mayor Bill de Blasio have earned her criticism by some Islamists as a self-aggrandizing 'house Arab'".[22]

Criticism of Sarsour extends beyond the right wing.[3] Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League called her funding for a Jewish cemetery "great"[3] but said that "We...strongly disagree with her on her positions vis-a-vis Zionism and Israel. She is involved with the BDS movement... It’s troubling when you delegitimize and demonize Israelis. That encourages and spreads anti-Semitism... she asserted that feminism and Zionism are incompatible. In fact, we think they are entirely compatible and complementary."[23][undue weight? ] His predecessor Abraham Foxman said that her progressive activism shouldn't excuse bigotry.[3][context needed] Writing for Haaretz, David Schraub criticized what he called the "histrionic" discourse of both her critics and her defenders, remarking that "Linda Sarsour is a lot like Israel", in that "Both have done genuinely objectionable things...But in both cases... people ... go absolutely wild and lose all sense of perspective and proportion."[24]

Sarsour, along with her three co-chairs, was named as one of Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People" after the January march.[3][25] She has been active in opposing the Trump Administration's ban on travelers from several Muslim-majority countries, and she was named lead plaintiff in a legal challenge brought by the Council on American–Islamic Relations.[4] In Sarsour v. Trump, the plaintiffs argued that the travel ban existed only to keep Muslims out of the United States.[26]

After a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri was vandalized in an apparent anti-Semitic incident in February 2017,[nb 1] Sarsour worked with other Muslim activists to launch a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for repair and restoration work.[28][29][30] The project generated some controversy when the funds, totaling over $162,000, were not distributed as quickly as some had expected.[31][32][33][34] Among other recipients of funds from the effort was a Colorado Jewish cemetery listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[30][34]

Sarsour was a co-chairwoman of the 2017 Day Without a Woman strike and protest, organized to mark International Women's Day. During a demonstration outside Trump International Hotel and Tower in Manhattan, she was arrested along with other leaders of the January Women's March, including Bland, Tamika Mallory, and Carmen Perez.[35][36]

In March 2018, several commentators argued that Sarsour and other Women's March leaders had failed to disassociate themselves from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan after he made anti-Semitic remarks during a speech.[37] Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, wrote that Sarsour's "most notable" response to Farrakhan's remarks was to praise his youthfulness on Facebook.[38][39]

Later controversies

When Sarsour was scheduled to deliver a commencement speech at the City University of New York (CUNY) in June 2017, some American conservatives strongly opposed her selection as speaker.[9][40] Dov Hikind, a Democratic Party state assemblyman in New York, sent Governor Andrew Cuomo a letter objecting to the choice of Sarsour as speaker, signed by 100 Holocaust survivors.[9][20] Hikind objected to Sarsour's role based on her previously having spoken alongside Rasmea Odeh, who was convicted by an Israeli court for taking part in a bombing that killed two civilians in 1969.[9]

Sarsour maintained that she had nothing to apologize for, saying that questions existed about the integrity of Odeh's conviction, that her beliefs had been misrepresented, and that criticism of Israeli policies was being conflated with anti-Semitism. She ascribed the critical reaction to her speech to her prominent role as an organizer for the 2017 Women's March.[9][20] The university chancellor, the dean of the college, and a group of professors defended her right to speak, as did some Jewish groups,[9][20] including Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.[41] A group of prominent left-leaning Jews signed an open letter condemning attacks on Sarsour and promising "to [work] alongside her for a more just and equal society".[42] Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League defended Sarsour's First Amendment right to speak despite opposing her views on Israel.[43][44] A rally in support of Sarsour took place in front of New York's City Hall. Constitutional scholar Fred Smith Jr. tied the controversy to broader disputes over freedom of speech in America.[9]

The controversy may have been intensified by an exchange between Sarsour and a student activist at Dartmouth College that circulated widely on social media. The student had questioned Sarsour about a controversial, deleted tweet referring to Somali-born activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Brigitte Gabriel, leader of the lobbying group ACT! for America. Conservative media outlets emphasized the fact that Sarsour objected to a "white man" raising such a question at the event, which was held to honor Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.[40]

The tweet, in which Sarsour wrote of Ali and Gabriel, "She's asking 4 an a$$ whippin'. I wish I could take their vaginas away - they don't deserve to be women", was circulated by Sarsour's critics as apparent proof of her intolerant views.[40] She had debated both women on radio or television and said that the dispute centered on Ali's and Gabriel's promotion of the idea that Islam is a misogynistic religion.[4] In response, Ali called Sarsour a "fake feminist" and a "defender of sharia law",[4][45] and The New York Times columnist Bari Weiss criticized Sarsour for making "common cause with anti-feminists".[46]

At an address to a May 2017 Islamic Society of North America convention, Sarsour recounted a story from Islamic scripture in which a person asks "What is the best form of jihad or struggle?" The answer, according to her, was "a word of truth in front of a tyrant ruler or leader".[47][48] Speaking of the need for Muslim Americans to defend themselves against anti-Muslim policies from the Trump administration, Sarsour said:

I hope that when we stand up to those who oppress our communities that Allah accepts from us that as a form of jihad, that we are struggling against tyrants and rulers not only abroad in the Middle East or on the other side of the world, but here in these United States of America where you have fascists and white supremacists and Islamophobes reigning in the White House.[48][49]

Sarsour's use of the word jihad was interpreted by several conservative media outlets and personalities as a call for violence against the president. She and others rejected that interpretation, citing her commitment to nonviolent activism.[48][50] Stephen Piggott wrote for the Southern Poverty Law Center's Hatewatch blog that Sarsour's remarks were taken out of context by anti-Muslim groups.[51] Some of her defenders commented that the controversy showed the need for a greater understanding of Islam in the United States.[48][50]

In May 2018, it was reported that a private Israeli intelligence firm had collected information on Sarsour and members of her family on behalf of Act.IL, pro-Israel group; the information was reportedly used in an effort to dissuade American colleges from hosting speakers, such as Sarsour, who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.[52][53][54]

Views on the Israel–Palestine conflict

Sarsour has voiced support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel,[55] which has led to criticism by American conservatives[20][40] and Jewish leaders, including the director ot the Anti-Defamation League,[3] many of whom see the campaign as anti-Semitic.[3][20] Sarsour has stated that Israel has the right to exist, that she wishes to see Israelis and Palestinians coexist as part of a one-state solution, and that she does not support either Hamas or the Palestinian Authority.[2][40]

Sarsour has stated that members of her extended family have been arrested on accusations of supporting Hamas,[7] but said they were not necessarily charged with crimes and that their situation was "just the reality of Palestinians living under military occupation".[2]

According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, "Soon after the Women’s March, [Sarsour] drew fire from Jewish leaders for telling The Nation that unabashed supporters of Israel cannot be feminists."[3] In an interview with The Nation a month and a half earlier, she had said,

I would say that anyone who wants to call themselves an activist cannot be selective. There is no country in this world that is immune to violating human rights. You can't be a feminist in the United States and stand up for the rights of the American woman and then say that you don't want to stand up for the rights of Palestinian women in Palestine. It's all connected.[56]


  1. ^ Police later determined that the confessed vandal was not motivated by religious hatred.[27]


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  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Sales, Ben (May 2, 2017). "Linda Sarsour: Why the Palestinian-American activist is controversial". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Chandler, Michael Alison (February 7, 2017). "March catapults Muslim American into national spotlight and social-media crosshairs". The Washington Post. 
  5. ^ Hatem, Yasmina (December 21, 2007). "Arranged marriages 'alive' in Brooklyn". Al Arabiya News. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f Feuer, Alan (August 9, 2015). "Linda Sarsour Is a Brooklyn Homegirl in a Hijab". The New York Times. p. MB1. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Hajela, Deepti (January 26, 2017). "Attacks target Muslim-American activist after DC march". The Associated Press. 
  8. ^ Harris, Paul (September 5, 2011). "Living with 9/11: the Muslim American". The Guardian. 
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  13. ^ Gjelten, Tom (December 8, 2015). "Some American Muslims Irritated By Obama's Call For Them To 'Root Out' Extremism". NPR. 
  14. ^ Rohan, Tim (August 24, 2017). "Colin Kaepernick Supporters Rally Outside NFL Office". Sports Illustrated. 
  15. ^ Helm, Angela (August 24, 2017). "#ImWithKap: Hundreds Rally at NFL Headquarters for Colin Kaepernick, Call for Boycott if Demands Not Met". The Root. 
  16. ^ "Primary Contest List" (PDF). Board of Elections City of New York. August 31, 2016. Retrieved May 25, 2017. 
  17. ^ "Statement and Return Report by Election District" (PDF). Board of Elections City of New York. September 13, 2016. Retrieved May 25, 2017. 
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  21. ^ Nazaryan, Alexander (September 2, 2017). "Activist Linda Sarsour Attacked for Trying to Help Hurricane Harvey Victims". Newsweek. 
  22. ^ Hajela, Deepti (January 27, 2017). "Brooklyn's Linda Sarsour, Muslim activist, faces more threats after Women's March". Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The Associated Press. 
  23. ^ Berger, Eric (March 22, 2017). "ADL national director assesses battle against anti-Semitism". St. Louis Jewish Light. 
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  25. ^ "See who is on @TIME's list of the world's most influential people #TIME100". Time. 2017. 
  26. ^ Ford, Matt (March 28, 2017). "How Trump's Travel Ban Could Still Be Upheld". The Atlantic. 
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  29. ^ "Jewish governor of Missouri, Muslim activists pitching in to repair vandalized Jewish cemetery". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. February 21, 2017. 
  30. ^ a b "Colorado Jewish cemetery receives money from Linda Sarsour's fundraising campaign". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. December 7, 2017. 
  31. ^ Solomon, Daniel J. (July 12, 2017). "Controversy Swirls Around Jewish Cemetery Fundraising Push Led By Linda Sarsour". The Forward. 
  32. ^ "Linda Sarsour, defending cemetery allocations, lashes out at 'right wing zionists'". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. July 13, 2017. 
  33. ^ "Linda Sarsour Blasts 'Alt-right, Right-wing Zionists' Amid Storm Over Jewish Cemetery Funds". Haaretz. July 13, 2017. 
  34. ^ a b Pink, Aiden (December 6, 2017). "Jewish Cemetery Receives $30K From Linda Sarsour's Crowdfunding Campaign". The Forward. 
  35. ^ Alter, Charlotte (March 8, 2017). "Women's March Organizers Arrested Outside Trump Hotel". Time. 
  36. ^ Chira, Susan; Abrams, Rachel; Rogers, Katie (March 8, 2017). "'Day Without a Woman' Protest Tests a Movement's Staying Power". The New York Times. 
  37. ^ Pagano, John-Paul (March 8, 2018). "The Women's March Has a Farrakhan Problem". The Atlantic. 
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  39. ^ Roth, Daniel J. (March 3, 2018). "Women's March leaders refuse to condemn Farrakhan after antisemitic speech". The Jerusalem Post. 
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  41. ^ "Scuffle erupts at rally against CUNY's hosting of BDS promoter Linda Sarsour". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. May 26, 2017. 
  42. ^ Nathan-Kazis, Josh (June 1, 2017). "100 Prominent Jewish Leaders Condemn Attacks On Linda Sarsour". The Forward. 
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  48. ^ a b c d Abrams, Abigail (July 6, 2017). "Linda Sarsour Spoke of 'Jihad.' But She Wasn't Talking About Violence". Time. 
  49. ^ Schmidt, Samantha. "Muslim activist Linda Sarsour's reference to 'jihad' draws conservative wrath". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 7, 2017.  Republished by The Independent (London, UK).
  50. ^ a b 'Religious illiteracy': Right-wing websites raise ire after Sarsour's 'jihad' comment. Middle East Eye, July 7, 2017
  51. ^ Piggott, Stephen (July 11, 2017). "Islam-Bashers Blast Civil Rights Activist Linda Sarsour, Twisting Her Use of the Word 'Jihad'". Hatewatch. Southern Poverty Law Center. 
  52. ^ Maza, Cristina (May 24, 2018). "Israeli Intelligence Firm Spied on U.S. Activist Linda Sarsour for Sheldon Adelson–Linked Organization, Report Reveals". Newsweek. 
  53. ^ Holmes, Oliver (May 26, 2018). "Israeli intel firm spied on Palestinian-American Linda Sarsour, report says". The Guardian. 
  54. ^ "Israeli intelligence firm reportedly collected info on Linda Sarsour". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. May 24, 2018. 
  55. ^ * Nussbaum Cohen, Debra (January 25, 2017). "Why Jewish Leaders Rally Behind a Palestinian-American Women's March Organizer". Haaretz. In [an interview] Sarsour acknowledged, 'I am a critic of the State of Israel. I always will be. I have come out in full support of BDS.' 
  56. ^ Meyerson, Collier (March 13, 2017). "Can You Be a Zionist Feminist? Linda Sarsour Says No". The Nation. 

Further reading

External links