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Linda Sarsour (born 1980)[1] is a Palestinian-American political activist and former executive director of the Arab American Association of New York. She was one of the organizers of the 2017 Women's March. According to the New York Times, she has attracted controversy and "hate-tinged criticism" for her political activism.

Linda Sarsour
Linda Sarsour speaking at a panel discussion
Sarsour in May 2016
Born 1980
Brooklyn, New York, United States
Residence Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, New York, United States
Nationality American
Alma mater Kingsborough Community College
Brooklyn College
Occupation Activist, writer
Known for Co-chair of the 2017 Women's March


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.[2][3] After high school, she took courses at Kingsborough Community College and Brooklyn College with the goal of becoming an English teacher.[4] As of 2011 Sarsour lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.[2]

Political activism career

"We are in a critical moment as a country and I feel compelled to focus my energy on the national level and building the capacity of the progressive movement, so it is with a heavy heart that I announce that I will be leaving my post as the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York."
—Linda Sarsour, in her resignation letter from her position as executive director of the Brooklyn-based Arab American Association of New York, February 2017[5]

Shortly before the September 11 attacks, Sarsour began to volunteer for the Arab American Association of New York.[2][3] Sarsour's activism included defending the civil rights of Muslim Americans following the attacks.[6] She worked to have Muslim holidays recognized in New York City's public schools,[4] and later gained wider attention protesting police surveillance of Muslim Americans.[6]

In 2007 Sarsour appeared in The Hijabi Monologues, a performance art piece based on stories about veiling.[7]

Sarsour was appointed as director of the Arab American Association of New York in 2011, having already served in a variety of roles at the organization.[4] As director, 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. Sarsour and her organization pressed for the law after instances of what they saw as biased policing in local neighborhoods, and it passed over the objections of the city's mayor and police chief.[4] In 2011 Sarsour participated in the Women's Media Center's Progressive Women's Voices Media and Leadership Training Program.[8] In 2016 she ran for a position as a County Committee member with the Democratic Party of Kings County, New York.[9] She placed third in that election.[10]

Sarsour, named as one of Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People",[3][11] has spoken of the importance of her former organization in building a progressive movement in the United States.[12][not specific enough to verify] She became a regular attendee at Black Lives Matter demonstrations as well as a frequent television commentator on feminism.[6] According to the New York Times, Sarsour "has tackled issues like immigration policy, mass incarceration, stop-and-frisk and the New York Police Department’s spying operation on Muslims — all of which have largely inured her to hate-tinged criticism."[13]

Sarsour spoke as a surrogate for U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders during the 2016 presidential campaign.[3] 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 acknowledgement 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'".[14]

Liberals have praised Sarsour's activism.[3] During the presidency of Barack Obama, the White House recognized Sarsour as a "champion of change". After President Donald Trump took office, the White House removed the mention of Sarsour from its website.[6]

Teresa Shook and Bob Bland recruited Sarsour to be a co-chair of the 2017 Women's March, held the day after the Inauguration of Donald Trump as President.[15] After the march, which brought Sarsour additional publicity, she was targeted with Islamophobic criticism and false reports that she supported the militant Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and advocated imposing Islamic law in the United States. As a result of the attacks by what Sarsour called "fake news purveyors", she described taking extra safety precautions such as not going out alone in public, using car services instead of public transit, and not allowing her children to be alone at home.[6]

After a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri was vandalized in an apparent anti-Semitic incident in February 2017, Sarsour worked with other Muslim activists to launch a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to repair the damage and restore the gravesites. More than $125,000 was raised, and Sarsour pledged to donate any funds not needed at the cemetery to other Jewish community centers or sites targeted by vandalism. She said the fundraising effort would "send a united message from the Jewish and Muslim communities that there is no place for this type of hate, desecration, and violence in America".[16][17] St. Louis's United Hebrew Congregation Senior Rabbi, Brigitte S. Rosenberg, whose congregants have family members buried in the vandalized cemetery, called the campaign "a beautiful gesture".[18] The project generated some controversy as the funds were not distributed as quickly as some had expected.[19][20]

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, Sarsour was arrested along with other leaders of the January Women's March, including Bland, Tamika Mallory, and Carmen Perez.[21][22]


Sarsour's delivery of a graduation address at the City University of New York in June 2017 drew criticism from conservative commentators, some of whom have argued that Sarsour's views are anti-Semitic, in part because she has voiced support for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against the state of Israel.[23][24] Dov Hikind, a state assemblyman in New York, sent Governor Andrew Cuomo a letter objecting to the choice of Sarsour as commencement speaker, signed by 100 Holocaust survivors.[25] Sarsour said her beliefs had been misrepresented, and that criticism of Israel's policies was being conflated with anti-Semitism. She ascribed the critical reaction to her speech to her prominent role as an organizer for the January 2017 Women's March on Washington.[23] Both requests for the speech to be canceled and letters of support for Sarsour were circulated.[24]

Somali-born activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali criticized Sarsour as a "defender of sharia law."[26][27] Sarsour said in a 2011 tweet that Ali and another woman "don't deserve to be women... I wish I could take their vaginas away".[26] When a Dartmouth College student activist asked her about it at an event for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Sarsour asked whether the questioner, whom she identified as a "white man," should ask such a question at an event for people of color. She then said, "People say stupid shit sometimes, right? I will be judged by my impeccable track record," citing various human rights causes she championed. The activist's organization, which publicized the exchange, linked the tweet to Ali's experience as a victim of female genital mutilation in Somalia.[24]

Sarsour again drew criticism from conservative sources over her use of the term jihad at an address to a convention of the Islamic Society of North America.[28][29] 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 Sarsour, was "a word of truth in front of a tyrant ruler or leader".[29] Speaking of the need for Muslim Americans to defend themselves against anti-Muslim policies from the Trump administration, Sarsour said:

I hope that we 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.[29][30]

Jihad, an Arabic word which literally means "striving" or "struggling", was interpreted by some conservative media outlets and personalities as implying a call for violence against the president. Sarsour denied this, citing her history of nonviolent activism. Some defenders of Sarsour on social media commented that the controversy showed the need for a greater understanding of Islam in the United Sates.[29]

Sarsour was again the focus of criticism for a July 2017 tweet linking journalist Jake Tapper to the online collection of white nationalist publications and forums known as the "alt-right". Emily Shire of The Daily Beast called the tweet "an attempt to slander Tapper".[20] Tapper had originally criticized a tweet from the Women's March account in honor of Assata Shakur, who was convicted of killing a New Jersey state trooper in 1973 and later added to the FBI's list of most wanted terrorists.[20]

Views on Israel-Palestine conflict

Sarsour has stated that she does not support either the Palestinian militant group Hamas or the Palestinian Authority, preferring nonviolent Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation policies.[8][non-primary source needed] She told New York station NY1:

I do believe that Israel has the right to exist [...] I mean I wouldn't want — I mean where are they gonna go? That's why I want a one-state solution. I think we can all live together in one state with peace and justice and equality for all.[8]

Sarsour has voiced support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel,[31] which has led to criticism from leaders of the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization that monitors anti-Semitism.[3] She has stated that members of her extended family have been arrested on accusations of supporting Hamas, but said they were not necessarily charged with crimes and that their situation was "just the reality of Palestinians living under military occupation".[8][6]

Jewish leaders have criticized Sarsour for stating that support for Israel is incompatible with feminism.[3] In an interview with The Nation, she said, "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."[32]


  1. ^ Mitter, Siddhartha (May 9, 2015). "Linda Sarsour: New Generation of Muslim Activists". Al Jazeera America. Retrieved April 10, 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c d Mishkin, Budd (July 26, 2011). "One On 1: Arab American Association Director Finds Time For It All". NY1. Retrieved January 26, 2017. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Sales, Ben (May 2, 2017). "Linda Sarsour: Why the Palestinian-American activist is controversial". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 
  4. ^ a b c d Feuer, Alan (August 9, 2015). "Linda Sarsour Is a Brooklyn Homegirl in a Hijab". The New York Times. p. MB1. Retrieved January 26, 2017. 
  5. ^ Katinas, Paula (February 21, 2017). "Sarsour leaving post at Arab American Association of NY". Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f Hajela, Deepti (January 26, 2017). "Attacks target Muslim-American activist after DC march". The Associated Press. 
  7. ^ Sahar Amer (September 9, 2014). What is Veiling?. Edinburgh University Press. p. 228. ISBN 978-0-7486-9684-0. 
  8. ^ a b c d Budd Mishkin (July 26, 2011). "One On 1: Arab American Association Director Finds Time For It All". NY1. 
  9. ^ "Primary Contest List" (PDF). Board of Elections City of New York. August 31, 2016. Retrieved May 25, 2017. 
  10. ^ "Statement and Return Report by Election District" (PDF). Board of Elections City of New York. September 13, 2016. Retrieved May 25, 2017. 
  11. ^ "See who is on @TIME's list of the world’s most influential people #TIME100". Time. 2017. 
  12. ^
    • Katinas, Paula (February 21, 2017). "Sarsour leaving post at Arab American Association of NY". Brooklyn Daily Eagle. We are in a critical moment as a country and I feel compelled to focus my energy on the national level and building the capacity of the progressive movement, so it is with a heavy heart that I announce that I will be leaving my post as the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York. 
    • Alter, Charlotte (January 20, 2017). "How the Women's March Has United Progressives of All Stripes". Time. Bland quickly realized that in order to transform the march from an angry Facebook group into a progressive coalition, she'd need help. She enlisted veteran organizers Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour as national co-chairs... "people are expecting us to show up at a march and talk about our bodies and our reproductive rights," says co-chair Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York. Instead, she says, "we're bringing together all the progressive movements. 
    • Walters, Joanna (January 14, 2017). "Women's March on Washington set to be one of America's biggest protests". The Guardian. We have no choice. We need to stand up against an administration that threatens everything we believe in, in what we hope will become one of the largest grassroots, progressive movements ever seen, said Sarsour. 
  13. ^ Rosenberg, Eli (2017-05-26). "A Muslim-American Activist’s Speech Raises Ire Even Before It’s Delivered". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-07-19. 
  14. ^ Hajela, Deepti (January 27, 2017). "Brooklyn's Linda Sarsour, Muslim activist, faces more threats after Women's March". Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The Associated Press. 
  15. ^ Alter, Charlotte (January 20, 2017). "The Women's March on Washington United Progressives". Time. Retrieved January 23, 2017. 
  16. ^ Hanau, Shira (February 22, 2017). "Muslims 'Overjoyed' As Donations Pour In To Repair Vandalized St. Louis Jewish Cemetery". The Forward.
  17. ^ "Jewish governor of Missouri, Muslim activists pitching in to repair vandalized Jewish cemetery". Jewish Telegraphic Agency, February 21, 2017
  18. ^ Kestenbaum, Sam (February 23, 2017). "Muslim Campaign For Jewish Cemetery Praised As 'Beautiful Gesture' — But Some Question Motives". The Forward.
  19. ^ Solomon, Daniel J. (July 12, 2017). "Controversy Swirls Around Jewish Cemetery Fundraising Push Led By Linda Sarsour". The Forward. 
  20. ^ a b c Nazaryan, Alexander. "CNN's Jake Tapper is alt-right lackey, liberal activist Linda Sarsour says". Newsweek. Retrieved 20 July 2017. 
  21. ^ Alter, Charlotte (March 8, 2017). "Women's March Organizers Arrested Outside Trump Hotel". Time. 
  22. ^ Chira, Susan; Abrams, Rachel; Rogers, Katie (March 8, 2017). "'Day Without a Woman' Protest Tests a Movement's Staying Power". The New York Times. 
  23. ^ a b Reilly, Katie (May 31, 2017). "Linda Sarsour’s CUNY Commencement Address Has Become a Right-Wing Target". Time. 
  24. ^ a b c Nazaryan, Alexander (May 24, 2017). "Linda Sarsour, Feminist Movement Leader, Too Extreme for CUNY Graduation Speech, Critics Argue". Newsweek. 
  25. ^ Rosenberg, Eli (2017-05-26). "A Muslim-American Activist’s Speech Raises Ire Even Before It’s Delivered". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-07-23. 
  26. ^ a b "Ayaan Hirsi Ali says controversial Women's March organizer is a 'fake feminist'". Women in the World, The New York Times. February 2, 2017. 
  27. ^ "'Defender of Sharia': Ayaan Hirsi Ali Slams Women's March Organizer". Fox News. Retrieved February 2, 2017. 
  28. ^ Moore, Jack (July 7, 2017). "Women's March organizer Linda Sarsour says standing up to Trump is a 'jihad'". Newsweek. 
  29. ^ a b c d Abrams, Abigail (July 6, 2017). "Linda Sarsour Spoke of 'Jihad.' But She Wasn't Talking About Violence". Time. 
  30. ^ Schmidt, Samantha. "Muslim activist Linda Sarsour's reference to 'jihad' draws conservative wrath". The Washington Post. Retrieved 7 July 2017. 
  31. ^ * 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.' 
  32. ^ "Can You Be a Zionist Feminist? Linda Sarsour Says No". The Nation. March 13, 2017. 

Further reading

External links