Sarah Kala-Meir and Tom Canning of Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance were scheduled to speak at the reception that was to have taken place at the Creating Change Conference in Chicago on Friday.
A Wider Bridge, an organization that describes its mission as building “LGBTQ connections with Israel,” sponsored the reception.
Dean Spade, founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, an organization that serves transgender people and others who are gender non-conforming, in a Jan. 15 blog post criticized the National LGBTQ Task Force over the reception.
Spade, who is also an associate professor at the Seattle University School of Law, described A Wider Bridge as “an Israel advocacy organization.” Spade also accused the organization of “pinkwashing,” promoting the country’s LGBT rights record in an attempt to deflect attention away from its treatment of the Palestinians.
“It is not an organization focused on LGBT Jews, or an organization focused on LGBT Israelis,” wrote Spade. “It is an organization focused on linking LGBT people in the US to Israel, the settler colonial nation engaged in apartheid, condemned by the world.”
“It is an organization whose promotion of Israel is designed to make people think of Israel as a site of liberation and freedom rather than a regime producing colonization and genocide,” added Spade. “As a Jewish trans activist who has sometimes attended Creating Change over the years, I like the idea of having a Shabbat service at the conference, but I do not want Creating Change to invite any Israel advocacy organization to lead it or host programming focused on promoting propaganda about Israel.”
Dark Matter, which describes itself on its website as a “trans south Asian performance art duo,” also criticized the National LGBTQ Task Force over the reception.
— DarkMatter (@DarkMatterPoets) January 13, 2016
National LGBTQ Task Force Deputy Executive Director Russell Roybal on Sunday issued a short statement that acknowledged the reception’s cancellation.
“We cancelled the event as we were concerned about the possibility of this reception becoming intensely divisive rather than a casual and fun social event,” he said.
The National LGBTQ Task Force cancelled the reception less than a week after it announced a panel at the Creating Change Conference that was to have included officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would no longer take place because of “concerns from our community.”
A Wider Bridge Deputy Director Tyler Gregory told the Washington Blade on Sunday that Sue Hyde, director of the Creating Change Conference, on Jan. 14 called Laurie Grauer, his organization’s Midwest manager.
“Sue recommended we either cancel A Wider Bridge’s event, or ensure that our event speakers condemn the Israeli government in their remarks,” Gregory told the Blade.
Gregory said that Grauer “declined both recommendations.”
Gregory told the Blade that Hyde called himself and A Wider Bridge Executive Director Arthur Slepian “to inform us the event was cancelled, citing ‘safety and security concerns.’” Gregory said the National LGBTQ Task Force provided his organization with “no evidence” that backed up their claims.
Gregory said the National LGBTQ Task Force told his organization that the decision to cancel the reception “was final.” He told the Blade that Hyde did not provide A Wider Bridge the names of those he described as “Israel detractors.”
“We are saddened by what appears to be capitulation to the intimidation of a small number of anti-Israel extremists who want to shut down the voices of those who don’t adhere to their rigid and exclusive party line,” said Slepian in a statement.
Slepian announced the reception will now take place at a Chicago hotel on Friday.
“As LGBTQ people, we are all too familiar with being oppressed through shaming, the closet, and imposed silence,” he said. “We see great danger in allowing this kind of censorship and blatant double standard to become the norm in our community.”
Kala-Meir, who is the executive director of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, agreed.
“We will be participating in Creating Change regardless of developments and are looking forward to engaging with LGBT leaders in the U.S,” she told the Blade on Monday in a statement.
“Jerusalem is an ethnically and religiously diverse city, so we are no strangers to disagreements and debates, but we try to talk things through as a community,” added Kala-Meir. “Usually it is only when interacting with Israeli government institutions and religious institution that we get blocked.”
Spade on Monday applauded the National LGBTQ Task Force for canceling both the reception with the Israeli LGBT rights advocates and the ICE panel.
“Over the last five years as LGBT activists in a variety of contexts have exposed pinkwashing events and gotten them canceled once organizers understood the nature of the propaganda, Israel advocacy organization charge ‘censorship,’” Spade told the Blade in an email. “Creating Change’s programming staff are not censoring A Wider Bridge or ICE by canceling their programmed activities. The conference is curated—they decide what programming to include or not include and that is not censorship, it is discernment.”
“They are responding to community concerns about hosting programing that promotes institutions and governments that are harming LGBT people but promoting an image of ‘gay friendliness’ for PR purposes,” added Spade.
Jerusalem Pride march attacked day before West Bank arson
Israeli advocates and their supporters are quick to note the country is the most LGBT-friendly nation in the Middle East.
Israel bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and allows same-sex couples to jointly adopt children. The country also recognizes the marriages of gays and lesbians that were legally performed abroad.
May Peleg, a prominent trans rights advocate who once chaired Jerusalem Open House, last November took her own life.
Peleg’s mother challenged the advocate’s final wishes that she be cremated. The Israeli Supreme Court rejected the challenge to Peleg’s will.
Yishai Schlissel, an Orthodox Jewish man, on July 30, 2015, stabbed Shira Banki, a 16-year-old girl, to death and injured five others during an attack on a Jerusalem pride march that Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance organized.
He had served a 10-year prison sentence in connection with a 2005 attack on a Jerusalem pride march that left three people injured. Authorities released Schlissel three weeks before the July 30 attack.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro are among the officials who condemned last July’s attack on the Jerusalem Pride march. The incident took place a day before two men who grew up in an Israeli settlement on the West Bank allegedly killed a Palestinian toddler and his parents when they set fire to their home in the village of Duma.
“The violence at the Jerusalem Pride march just six months ago, was shocking and has left our community deeply traumatized,” Kala-Meir told the Blade. “It is only one expression of the intolerance that exists in Jerusalem, and has encouraged us to expand our work within religious communities.”
Spade continued to defend the National LGBTQ Task Force.
“I was happy to see Creating Change cancel the ICE workshop and the A Wider Bridge reception,” Spade told the Blade. “It is clear that the liberation of queer and trans people everywhere requires that we oppose the brutal racism of U.S. border enforcement and the colonial violence faced by Palestinians.”
Editor’s note: National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey on Monday issued the following statement in response to the controversy surrounding the decision to cancel the reception.
“Last week, we decided to cancel a Friday night reception at the Creating Change Conference entitled ‘Beyond the Bridge.’ We cancelled the reception when it became clear to us it would be intensely divisive rather than the community-building, social atmosphere which is the norm for Friday night at the conference. While we welcome robust discourse and political action, given the complexity and deep passions on all sides, we concluded the event wouldn’t be productive or meet the stated goals of its organizers. We also have the overarching responsibility to ensure that Creating Change is a safe space for attendees. Since the cancellation, we have been accused of being many things including being anti-Jewish, or anti-Semitic — which are wrong and deeply painful to those of us in the National LGBTQ Task Force family. We believe in the self-determination of all people, no matter where they call home, the right of LGBTQ people to live in peace and safety, and in constructive dialogue that moves the work for social justice forward. We are an organization dedicated to LGBTQ freedom, justice and equality for all.”