January 18, 2016 at 12:32 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
LGBT group cancels conference reception with Israeli activists

Jerusalem, gay news, Washington Blade

The National LGBTQ Task Force has cancelled a reception with two Israeli LGBT rights advocates that was to have taken place at its annual conference on Jan. 22. (Photo by Wayne McLean; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The National LGBTQ Task Force has cancelled a reception at its upcoming conference that was to have featured two advocates from Israel.

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.

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.

Shira Banki, Jerusalem Pride, gay news, Washington Blade

Shira Banki was stabbed to death at a Jerusalem Pride parade in July 2015. (Photo courtesy of Jerusalem Open House)

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.”

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

  • scottrose

    The U.N. Partition Plan of 1947 was a two-state plan that foresaw an Arab state, a Jewish state and Jerusalem as an international protectorate with no one religion dominating another.
    Middle Eastern Jews accepted that two state plan; Arabs rejected it.
    Had the Arabs like the Jews accepted that two-state plan, there would have been no wars and no refugees.
    Israel bashers are either Jew haters — though sometimes Jews with internalized antisemitism — or ignorant.
    If Hamas, Fatah, Iran or any of the other Islamic entities committed to Israel’s destruction have their way, what will become of LGBTers currently living in Israel?
    Don’t look for Israel-bashers to give a damn about them.

  • MRMSN

    As LGBT people we have a commonality in purpose and we should never be divided, ever, least of all by our own leadership. I have lost all respect for The Task Force and believe they owe A Wider bridge and the Jewish LGBT community an apology. What they have done is no different to what Trump is suggesting we do – that we paint all Muslims as terrorists and hence let none into the USA. Task Force is painting all Jews and all Israelis with a single over-simplistic taint and worse yet at the behest of a threatening handful of anti Israel activists.

    Many Activists have come out against this move by Task Force. See their comment here.

    http://oblogdeeoblogda.me/2016/01/18/famed-lgbt-voices-blast-task-force-for-banning-jewish-event-from-creating-change-conference/

  • Joseph Singer

    While I understand there were concerns it might be a divisive action, italso concerns me that the group wasn’t willing to risk controversy in the name of dialogue.

    • scottrose

      The Task Force alleges that there were “safety concerns,” meaning that the Israel-bashers said something to the Task Force like “Cancel the Israeli LGBT group’s participation or we will mess up your event.”

      Caving to THAT is despicable.

      How did Task Force leaders know that “safety” would be a “concern” if it hadn’t received threats of violence from the Israel bashers?

  • Suzan Cooke

    If the NGLTF decides to join the rabidly antisemitic BDS Movement they can forget ever getting another penny from me in the way of support.

  • zionist&proud

    I realise how inconvenient it is is for some in the American community that Israel is the most progressive country in a thousand mile radius when it comes to LGBT issues. For those who don’t like the reality that we exist, I have one thing to say:

    We’re Queer! We’re Here! Get used to it!

  • alex

    So if the task force is not anti Israel or Anti Jewish…it is at the very least made of a bunch of pathologically bullied chicken-sh –ts. Shame on you all for targeting the only liberal democracy (warts and all) in the middle east that protects the rights of the LGBT community. Shame shame shame and I say it again for emphsis ….. SHAME!!!!!!!!!!

  • David Feinberg

    I read nothing in the report to show that the Wider Bridge reception was serving to promote Israeli government policies in the West Bank. I am therefore left to conclude that this is not a case of pinkwashing, but just the opposite: exploiting an LGBT rights forum to advance an anti-Israel agenda. Furthermore, Spade’s over-the-top characterization of Israeli policy as “genocidal” makes me wonder about his ability to engage in level-headed discussion regarding the advancement of transgender rights.

  • jim jim

    ONLY evil people would attack Israel on this point.

    The benefit of being gay in ANY Sharia Country…….(please feel free to comment as I can find NONE)

    The benefit of being gay in Isreal – (from http://timeout.co.il/en/art-an

    There are over 18,000 gay and lesbian households in Israel and over 3,000 children are raised by two fathers or mothers.

    Tel Aviv has been named the world’s number one gay city, outranking even New York City. The survey carried out by American Airlines and GayCities.com shows that the most popular destination for gay travelers – with 43 % of the votes, is the eternal White City.

    The option of registering yourself as a couple with your boyfriend/girlfriend will give you identical rights to a straight couple with the same legal status. Even happier news: according to a recent poll, almost two thirds of Israel’s population supports equal marriage rights for same-sex couples.

    Same-sex marriages performed abroad are legally recognized in Israel

    The left have the following opinions though;

    When is it perfectly acceptable to beat a gay person for being gay with a stick – when you hold a quran in your free hand.

    When is it perfectly acceptable to stone a gay person for being gay with a rock- when you hold a quran in your free hand.

    When is it perfectly acceptable to hang a gay person for being gay with a rope – when you hold a quran in your free hand.

    When is it perfectly acceptable to push a gay person for being gay off a tall building – when you hold a quran in your free hand.

  • Leedynamo

    Some of the comments here are deeply discouraging. We do not need more propaganda. Given the intolerance and brutality present in Israeli society, it seems fair to expect inclusiveness rather than propagandizing.

    EVERY commenter here should address themselves to the murder of Shira Banki reported in the second article. Instead of covering up its faults Israel should deal with them.

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