January 19, 2016 at 11:37 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Group reverses decision to cancel reception with Israeli activists

Rea Carey, gay news, Washington Blade, ACA, Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, National LGBTQ Task Force

National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey on Jan. 19, 2016, announced her organization has reversed its decision to cancel a reception at its annual conference that was to have featured two LGBT rights advocates from Israel. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The National LGBTQ Task Force on Tuesday announced it has reversed its decision to cancel a reception at its annual conference that was to have featured two advocates from Israel.

“Having taken in a range of information and seeing what has happened over the last couple of days, I have decided to reverse our decision to cancel the ‘Beyond the Bridge’ reception,” said National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey in a statement.

A Wider Bridge, an organization that describes its mission as building “LGBTQ connections with Israel,” sponsored the reception that was scheduled to take place on Friday at the Creating Change Conference in Chicago. Sarah Kala-Meir and Tom Canning of Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance had been scheduled to speak at the gathering.

The National LGBTQ Task Force cancelled the reception amid criticism from Dean Spade, founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, and others who accused A Wider Bridge of promoting Israel’s LGBT rights record in an attempt to deflect attention away from its treatment of the Palestinians.

The decision to cancel the reception sparked outrage among LGBT rights advocates in Israel and in the U.S.

“In reversing the decision today, we want to make it quite clear that the Creating Change Conference will always be a safe space for inclusion and dialogue for people with often widely different views,” said Carey in her statement. “It was not at all our intention to censor representatives of the Jerusalem Open House or A Wider Bridge at Creating Change and I apologize that our actions left people feeling silenced.”

A Wider Bridge in a statement thanked Carey and the National LGBTQ Task Force for reversing their decision.

“We look forward to bringing our important work, and the work of Jerusalem Open House, to Creating Change in Chicago,” said A Wider Bridge. “Our goal is to always engage in constructive dialogue that will further our cause, and now we can continue our important work for our worldwide community.”

Kala-Meir, who is the executive director of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, in a statement described the National LGBTQ Task Force’s apology as “sincere.”

“As a home for all LGBTQ Jerusalemites, it is only natural that we find among us people from diverse backgrounds, political affiliations, ethnicity and religions,” she said. “While recognizing the sensitivities and complexities of working within a conflict situation, we try to focus on our commonality rather than our differences, and to serve everyone regardless.”

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt also welcomed the decision to allow the reception to take place at the conference.

“We are very pleased that the Task Force has reversed course and taken responsibility for their deeply misguided decision to cancel this reception,” he said.

Spade expressed disappointment.

“This indicates that there is a lot of work still to do to build understanding and discernment within the Task Force about how Israel advocacy organizations use pinkwashing,” Spade told the Washington Blade.

“These events are still a victory for those who oppose pinkwashing because they have raised this conversation to national attention and are providing an opportunity for meaningful engagement in queer and trans communities about how purportedly ‘pro-gay’ propaganda works and why opposing racism, occupation and apartheid is essential to our liberation,” added Spade.

Spade earlier on Tuesday noted he does engage in “collaborations with Israelis” that are not part of efforts backed by the Israeli government. Spade also expressed opposition to groups that “promote Israeli government funded propaganda tools, normalize occupation and apartheid by talking about ‘gay rights in Israel’ without opposing the fact that LGBT people who are Palestinian live under occupation and apartheid.”

The reception will take place less than five months after Yishai Schlissel, an Orthodox Jewish man, stabbed 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. The July 30, 2015, incident took place a day before two Jewish settlers allegedly killed a Palestinian toddler and his parents on the West Bank when they set fire to their home.

The National LGBTQ Task Force earlier this month announced the cancellation of a panel at the Creating Change Conference that was to have included officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The advocacy group in a statement said it made the decision in response to “concerns from our community.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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