“I want to make this crystal clear: The National LGBTQ Task Force wholeheartedly condemns anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic statements made at any Task Force event, including our Creating Change Conference,” she said. “It is unacceptable.”
Carey issued her statement three days after hundreds of protesters forced the cancellation of a reception at the Creating Change Conference in Chicago that was to have featured two LGBT rights advocates from Israel.
A Wider Bridge, an organization seeking to bolster “LGBTQ connections with Israel,” organized the reception.
Sarah Kala-Meir and Tom Canning of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance were scheduled to speak. They left the room in which the reception was taking place through a back door as protesters began shouting.
Those who protested the reception held signs with slogans that expressed their opposition to “pinkwashing,” which they describe as the promotion of Israel’s LGBT rights record in an attempt to deflect attention away from its controversial policies towards the Palestinians. A video that the Windy City Times shot shows some of protesters chanting “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea” as they marched towards the room in which the reception was taking place.
Those who describe themselves as pro-Israel note the slogan has been used by those who support the destruction of the Jewish state. The Guardian reported that Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas, a militant group the State Department has designed as a terrorist organization, used a variation of this chant during a 2012 rally that marked his return to the Gaza Strip.
Hamas has governed the Gaza Strip since 2007.
Carey: Police called ‘without consulting us’
A second video of the Creating Change Conference protest the Windy City Times captured shows someone placing a Palestinian flag over the head of a man who was trying to enter the reception. The protesters began chanting “shame on you!” after he ripped it down and began yelling into the crowd.
Carey in her statement noted the National LGBTQ Task Force “acted to defuse the situation to the best of our ability.” She said security personnel at the Chicago Hilton where the Creating Change Conference took place called the police “without consulting us.”
“We are deeply concerned about how the events of the evening unfolded,” said Carey.
Tony Varona, a professor at American University Washington College of Law in D.C. who is a former member of the Human Rights Campaign board of directors, attended the reception.
He told the Blade on Monday that he heard “verbal attacks” from some of the protesters “about how the organizers and the attendees had blood on our hands, how we were celebrating over dead bodies, didn’t care about people of color, etc., etc., and that Israel had to be destroyed.” Varona said he did not personally hear any protesters use anti-Semitic slurs, but “heard that others did.”
“I was sickened by the anti-Semitic under- and overtones throughout the protest,” he said.
Varona, who has attended a number of Creating Change Conferences since the first one took place 28 years ago, over the weekend posted to his Facebook page an open letter to Carey, National LGBTQ Task Force Deputy Executive Director Russell Roybal and Creating Change Conference Director Sue Hyde.
“Until and unless the Task Force addresses the harm(s) done, course-corrects and distances itself from the anti-Semitism, bullying, and censorship soaking this conference, I am afraid I can no longer support the Task Force in any manner nor attend another Creating Change,” wrote Varona.
Nancy K. Kaufman, chief executive officer of the National Council of Jewish Women, which provides funding to the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, in a statement said her organization is “outraged by the harassment and censorship inflicted on the Israelis who were invited to speak” at the Creating Change Conference. Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson and Roberta Kaplan, the lawyer who represented Edith Windsor before the U.S. Supreme Court that challenged the Defense of Marriage Act, are among those who also criticized the protest.
“The assault by around 200 members of the LGBTQ community on Jewish guests, queer and otherwise, at the reception held by A Wider Bridge for the LGBT community center, Jerusalem Open House, was a stain on the LGBT community at large,” Dana Beyer, a member of the A Wider Bridge board of directors who lives in Maryland, told the Washington Blade on Monday. “It also highlighted the failure of the Task Force to provide an actual physical safe space for one of its communities, having bought into the belief that ‘safe space’ means “safe from emotional or intellectual challenge.”
Arthur Slepian, executive director of A Wider Bridge, described Carey’s statement as “a good start.”
“But we were disappointed that the statement did not explicitly address the topic of Israel as well as anti-Semitism,” Slepian told the Blade.
Others continued to defend the protesters.
Pauline Park, chair of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy, traveled to the West Bank in 2012 with a group of LGBT rights advocates.
She criticized the National LGBTQ Task Force’s decision to invite A Wider Bridge — which she described as “nothing more than a front for the right-wing government” of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — to take part in the Creating Change Conference. Park, who did not attend the Creating Change Conference herself, on Monday told the Blade that the National LGBTQ Task Force should endorse the campaign in support of a boycott, economic divestment and sanctions against Israel over its policy towards the Palestinians if it “were really committed to social justice as its leadership claims.”
“By inviting A Wider Bridge to use Creating Change as a platform to pinkwash the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine, the Task Force implicitly endorsed the occupation and the apartheid regime used to enforce it, thus betraying queer Palestinians as well as the organization’s own nominal commitment to progressive social and political change,” she said.
Alex Shams, a doctoral student at the University of Chicago who recently lived on the West Bank, took part in the protest.
Shams told the Blade on Monday that it was against A Wider Bridge and not Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance. Shams added the protest was not anti-Semitic.
“Protesting against the Israeli government for its human rights violations against the Palestinian people is not anti-Semitism,” Shams told the Blade. “But the Task Force’s statement implies it is, which is deeply problematic.”
Andy Thayer of the Gay Liberation Network, who also took part in the protest, agreed.
“The allegation that the ‘from the river to the sea’ slogan is anti-Semitic is a classic elision of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, to provide cover for Zionism,” he told the Blade on Monday.
Protest organizers did not return Blade’s request for comment before deadline.
A review of ‘conference practices’ underway
The National LGBTQ Task Force earlier this month announced it had cancelled the reception amid criticism from Dean Spade, founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, and others, including the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity. The organization also said it would no longer hold a panel that was to have included officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement amid “concerns from our community” over the Obama administration’s policies towards undocumented immigrants.
The National LGBTQ Task Force subsequently reversed its decision to cancel the A Wider Bridge reception.
The reception was to have taken place less than five months after an Orthodox Jewish man stabbed a 16-year-old girl to death and injured five others during an attack on a 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 when they set fire to their home near the West Bank city of Nablus.
Kala-Meir, who is the executive director of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, told the Blade after the protest that she and Canning “are still quite post-traumatic from the attack at Jerusalem pride.”
“I wanted especially to hear from Jerusalem Open House and how it has been recovering from and responding to the murderous terrorist attack against its Pride march last year,” said Varona. “Sadly, they were not only silenced, but literally forced off the stage by the protestors.”
Carey in her statement conceded the weeks leading up to this year’s Creating Change Conference have “been rough.” She further noted the protest is the first time in the 28 year history of the annual event that a reception has been targeted.
“The events leading up to and during it has been extremely hurtful to many — and for really different reasons,” she said.
Carey said the National LGBTQ Task Force has “initiated a review of our conference practices.”
“In light of all that has happened, I have already started a review of the conference so we can make needed changes in the future,” she said.
“There is clearly a lot of work to do, and we look forward to working with the Task Force in the coming year to help make Creating Change into a safer space for Jews, but also a space that can safely hold more than one narrative about Israel,” Slepian told the Blade.
Shams remained critical of the National LGBTQ Task Force, questioning why the organization did not reach out to protest organizers and those who took part in it.
“News of the action was public for days and weeks beforehand, but apparently they couldn’t be bothered to listen to the concerns of their members, or to take them seriously,” Shams told the Blade. “Instead, they prioritized an organization whose sole purpose is to spread propaganda on behalf of the Israeli government.”