January 25, 2016 at 7:00 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Rea Carey ‘wholeheartedly’ condemns anti-Semitism at conference

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. 25, 2016, ‘wholeheartedly’ condemned anti-Semitism in the wake of the protest that forced the cancellation of a reception at the Creating Change Conference that was to have featured two LGBT rights advocates from Israel. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey on Monday issued a lengthy statement in which she “wholeheartedly” condemned anti-Semitism.

“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.”

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

13 Comments
  • “From the river to the sea” may not be anti-Semitic but it is pretty clearly rejecitonist. I suppose it could be used by those who want a single secular state in historic Palestine, but it evokes the “drive-them-into-the-sea” rhetoric of the rejectionist Palestinians (mirrored by the “drive-them-into-Jordan” rhetoric of rejectionist Israelis). Probably not the wisest choice of slogan, at least from a tactical standpoint.

  • It’s not the criticism of Israel that is anti-Semitic, its how they chose to voice the opposition is anti-Semitic. They don’t realize when they spit out the word “Zionist Pigs” it brings up the protocols of zion. They don’t realize that when you accuse of pinkwashing, you are accusing jews of controlling the media to try and make money, which is speculative! And itself an accusation wrapped in prejudices used to justify discrimination against jews. They support Palestinians so they borrow the language of the opposition to Israel, but they fundamentally don’t realize that the same language is based in a legacy of oppression and genocide. Support Palestinians, learn Jewish culture and history, then make your opinion known! It’s not hard! Also the idea that of the thousands of terrible problems facing the Palestinians, they are not sitting thinking “Darn, the american gays aren’t on our side, because the Israeli’s tricked them.” That’s so conspiratorial and ridiculous.

    • Criticism of Israel, in and of itself, is not Anti-Semitism. However, the tone of almost all of the Anti-Israel protests is!

      • Erik – but it is the criticism of Israel that is anti-Semitic, when Israel is criticized for things that any country would do to defend its own people. Like when Israeli cities are rocketed, the Government of Israel is going to do whatever is has to do to remove the threat. And they are called war criminals for that. One rocket on El Paso and there would be a giant hole where Mexico used to be – and none of these haters would say a word about it.

  • what does this “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” Have to do with the JEW BASHING CREATING CHANGE POGROM against Israeli Jews are you accusing the gay Israeli Jews of killing anyone. I saw that line in every report by you. Are you inciting more pogroms. Are you accusing Tom Canning of being that settler who killed a toddler.”

    Read a book on journalist ethics and then remove that false accusation from all reports regarding Jerusalem Open Hands for Pride and Tolerance. You are accusing those gay Jews of killing Arabs – that never happened and you know it.

    NEVER AGAIN

    • Absolutely nothing. Plus, the fire was condemned nearly universally by EVERYBODY in Israel. Yet when a young Jewish mother is hacked to death in her own home in front of her young children (and there are hundreds of equally barbaric, savage killings of Jews), the animals who did it are treated like heroes by the “Palestinians” and their “leaders” alike.

  • Opposing the right of the Jewish people to soviergnty – which is what Zionism is – actually is antisemitic. The so-called “Palestinian” people could have had their own state decades ago, if that really were their goal. But the creation of a state is not their goal – their goal is the destruction of a state.

  • I wonder why there was not a police presence to begin with so as to not have this altercation perpetrated partially by people not even registered for the conference. At virtually any Holiday service at any synagogue or any large gathering of Jews in the country there is a police presence upfront to guard against anti-Semitic attacks. The conference organizers might have done this, particularly in light of the public discourse that occurred in the days leading up to it.

  • Rea Carey is clueless.

    The hotel employees were frightened and alarmed by the antisemitic riot.

    Jews were getting kicked, shoved, called antisemitic pejoratives and threatened.

    Calling the police was the right thing to do.

    When she says that the hotel called the police “without consulting us” – she looks like an idiot. I know it’s a CYA move so that the people who would like to see Jews killed without police interference won’t get angry at her, but . . . .

    • They should have been the one to call the police. BTW, Palestinian LGBT people are always attempting to get into Israel as they are in severe danger – often from their own families – in the territories.

      Except for the actions of a few lone fanatics, LGBT people are not in physical danger (at least not because they’re LGBT) in Israel.

      BTW, anything where the Jewish bible prescribes the death penalty requires judicial process (which is filed with all sorts of obstacles and caveats) before it can be carried out. Thus, the terrorist who murdered somebody at a pride parade was not acting according to Jewish law, not even according to the most extreme interpretation!

  • Oh the irony of it! LGBT activists who for 20 years fought for recognition and the same rights as anyone else in Israel are now suddenly the tool of the right-wing government. It’s as laughable as saying that Andy Thayer is a tool of Ted Cruz. Or it would be laughable if it weren’t backed by the assault and verbal violence of his mob on Friday night. I have never in my life been afraid like that. And I’ve faced some pretty tough customers.

    Pinkwashing! What this really means is that any demonstration that Israel is a vibrant, diverse society where activists can make changes — anathema to this ignorant mob. They could have asked the Jerusalem Open House activists what they did to be successful and ask how they could help. But that would crack their one-dimensional facade where people are either bad guys (read Israel) or not of interest (read autocratic repressive regimes of the middle east) or poor underdogs (read Palestinians, whose Arab brothers and sisters won’t help them).

    Alan Amberg,
    Chicago, IL

© Copyright Brown, Naff, Pitts Omnimedia, Inc. 2019. All rights reserved.