January 29, 2016 at 4:05 pm EDT | by Dorgham Abusalim
Creating Change protests not anti-Semitic
Creating Change, gay news, Washington Blade

Protesters on Jan. 23, 2016, gather outside reception at the National LGBTQ Task Force’s annual Creating Change Conference in Chicago that was to have featured two LGBT rights advocates from Israel. (Photo courtesy of Andy Thayer/Gay Liberation Network)

Last week, the National LGBTQ Task Force held its annual Creating Change conference in Chicago. The Task Force, established in 1973, set out to build a future where everyone is free to be themselves in every aspect of their lives,” across a variety of issues including employment, healthcare, and basic human rights.

According to the conference program, Rea Carey, executive director of the Task Force, welcomed participants with these words: “That’s why we are here this week: to tear down ALL the barriers we face between us and true liberation — and to support and lift-up one another in spirit, camaraderie and love.” (Emphasis their own).

However, one particular event on Jan. 22 put these noble words to the test. A session with A Wider Bridge, a pro-Israeli LGBT organization, was challenged by protesters and cancelled over the organization’s cooperation with the Israeli government whose policies violate the human rights of Palestinians living under occupation. The cancellation of the event raised eyebrows, prompting a barrage of angry reactions and accusations of anti-Semitism against the protesters and conference organizers. For instance, Slate Magazine’s LGBTQ blogger ran the headline “The LGBTQ Left Has an Anti-Semitism Problem,” an OUT magazine headline notes that the protests were “pure anti-Semitism,” and 90 LGBTQ activists signed a statement to Carey describing the protests as “anti-Semitic” and “dangerous,” posing the following question: “where do we as a progressive social movement go from here?” A cursory search of news surrounding the event brings up 80+ articles of similar views. For her part, Carey released a “crystal clear” statement: “the National LGBTQ Task Force wholeheartedly condemns anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic statements made at any Task Force event including our Creating Change Conference,” promising a review of the event and improvements to cope with “the challenges of a growing attendance.”

The Blade’s own Mr. Kevin Naff shared his opinion in an account of his own experience with A Wider Bridge, Israel, and Palestine. Yet, despite his coolheaded appeal to ensure that all voices should be heard, including critical ones, Mr. Naff reaches a similar conclusion: the protests were offensive and anti-Semitic.

Were they?

I do not believe so. Instead, I believe the repeated deployment of anti-Semitism against those who criticize Israel and the wide arm of organizations it works with is both unsophisticated and demeaning. In fact, the charge of anti-Semitism is merely an iteration of a larger force that has dominated the Israeli-Palestinian conversation in the U.S. It’s the kind of force that unleashes itself almost by default at any hint of strongly grounded criticism of Israel. It’s called civility. As Steven Salaita puts it in his work, Uncivil Rites, civility is a regime that always has difficulty accommodating systematic critiques, let alone expression of those critiques in unfashionable manners. Of course, the protestors were disruptive, uncomfortable perhaps, and so is every bit of the goals the Task Force seeks to accomplish, or any “progressive” civil rights movement for that matter. Change, at least the effective kind, does not come with comfort. If that were case, then the history we know about many civil rights movements in this country and around the world would be a lie.

Perhaps one particular chant at the protests drove such strong disapproval, to the tune of challenging a deeply rooted and accomplished organization: “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea.” A superficial reading would invariably cause anyone who hears it to believe it means the destruction of Israel. Yet, most of the reactions fail to understand that the chant is equally applicable to an increasingly embraced idea: the one State solution, where freedom should indeed reign from the river to the see. Alternatively, as U.S. Ambassador to Israel put it, we are left with a single state with two standards of adherence to the rule of law, one favorable to Israelis and one unfavorable to Palestinians.

Not only is the charge of anti-Semitism unsophisticated and incapable of grappling with the realities of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, it also does far greater harm than good. Nearly all the opinions assumed their views with the understanding that the session with A Wider Bridge should have been permitted to take place. I do too. But, unlike those opinions, mine is a view that does not find it necessary or appropriate to say that silencing the session is anti-Semitic. Rather, permitting it to take place would only be a commitment to the principles and ideals of the Task Force and Creating Change – something that is neither Semitic nor anti-Semitic.

The irony is that opinions rallying around anti-Semitism practically commit the same mistake: silencing and discrediting the protestors. In doing so, the harm is twofold. The other side is almost instantly excluded from the conversation, marked as undesirable or uninvited, and therefore it also stifles the conversation. For instance, in an exchange on Facebook, one friend commented on Mr. Naff’s opinion, “I stopped [reading] at the description of the protest as anti-Semitic and of “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea” as a “genocidal chant [that] is an overt call for the destruction of Israel.”

Finally, one illegal Israeli settler recently shared his thoughts on the matter, “there’s still anti-Semitism in America,” speaking about country clubs and neighborhoods in Chicago that exclude Jews. Yet, one rarely hears about this sort of anti-Semitism. It seems as though nowadays anti-Semitism only dominates the headlines in the Israeli-Palestinian context, especially when Israeli policies are criticized.

As the progressive movement works to recover from this episode, it would be wise to understand that scapegoating a tremendously painful past, one where anti-Semitism wreaked havoc and unspeakable horrors, would only reinforce the idea that all voices should be heard as long as they conform to the rules of civility. The issue is not about the Task Force’s ability to handle growing attendance; rather it’s about what it, and the progressive movement at large, will do when challenged by an increasingly knowledgeable audience about Israel’s human rights violations. After all, nearly a quarter-century of peace negotiations grounded in civility has nothing to show but stagnation or regressive change at best, surely not a change genuinely committed to the human rights of all.

11 Comments
  • What a load of garbage from Dorgham Abusalim.

    Jewish attendees at the antisemitic riot were shoved, kicked, hit, threatened, intimidated in hopes that they would stop filming the riot, called anti-semitic pejoratives, smothered with the Palestinian flag and finally, not allowed to finish their presentation.

    If similar assaults, anti-gay pejoratives, threats and incivility had been launched against LGBTers at the conference by anti-gay rioters, nobody would be alleging that the riot was not anti-gay — save perhaps for the anti-gay rioters, BIGOTS who think they are as correct to be anti-gay as the antisemitic Chicago rioters — also BIGOTS — think they are to be antisemitic and anti-Israel.

    Abusalim also is guilty of promoting garbage propaganda (lies) where he alleges that antisemitism in America refers only to anti-Israel venom — such as his — whereas in fact, the conspiracy theory that Israelis carried out the 9/11 attacks is widespread among antisemities — including Muslim Jew haters — in the United States and elsewhere, there was a shooting attack against a Jewish Community Center in Kansas — and the attacker said he intended to kill Jews — David Duke is widely reviled for being a Jew hater — a school 90 miles north of NYC experienced heavy antisemitic bullying of students and wound up having to pay an astronomical settlement fee and on and on and on.

    In late November, a man arrived at West Side Judaica — a Jewish book store in New York City, said “I am a Muslim, F you Jews, I’m going to kill you all” and then attacked the Jewish book store manager.

    Nobody with any knowledge of the topic of antisemitism in the United States believes — as this utter jerk Abusalim asserts — that only those who demonize, lie about, attempt to delegitamize Israel and riot against Israelis in the United States get called Jew haters or antisemites. Only a jerk would make such a obnoxiously false, propagandistic, anti-Israeli assertion.

    For that alone, Mr. Abusalim owes the Jewish community and its allies in the United States an apology.

    Forget your “one state” baloney; Jews ever since the founding of Islam, when Mohammed slaughtered the Jews of Medina, have had a rocky relationship with Muslims — as has France, for that matter — and nobody should expect them to give up their self-defense and self-determination.

    Additionally, the notion that the Gazans and the Muslims in the P.A.-controlled West Bank could possibly in any foreseeable future be subsumed into a single state together with Israelis, and the result would be a country that respected gay rights, should earn Mr. Abusalim a clown horn honked in his Israel-hating face.

    Meanwhile, the people of A Wider Bridge in Jerusalem work to help LGBTers in their city irrespective of the gay person’s religion.

    This is a good time to remind people that the two-state plan on offer from the U.N. in 1947 foresaw a Jewish state, an Arab state, and Jerusalem as an international protectorate with no one religion dominating another. Middle Eastern Jews accepted that proposal — and they and their allies were prepared peacefully to implement it — but Arabs overwhelmingly rejected it.

    Don’t forget that when Jordan occupied East Jerusalem, the jihadists acted like ISIS, murdering as many Jews as they could find in the city, chasing the rest out while confiscating their assets, never to return them, and then systematically destroying as much evidence of a historic Jewish presence in the city as they could, including irreplaceable buildings and artifacts from antiquity.

    The antisemitic rioters in Chicago don’t know the meaning of the word “civility.” Mr. Abusalim has been given the courtesy of presenting his views here but wants to strip gay rights advocates in Jerusalem of their right to speak in the United States only because they are Israeli Jews. That is the very definition of an antisemitic (Jew hating) attitude.

    • P.S. — Mr. Abusalim holds up Steven Salaita as a model of “civility,” yet Salaita has tweeted that since 1948, Zionism has made antisemitism “honorable.”

      In whose mind does that remark constitute “civility”?

      It is a clear endorsement of antisemitism.

      Mr. Abusalim is holding up Mr. Salaita — who says that antisemitism is “honorable” — as his model of civility. In an op-ed falsely claiming that an antisemitic riot in Chicago was not antisemitic.

      • P.P.S — Within the past few months, there have been three attacks against Jews in Marseille, France carried out by French Muslim ISIS supporters.

        Two times, the attackers used knives — as is happening in the Arab pogrom against Israeli Jews right now. For the third attack, the French Muslim ISIS supporter used a machete against the Jewish victim.

        Meanwhile, when ISIS members carried out the Paris massacres, they told some of their innocent victims, before murdering them, that they were getting revenge for French military actions against ISIS in Syria.

        Yet, the Swedish foreign minister publicly stated that the Paris jihadists were angry at Israel and that is why they carried out their attacks. That lie from the Swedish foreign minister was antisemitic, as it labeled Israel as the cause of a jihadist attack that in fact was carried out for another reason.

        It further is urgently important to understand that the Egyptian government is engaged in fighting against Gazan, Hamas and Islamic jihad supporters of ISIS in Sinai. Those would be the same Gazan/Hamas ISIS supporters whom Mr. Abusalim laughably alleges could successfully be incorporated into a single state, eliminating Israel, and that would give rights to LGBTers.

        • P.P.P.S. — Mr Abusalim’s use of the word “scapegoating” is not correct.

          And, Abbas can be seen in recent Arabic videos praising the jihadists who are stabbing Jews in Israel. Abbas says that the jihadists are “spilling pure blood for Jerusalem” and that they will be rewarded in heaven by Allah as martyrs. Abbas further says that the “filthy feet” of Jews will not go near their mosque.

          Sounds like antisemitism (hatred of Jews) to me.

          Mr Abusalim has been part of The General Delegation of Palestine to the U.S. His own leader Abbas says that Muslims who stab Jews are martyrs who will be rewarded by Allah in Heaven. And, his own leader says that Jews “filthy feet” will never go near their mosque.

          How is all of that not antisemitism? (Hatred of Jews).

  • In full disclosure Dorgham Abusalim should have pre-faced his Op-Ed with the fact that he is with the Palestinian Delegation to the US.

    But lets talk about that. The whole point of the “protest” was to shut A Wider Bridge down. You need to look at Webster’s Mr. Abusalim

    ter·ror·ism
    terəˌrizəm

    The use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.
    noun: terrorismnoun/ˈterəˌrizəm/ter·ror·ism

    Enough said.

  • I was there in the middle of it. When everyone, regardless of their views is a Zionist racist Motherf****er it makes it clear that to have ANY affiliation with an LGBT speaker is not allowed. Also the organization presenting has worked tirelessly for over two decades to promote Palestinian and Israeli safe space and rights. They helped to found the first LGBT Palestinian group. It is preposterous to say that protesting them made any sense at all. It is curious that only an Israeli group was targeted.

    By the way, where were the protests against Lebanon? UNRWA reports about a half million Palestinians have been trapped there in twelve crowded horrible refugee camps. They are not considered citizens of any state after decades so they are not allowed to claim what is available to other foreign nationals living in the country. They are barred from 20 professions. They constitute 10% of the population of Lebanon and have no rights. Also of the five UNRWA Palestinian refugee efforts, there are more Palestinians in “abject” poverty than elsewhere.

    Jews have had the experience of countries being closed to them. In the time of the Holocaust, the US and Britain slammed their doors. Many of the people who are Israeli fled persecution in their home countries. They live surrounded by enemies in a country with 2% of the US population in a space that is 0.2% of the size of the US.

    So when you say “It’s not anti-semitic”, I say look at the surrounding countries and tell me why LGBT Muslims were not similarly attacked and demonized with verbal violence and assaultive crowds. Don’t they represent their repressive autocratic regimes?

    People were screaming at us: “Black lives matter…” Of course they do! Many of us had pedigrees in work for people of color. Why us? Why were they screaming at us? Don’t black LGBT lives matter in Nigeria, Uganda, Zimbabwe, etc? Why were they screaming at us?

    Because we are Jews, pure and simple. This was not a Zionist event. It was showcasing the work of LGBT activists who had made real change in a very difficult and complicated part of the world. However at the Creating Change conference my Jewish friends sat through endless discussions of safe space and non-violent language. Yet somehow, they tell me that anti-Zionist statement constantly came up — and no comparable comments about the Saudis or the Russians. My friends felt unsafe and unwelcome.

    Alan Amberg
    Chicago, IL

    • The writer of the above op-ed, Dorgham Abusalim, wrote an article on Mondoweiss that appears to justify jihadists stabbing Jews in Israel.

      A Wall Street Journal writer said this:

      “Today in Israel, Palestinians are in the midst of a campaign to knife Jews to death, one at a time. This is psychotic. It is evil,”

      but then Dorgham Abusalim wrote an entire column for the anti-Israel Mondoweiss blog disagreeing with THAT.

  • Creating Change has always been a place of protest. Almost every year, protesters take over the main stage. This year alone, protesters interrupted the Black Institute and the Latino Institute. Yet there has been no national outcry over these protesters – only over the ones focused on A Wider Bridge’s event. These are also communities that face intimidation and violence daily, yet no one has attempted to shame those protesters. The reasons for this are simple, if not simply stated: When protests occur within communities of color, they are viewed within our community as reasonable critiques of beliefs or tactics. But when people of color protest against a largely white community, they are viewed as “intimidating,” and cause such fear as to “bring us back to the Holocaust.”

    • Your comment is a copy-and-paste job — shame on you.

      I Googled the phrase “bring us back to the Holocaust” and the only place I find it online is where the same letter you copied-and-pasted from has been posted in various places.

      The year that Jesse Owens won a gold medal at the Berlin Olympics overseen by Hitler, two Jewish Americans on the U.S. track team — Sam Stoller and Marty Glickman — were excluded because U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Avery Brundage wanted to avoid embarrassing Adolf Hitler by having two Jewish athletes win gold medals.

      So, if “people of color” today are antisemites and riot against Jews they don’t get a pass.

      The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was a person of color who had a face-to-face meeting with Hitler during which they agreed in principle to spreading the “Final Solution” from Morocco over to Iraq.”

      The only reason it didn’t happen was that the Allies won WWII.

      • You failed to address any of my points—shame on you.

        People of color are not “antisemites”, or any racialized slander for criticizing a country with poor human rights abuses. A country run by Jewish people isn’t above criticism, despite their belief in being “god’s chosen people.”

        • You were antisemitic in your comment right there.

          You don’t even understand the meaning of the phrase “the chosen people.”

          I am atheist, as happens, so I view ancient religions as mythological systems rather than as a matter of “faith.” However that may be, in ancient Jewish lore, when Moses went to the top of Mt. Sinai and the Jewish God gave him the Ten Commandments, God at that point “chose” the ancient Hebrews to HAVE to follow the Ten Commandments, or else.

          The lore does NOT say, as you as antisemitic filth have implied, that God singled Jews out for automatic preferential treatment over others.

          If you are unhappy about other disruptions at the Creating Change conference, then you should take that up with other people who are unhappy about that too and with the conference organizers.

          Jewish people at the event were kicked, hit, shoved, threatened and called anti-Jewish pejoratives, so you in your arrogance have no standing to come along and falsely allege that the antisemitic riot was not an antisemitic riot.

          What the letter you copied-and-pasted from attempts to do, is to excuse an antisemitic riot by attacking its victims.

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