The protest that forced the cancellation of a reception at the National LGBTQ Task Force’s annual conference with two Israeli activists last month continues to spark heated debate among advocates.
More than 200 people opposed to “pinkwashing,” which they describe as the promotion of Israel’s LGBT rights record in an attempt to deflect attention away from its policies toward the Palestinians, protested the Jan. 23 reception at the Creating Change Conference in Chicago.
A Wider Bridge, an organization seeking to bolster “LGBTQ connections with Israel,” organized the reception. Sarah Kala-Meir and Tom Canning from the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance were scheduled to speak, but they left the room in which the reception was taking place through a back door as protesters began shouting.
“Many of us who share an intersectional analysis of power and oppression see LGBTQ identities as inextricably intertwined with race, gender, class, ethnicity and nationality,” wrote Wendy Elisheva Somerson, founder of the Seattle chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that supported the protest, in a blog post. “We want a movement that addresses all of our needs without leaving the most vulnerable queers behind. And no surprise: We are the very same people protesting Israel’s use of LGBTQ rights to cover up and justify Israeli apartheid.”
Somerson told the Washington Blade on Tuesday that it is “just not OK” for an LGBT advocacy group, such as the National LGBTQ Task Force, to allow A Wider Bridge and similar organizations to host a reception at the Creating Change Conference.
“It’s just never going to fly anymore,” said Somerson.
Somerson, who described herself as a “queer Jewish activist” in her blog post, supported the cancellation of A Wider Bridge reception that was to have taken place at Seattle City Hall in 2012.
New York’s LGBT Community Center in 2011 placed a “moratorium” over what Gay City News described as renting space inside its building to groups that “organize around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
The organization two years later ended the policy.
Organizers of Toronto Pride in 2010 banned Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, a group that opposes Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians, from marching in their annual parade.
They, too, reversed their decision.
Dean Spade, the founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, last month criticized the National LGBTQ Task Force for allowing A Wider Bridge to host a reception at the Creating Change Conference.
The National LGBTQ Task Force initially cancelled the reception, but it quickly reversed the decision. A panel with officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was also cancelled amid “concerns from the community.”
Protesters also disrupted a panel at the Creating Change conference that featured men who are attracted to trans women.
The Dallas Voice reported that a trans woman who claimed one of the panelists was an abuser organized the protest.
The man is reportedly planning to file a defamation lawsuit against her.
“The controversy about Creating Change has been painful, particularly the false accusations of anti-Semitism that those of us who do Palestinian solidarity work consistently face,” Spade told the Blade on Tuesday. “However, despite the personal attacks and inaccurate, biased media coverage those of us who supported or participated in the protest have faced, I see the protest and the conversations it has sparked as beneficial to queer and trans movements because it raised awareness about pinkwashing.”
Gary Kinsman is a professor emeritus at Laurentian University in Canada who describes himself as a “long-time queer liberation, AIDS, anti-poverty and anti-capitalist activist living on indigenous land.”
He told the Blade that the “pro-Palestine demonstration” at the Creating Change Conference was “very helpful in pointing us towards a movement that could recapture aspects of what the queer/LGBT movements used to be like.” Kinsman is also among those who support the campaign in support of a boycott, economic divestment and sanctions against Israel over its policies toward the Palestinians.
“It is really important to understand that ‘we’ are never just queer or LGBT but always live our lives in relation to race, class, gender, ability, age and other social relations,” Kinsman told the Blade.
‘Shouting down fellow progressives is not productive’
Critics of the protesters have a far different view.
James Kirchick, a gay journalist, in an essay he wrote for the Tablet Magazine after the protest said the concept of intersectionality “compels one to adopt agendas that have nothing to do with his or her own.”
“Worse, in the name of ‘solidarity’ with other supposedly ‘oppressed’ groups, it leads to alliances with those actively hostile to one’s cause,” said Kirchick. “This is how a gay rights organization led by well-meaning progressives can be duped into disinviting private citizens of the one country in the Middle East respecting the humanity of gays, all at the behest of people who use cultural relativism to excuse Muslim societies that throw homosexuals from the tops of buildings.”
“I hope this is a wake-up call to all LGBT people that a line needs to be drawn in the sand: Anti-Semitism has no place in a human rights movement,” Kirchick told the Blade.
Critics of the protesters took particular issue with their use of the chant “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea,” which they argue has been used in support of the destruction of Israel.
National LGBTQ Task Force Rea Carey last week “wholeheartedly” condemned anti-Semitism at the Creating Change Conference. Protest organizers in a letter they released last week said the controversial chant referred to the ability of Palestinians to return to property in Israel and in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip that their families lost in 1948 when Israel was founded.
“The protest at Creating Change is an indication of a broader problem of left-wing anti-Semitism, one that uses terms like ‘Zionist agitators’ and ‘anti-racism’ to disguise its own racism against Jews,” Kirchick told the Blade. “It has been heartening to see that the Task Force sees through this blatant dishonesty.”
Dana Beyer, a member of the A Wider Bridge board of directors who lives in Maryland, agrees.
“Beating up on your own people is not productive,” she told the Blade on Tuesday. “Shouting down fellow progressives is not productive. Being anti-Semitic is not productive.”
The National LGBTQ Task Force is conducting a review of “conference practices” in the wake of last month’s protests.
Carey has refused repeated interview requests from the Blade since the protests.