February 3, 2016 at 2:15 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Anti-Israel protest continues to roil LGBT advocates
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)

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.

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

  • Uh huh. And they imagine a tortured explanation like this makes them sound so much more credible?

    Still never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
    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.

    • What makes that property Palestinian? Do they have a deed to it? What country exactly that Kings David and Solomon rule over thousands of years ago? Oh yeah, Israel. Where exactly were Palestinians while those kings ruled?

      • You are truly an idiot. So, the Zionist settlers stealing the land have the deeds? No. Your argument is pissing in the wind and blowing back into your face. #divestfromisrael

        • The point stupid is that your terrorist suicide bomber friends have no legal claims to the land either. They just whine like you acting like the world owes them something. Give me, give me! You love welfare!

          Israel was there thousands of years ago ruled by kings david and Solomon smong many others and where were Palestinians back then exactly? In some cave or tent In the desert sleeping with camels unwashed without deodorant. You can relate I’m sure.

          I wouldn’t talk about piss if I were you. Checked your breath lately?

          The only thing likely to blow up other than your lies is you during a failed bombing attempt.

  • People who hate Israel more than they are interested in LGBT rights are not actually LGBT rights advocates.

    Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, the P.A. — all of these Palestinian groups that want Israel wiped off the map — do you think that they will listen to your stupid whining about “intersectionality” if they reach their goal of replacing Israel with an Islamic theocracy?

    You do realize that’s what they want to do, right?

    Your hatred of Israel even includes contempt for the safety and rights of the LGBTers currently living in Israel.

    Slamming a country that has a reasonably good gay rights record — in support of people hostile to gay rights, and who want to replace that country, Israel, with an Islamic theocracy is an idiotic, hateful, anti-gay thing to do.

    Antisemitism (hatred of Jews, including when it manifests as internalized antisemitism in a person born to a Jewish family) is a personality disorder.

    • Spare us the AIPAC propaganda. Let us know when Saint Bibi stops the ethnic cleansing also known as building illegal settlements.

      Sorry, but the pathetic campaign to make LGBT people despise Palestinians as much as Likud does isn’t working.

      • A few weeks ago, Fareed Zakaria interviewed Netanyahu in Davos.

        Asked about prospects for peace, Netanyahu said that he is ready to negotiate for peace with Abbas at any time, and asked where Abbas was.

        Meanwhile, Abbas can be seen in recent Arabic videos, praising the jihadist stabbers of Jews in Israel, saying that Allah will reward them as martyrs in heaven, and that they are spilling “pure blood” for Jerusalem. For good measure, Abbas said that the “filthy feet” of Jews will never go near their mosque.

        So, to summarize — Netanyahu is ready to negotiate for peace with Abbas, but Abbas instead of answer that call is inciting Arabs to stab Jews.

      • Why don’t you spare us your BS propaganda instead? Stop hijacking the GLBT movement to prop up your murdering Palestinian suicide bombers who don’t care who gets blown up!

        Fly over there and sashay in your high heels around the Palestinian neighborhoods waving your rainbow banner of support and let’s see how far you get!

  • While Rea Carey is unavailable how about those “Special Snowflakes” like GetEqual who’s people were in the middle of it and Faith “Bi-Erasure” Cheltenham who feel that they are so privilege to shut things down they don’t understand or like and are too stupid to do any research.

  • No it doesn’t. Only the mouthy Likud apologists who are trying their best to extend it because they think it helps their Israel-right-or-wrong propagandizing.

  • Moreover, in Palestinian-controlled Gaza, which has been free of any Jewish settlements and Israeli military occupation since 2005, a criminal code ordinance exists under which gays and lesbians can be convicted for their “unnatural offenses” with a felony punishable by imprisonment for a term of ten years. The Hamas run regime even executed a gay man.

    In the West Bank, under Palestinian Authority jurisdiction, homosexuality is strictly taboo, sometimes violently so and many are sent to “reeducation camps” run by Islamist clerics where they are beaten and tortured for months. Gay Palestinians regularly seek to escape to Israel and ask for asylum, fearing for their lives because of their sexual orientation. One gay Palestinian told the Israeli liberal newspaper Ha’aretz “in other times, when they brought me to the road block the entire village chased me and beat me, and nearly killed me. I prefer to sit in an Israeli prison than to go back” The San Francisco Chronicle reported as early as 2007 that “West Bank gays are more at home in Israe.l” A report documented in a piece for Vice Magazine suggests that there are at least 2,000 homosexual men originating from the Palestinian territories living in pluralist Tel Aviv.

    But for anti-Israel bigots these inconvenient truths don’t matter because they claim that Israel is highlighting its progressive treatment of LGBT people to “pinkwash” its conflict with the Palestinians.

    However, facts and laws do not lie. Israel is the best place in the Middle East for LGBT individuals as well as for any religious minority. Tel Aviv was voted the Best Gay Travel Destination and it boasts Asia’s largest gay pride parade, and that parade is the only gay pride parade in the world that is part of the official municipal schedule, produced by the city, and government funded.

  • I support the rights of the Palestinians as much as the next progressive but it sounds like to me like these protesters don’t want anyone who doesn’t agree with them to have free speech rights at all and that’s really chilling to me. I’m not sure why we can’t support both LGBT rights in Israel and the rights of the Palestinians at the same time and it seems sad to me these protesters only want to force their views on others rather than engage in a peaceful dialog.

  • I have heard that Muslim LGBT+ orgs (at least the ones based in Western countries) do next to nothing or very very little for actual LGBT+ people (whether in general or within their own communities), but instead spend all of their (very modest to start with) resources and energy fighting both Zionist and generically Jewish LGBT+ components of larger LGBT+ alliances, some of which have been long-term significant contributors with actual accomplishments

    • Yep the main group is based in Israel of course because they would be shut down and most likely jailed in Gaza or PA and the few radicals who run it just write pro-palestinian liberation screeds that in many cases actively downplays any criticism of homophobia or heterosexism in Palestinian society, culture, religion, etc. for the “greater good” of a liberated Palestinian State just as bad or worse than exists now. It is disgusting really…

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