Protesters Call for Israel’s Destruction, Block Jewish Service at LGBTQ Convention

Hundreds of anti-Israel protesters disrupted a Shabbat service and reception held by an Israeli LGBTQ organization at a conference for gay activism in Chicago, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported on Sunday.

Guests and organizers at the reception by A Wider Bridge, a group devoted to building closer ties between gay communities in North America and Israel, were shouted down with calls for the destruction of Israel and charges of “pinkwashing.” The term is meant to criticize alleged efforts by Israel to showcase its positive record on gay rights as a means of downplaying accusations that it mistreats Palestinians.

The entrance to the event, which was held during the National LGBTQ Task Force’s annual Creating Change conference, was restricted by protesters who yelled anti-Israel slogans, including, “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” The chant refers to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the territory from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean sea, in place of Israel.

Some protesters also entered the reception, took over the stage, and prevented members of Jerusalem Open House, an Israeli gay activist organization, from speaking.

“Last night the values of free speech and respectful communication that we all value and that should be the hallmark of the Creating Change conference were replaced by a disgraceful authoritarian-like action that seeks to silence the voices of anyone the protesters feel don’t adhere to their rigid dogma,” said A Wider Bridge in a statement. “Lies and gross distortions about A Wider Bridge and Israel were being repeated throughout the conference and at the protest. We look forward to working with the leadership of the Task Force to ensure that Creating Change can be a welcoming and safe space for LGBT people, Jews and non-Jews, who care about Israel.”

The National LGBTQ Task Force originally decided to cancel A Wider Bridge’s Shabbat event under pressure from anti-Israel activists, but later reversed its decision after facing a major public backlash.

Jamie Kirchick wrote in Tablet Magazine that the event’s initial cancellation reflected a capitulation by the Task Force to calls by a small group of extremists to engage in anti-Semitic discrimination:

“We canceled the reception when it became clear to us it would be intensely divisive rather than the community-building, social atmosphere which is the norm for Friday night at the conference,” Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey said in an emailed statement. Tyler Gregory, Deputy Director of A Wider Bridge, told the Washington Blade that the Task Force “recommended we either cancel [the] event, or ensure that our event speakers condemn the Israeli government in their remarks,” though which aspects of Israel’s government the Task Force expected A Wider Bridge—which receives no Israeli government funding—to “condemn” were left vague. Refusing to comply with either demand, A Wider Bridge was forced to move its event to a different hotel.

Carey’s contention that the happening—announced months ago—would be “intensely divisive” appears to rest on complaints registered by just three people: Dean Spade, a transgender professor at the Seattle University School of Law and a self-described “trans south Asian performance art duo” named Dark Matter. These, at least, were the only individuals named in the Blade story as having made public statements egging on the Task Force to engage in what is effectively an act of anti-Semitic prejudice and segregation.

And let there be no confusion: A non-compulsory Shabbat dinner and discussion of the Israeli LGBT experience is “divisive” in the way that the presence of a gay man in a locker room is “divisive.” It only “offends” the sensibilities of bigots. When a white person refuses to sit at a lunch counter next to a black person, or a straight football player refuses to play alongside a gay one, we have a word for that: discrimination. Nonetheless, a group ostensibly committed to fighting discrimination and that holds a conference so inclusive of the world’s many diversities that it provides “scent-free” areas for individuals highly sensitive to smell, bowed to those wanting to make it Jew-free as well.

Benjamin Weinthal, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, recently noted that an LGBT film festival organized by a Palestinian gay rights organization, Aswat-Palestinian Gay Women, is scheduled to be held this year in the Israeli city of Haifa, rather than in any area under the Palestinian Authority’s control.

In The Persistent Progress of Israel’s LGBT Community, which was published in the April 2015 issue of The Tower Magazine, Corinne Berzon discussed the advances LGBT individuals in Israel have made in gaining mainstream societal acceptance, and the challenges their community continues to face.

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