The National LGBTQ Task Force has cancelled a Jan. 22 event planned by A Wider Bridge (AWB)a San Francisco-based organization that fosters relations between Israel and the LGBT communityduring the 2016 Creating Change conference.
[UPDATE: Task Force reverses: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Task-Force-reverses-cancellation-of-Israel-focused-Creating-Change-event-/53987.html .]
The cancellation came following objections from online and local activists who maintain that AWB is emblematic of "pinkwashing," a public relations strategy whereby, in this case, Israel's record on LGBT rights is used to fend off negative perceptions arising from its treatment of the Palestinians.
The event in question is a discussion with officials from the Jerusalem Open House community center in Israel. AWB has moved that discussion to the Renaissance Blackstone Chicago Hotel, 636 S. Michigan Ave., so it will no longer be taking place under the auspices of the Creating Change conference. A Shabbat service preceding the talk will still take place at the Chicago Hilton, 720 S. Michigan Ave., as originally planned, at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 22.
Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey, in a Jan. 18 statement, said, "Last week, we decided to cancel a Friday night reception at the Creating Change Conference entitled 'Beyond the Bridge'. We cancelled 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. While we welcome robust discourse and political action, given the complexity and deep passions on all sides, we concluded the event wouldn't be productive or meet the stated goals of its organizers. We also have the overarching responsibility to ensure that Creating Change is a safe space for attendees. Since the cancellation, we have been accused of being many things including being anti-Jewish, or anti-Semiticwhich are wrong and deeply painful to those of us in the [Task Force]. We believe in the self-determination of all people, no matter where they call home, the right of LGBTQ people to live in peace and safety, and in constructive dialogue that moves the work for social justice forward. We are an organization dedicated to LGBTQ freedom, justice and equality for all."
"The actions taken by the Task Force completely surprised me," said Laurie Grauer, AWB Midwest manager of programs and operations. "I spoke with the organizers in the fall and A Wider Bridge submitted a program description which laid out the format and purpose of our gathering. Both times, our proposal was approved.
"They understood that this would be an opportunity for LGBTQ Jews and allies to gather in Chicago, meet one another, and learn more about the work that Jerusalem Open House does on behalf the members of Jerusalem's LGBTQ communityno matter their color, creed, religion, or nationality. Over the last few days, I was informed by the organizers that there may be vocal opposition to our reception. However, I was assured, that just as those who would raise their voices in anger would have a place at the conference, so would we. I am disappointed by the actions taken by the Task Force."
Seattle-based activist/law professor Dean Spade was one of the first to publicly call attention to the matter on their website, calling AWB an "insidious" organization.
"Many people who would be suspicious of explicit Israel advocacy because they have some vague sense that Palestinians are suffering under occupation are swept up in the friendly images of gay Israelis sharing their experiences and inviting people from the US to visit," Spade wrote. "Many people who know nothing about the occupation are learning about Israel from an Israel propaganda organization and not realizing it because it seems like a gay organization. A Wider Bridge denies that it is engaged in pinkwashing, but there is nothing secret about it being an Israel advocacy organization."
Chicago activist Andy Thayer also maintained that the organization's work was giving political cover to oppression of the Palestinians. "The important principle here is that it is deeply injurious to the LGBTQ cause to leverage our freedom struggle with groups who oppress others," he said. "I think it is important for the the LGBTQ community to be on the side against oppression. If you read the description of the [AWB] event, it is about softening the image of Israel."
AWB Executive Director Arthur Slepian said the organization "is one of the leading LGBTQ organizations in the country, an advocate for LGBTQ rights here in North America, in Israel and around the world, and it is both sad and disgraceful that the organizers of Creating Change decided that there is no place for us in this significant gathering of LGBT leaders from around the U.S. and the world. We work to promote honest dialogue and collaboration and to present Israel to our program participants in all of its complexity. Our trips include visits to the West Bank, and our participants engage with Palestinians, Israeli Ethiopians, transgender leaders, and LGBTQ leaders from Israel's religious communities. ….We are saddened by what appears to be capitulation to the intimidation of a small number of anti-Israel extremists who want to shut down the voices of those who don't adhere to their rigid and exclusive party line."
The Task Force had previously cancelled a Creating Change workshop scheduled to be presented by officials from the U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement.
Dean Spade's website is DeanSpade.net . AWB's website is AWiderBridge.org .