The National LGBTQ Task Force (Task Force), on Jan. 19, reversed its decision to cancel a forum featuring speakers from the Jerusalem Open House community Center in Israel.
The panel, sponsored by the San Francisco-based organization A Wider Bridge (AWB), was originally scheduled to take place the evening of Friday, Jan. 22, but drew the ire of online and local activists who maintain that AWB is complicit in "pinkwashing" marketing strategies that highlight Israel's progress on LGBT rights to draw attention away from its treatment of the Palestinians. The complaints prompted the Task Force, on Jan. 15, to cancel the event, which was part of the 2016 Creating Change conference.
AWB moved the talk to a nearby hotel, but further protests from the organization's supporters prompted the Task Force to reverse their cancellation on Jan. 19.
"Having taken in a range of information and seeing what has happened over the last couple of days, I have decided to reverse our decision to cancel the 'Beyond the Bridge' reception hosted by A Wider Bridge with guest speakers from the Jerusalem Open House," said Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey. "It is our belief that when faced with choices, we should move towards our core value of inclusion and opportunities for constructive dialogue, and canceling the reception was a mistake. Our decision was made by staff; neither our board members nor the local Host Committee were involved. We are aware that our original decision made it appear we were taking sides in a complex and long-standing conflict, which was not the intention, and that in cancelling the reception we deeply offended many people, and our reversal will offend others. In reversing the decision today, we want to make it quite clear that the Creating Change Conference will always be a safe space for inclusion and dialogue for people with often widely different views. It was not at all our intention to censor representatives of the Jerusalem Open House or A Wider Bridge at Creating Change and I apologize that our actions left people feeling silenced.
"What has made our Creating Change Conference so transformative over the years is that it is a place where all attendees are and should feel welcome, have space to be themselves, have an opportunity to freely share their views and perspectives, and to learn from others. In fact, it wouldn't be Creating Change without disagreement, but we hope for a movement in which we can show how we can come together to discuss difficult issues. We know that many people at Creating Change share our belief in the self-determination of all people. Towards that end, we will also be creating a facilitated session for dialogue around these issues and welcome people who want to have a constructive conversation and learn more about other perspectives.
"I have been concerned about the intense escalation that has occurred over the last couple of days and the threats towards people who hold a range of views. Enough. We are a community of people coming together at Creating Change and no one should be threatened for their opinions no matter how much you disagree. We call upon anyone who may be organizing protests to take place during Creating Changerelated to these or any other issues to be peaceful.
"While we clearly make mistakes, and will make others I'm sure in the future, we also have a strong record of being a leader in advancing freedom, justice, equality and equity for all LGBTQ people. We call upon all conference attendees and members of the wider Task Force family to join us in moving forward," Carey added.
The talk will take place at 8:30 p.m. at the Chicago Hilton, 720 S. Michigan Ave., on Jan. 22. It will be preceded by a Shabbat service at that location at 7:30 p.m. A workshop about ending pinkwashing is also planned for the following morning at 9 a.m. as part of the Creating Change conference.
In a statement following news of the reversal, AWB Executive Director Arthur Slepian said, "On behalf of A Wider Bridge and LGBTQ and allied supporters of Israel and its LGBTQ community, we would like to thank Rea Carey and the Task Force for reversing their decision to exclude our reception and thank them for their statement today, which included a gracious apology. We look forward to bringing our important work, and the work of Jerusalem Open House, to Creating Change in Chicago. Our goal is to always engage in constructive dialogue that will further our cause, and now we can continue our important work for our worldwide community. We look forward to working more closely with the Task Force's leadership in the days ahead. These past few days demonstrate we have much more work to do building bridges and strengthening the LGBTQ communities of North America and Israel."
The Task Force had previously cancelled a Creating Change workshop scheduled to be presented by officials from the U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement.