Yearly Archives: 2011

Support Prof. Marc Elllis – and tell Ken Starr to Stand Down!

This is a guest post by Rabbi Brant Rosen, Chair of JVP’s Rabbinical Council and the Rabbi of Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, IL. You can follow his writings in this blog: http://rabbibrant.com/ and please sign this petition in support of Prof. Ellis.


I first read Professor Marc Ellis’ book “Toward a Jewish Theology of Liberation” as a rabbinical student back in the mid-1980s – and suffice to say it fairly rocked my world at the time. Here was a Jewish thinker thoughtfully and compellingly advocating a new kind of post-Holocaust theology: one that didn’t view Jewish suffering as “unique” and “untouchable” but as an experience that should sensitize us to the suffering and persecution of all peoples everywhere.

And yet further: Ellis had the courage to take these ideas to the place that few in the Jewish world were willing to go. If we truly believe in the God of liberation, if our sacred tradition truly demands of us that we stand with the oppressed, then the Jewish people cannot only focus on our own oppression – we must also come to grips with our own penchant for oppression, particularly when it comes to the actions of the state of Israel. And yes, if we truly believe in the God of liberation this also means that we must ultimately be prepared to stand with the Palestinians in their struggle for liberation.

When I first read Ellis’ words, I didn’t know quite what to make of them. They flew so directly in the face of such post-Holocaust theologians as Elie Wiesel, Rabbi Irving Greenberg and Emil Fackenheim – all of whom viewed the state of Israel in quasi-redemptive terms. And they were certainly at odds with the views of those who tended the gates of the American Jewish community, for whom this sort of critique of Israel was strictly forbidden.

Over the years, however, I’ve found Ellis’ ideas to be increasingly prescient, relevant – and I daresay even liberating. As a rabbi, I’ve come to deeply appreciate his brave willingness to not only ask the hard questions, but to unflinchingly pose the answers as well. And it is not at all surprising to me that we are now witnessing a new generation of rabbis and young Jewish leaders starting down the road he has paved for us.

All this to say I am profoundly sorrowed to learn that Ellis is currently under threat of losing his job at Baylor University due to an investigation led by new university president Ken Starr.

By every appearance, Ellis has had a distinguished academic career, having taught at Maryknoll School of Theology, Harvard Center for the Study of World Religions and Florida State University. Thirteen years ago, he was appointed Professor of American and Jewish Studies at Baylor, where he founded Baylor University’s Center for American and Jewish Studies and currently serves as its director.

There is ample reason to mistrust the academic validity of this investigation. According to a new petition now being circulated by Cornel West and Rosemary Ruether:

Marc Ellis was brought to Baylor in 1998 and all previous presidents supported his dissident voice. After Ken Starr (nemesis of Clinton in the White House) became president in 2010 the attacks started. During the last year Baylor lawyers were instructed to communicate with many of Marc’s colleagues, past students and staff. The objective was to request all of them to report all “abuse of authority.” Most of us explained to the lawyers that was a lost cause because Marc has been an exemplar colleague, professor and mentor.

But starting this Fall he was separated from his classes, his center closed and a hearing scheduled to take place some time in this academic year. As far as we know the accusations are about abuse of authority but we are not aware of the details because they are part of the internal legal process. Obviously it is about something else: Marc’s dissident voice. We will inform all of you as soon as we know more information.

In a statement released yesterday, Ellis commented thus:

Given what I currently understand of the rules of the Baylor process I will, for now, honor the process by not discussing the specifics, except to say that I believe this is a pretext to silence an independent voice at the place for which I have had deep appreciation.

I write now to ask you to please join me in signing this petition in support of Ellis – an important Jewish dissident thinker and (as his many academic colleagues are now attesting) a truly distinguished scholar. I would add: even if you don’t personally agree with all of his ideas, I urge you to support his cause. It is high time for us to stand down those who would trample academic freedom, shun open discourse and debate, and muzzle those with whom they simply disagree.

I’ll end with Professor Ellis’ own words, all too sadly apt under the circumstances:

Prophetic Jewish theology, or a Jewish theology of liberation, seeks to bring to light the hidden and sometimes censored movements of Jewish life. It seeks to express the dissent of those afraid or unable to speak. Ultimately, a Jewish theology of liberation seeks, in concert with others, to weave disparate hopes and aspirations into the very heart of Jewish life.

(“Toward a Jewish Theology of Liberation,” p. 206)

Getting banished by the Jewish Federation on Yom Kippur.

What does Chabad Rabbi Manis Friedman have that I don’t have? Is it the beard? The religious authority? Or is it the record of advocating for the killing of Arab women, men and children?  Why does he get to stay on the Jewish Federation’s much promoted Jewish Heroes competition list, while I was unceremoniously deleted- without explanation- this morning, less than 24 hours after a story about my nomination appeared in JWeekly, the Bay Area Jewish paper.

Friedman and I have been running in the top ten for Jewish communal professionals for weeks. And though he’s a rabbi and I’m not, I was nominated by a young rabbinic student sincere in his commitment to a Jewish future. Heck, I even once helped raise thousand of dollars for the Fed after going on a mission to Israel– and my uncle was once a 6-figure fundraiser for the Federation and board member. But my nomination represents hundreds if not thousands of Jews in communities across the US who are heroically working to make equality between Palestinians and Jewish Israelis a reality.

Which is, presumably, why it was nixed and my organization, Jewish Voice for Peace, made subject to a modern day form of Jewish banishment. This despite the competition’s tagline: “We honor those making strides to repair the world.” (Picture at left: my nomination page now says Page Not Found and is blank.  Here is the cached version-what it used to look like before today. And I’m off the leaderboard completely.)

But what about Friedman, who still remains riding high at number 4 on the leaderboard?

While he has written a lot about love, and famously brought Bob Dylan to Chabad–which gives him hipster points–that’s not what Friedman is most famous for. When asked by Moment Magazine a few years ago, “How Should Jews Treat Their Arab Neighbors?”, this was Friedman’s response as reported in the Forward:

“The only way to fight a moral war is the Jewish way: Destroy their holy sites. Kill men, women and children (and cattle),” Friedman wrote in response to the question posed by Moment Magazine for its “Ask the Rabbis” feature.

Friedman argued that if Israel followed this wisdom, there would be “no civilian casualties, no children in the line of fire, no false sense of righteousness, in fact, no war.”

“I don’t believe in Western morality,” he wrote. “Living by Torah values will make us a light unto the nations who suffer defeat because of a disastrous morality of human invention.”

Yes, Arab men, women and children don’t even rank as civilians. After a firestorm of criticism, he gave a half-hearted apology which the people who know him well didn’t find compelling.
So, what exactly are we to conclude about Jewish Federation values? There are numerous examples of policing on the left (banning groups like JVP and other human rights organizations) while remaining wide open to supporters of illegal settlements and even groups that arm settlers and giving standing ovations to the most right-wing and destructive Prime Minister in Israeli history. Though they do not openly advocate settlements, declared illegal by international law and considered by many to be the number one barrier to peace, they have defacto historically been one of the great supporters of the settlement project.

But something else is true here- groups like JVP are fully committed to nonviolence. Not so for Friedman and supporters of offensive Israeli militarism. And so when nonviolent Jewish activists are violently attacked by other Jews, (attacks on Palestinians are daily occurrences) whether in Anatot- or the Jewish Federation General Assembly- or in Congress–or at a community meeting –and communal Jewish professionals remain silent, this silence speaks volumes. The same can be true here. What does it say that nonviolent leftists are being shunned and banished?

When I look back on the wise and amazing work of JVP members over the decades- everything we said came true. We said the occupation must end, the settlements must stop, all citizens must be treated fairly- that otherwise there would be more bloodshed and that Israel would become a pariah. It doesn’t feel good to be right, not one bit. But the knee-jerk and policing response by much of the institutional Jewish world has already been shown to be wrong. And self-destructive.
My family has a tradition of Hasidic rabbis who didn’t look or likely think that differently from Rabbi Friedman. But my parents’ generation and certainly my generation has changed in our thinking and values to embrace a more universalist view of humanity while still being committed to Jewish continuity. That generational change is being repeated literally millions of times over all over the world. Look at this amazing video of young Jewish adults and their statement of values and identity. You’re looking at the future.

Disappearing JVP’s/my nomination is the perfect metaphor for an older generation’s fearful attempt to disappear an entire generation. Their children and certainly grandchildren are increasingly embracing the values of equality, going to the West Bank and Gaza and East Jerusalem to see for themselves the horror wrought by the illegal occupation and a dream built in many ways on the backs of Palestinians.

But we can’t be so easily disappeared with the click of a mouse. Not by a long-shot. And frankly-speaking as someone who cares deeply about a Jewish future– the Federation should be thankful for that.
There is real irony that this happened on erev Yom Kippur. It is traditionally a day when even non-religious Jews seek forgiveness, from Gd or from people in our lives who we have wronged. What a way to begin a day of introspection.
Cecilie Surasky, cecilie@jvp.org
Deputy Director
Jewish Voice for Peace

Oakland Children’s Museum Cancels Palestinian Children’s Art Exhibit Under Pressure from Local Jewish Groups

Berkeley, CA’s Middle East Children’s Alliance broke the news yesterday that the exhibit of children’s artwork from Gaza that they had worked on for months with Oakland’s Children’s Museum of Art was suddenly canceled by the board before the planned September 24 opening reception. The show featured drawings by children about Israel’s infamous Operation Cast Lead, the military assault of December 2008-January 2009 that led to the deaths of some 1,400 Palestinians, over 300 of them children.

(Check regularly at mecaforpeace.org for updates and planned actions- they won’t be taking this lying down.)

MECA said in a statement:

The Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland (MOCHA) has decided to cancel an exhibit of art by Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip. The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA), which was partnering with MOCHA to present the exhibit, was informed of the decision by the Museum’s board president on Thursday, September 8, 2011. For several months, MECA and the museum had been working together on the exhibit, which is titled “A Child’s View From Gaza.”

MECA has learned that there was a concerted effort by pro-Israel organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area to pressure the museum to reverse its decision to display Palestinian children’s art.

Barbara Lubin, the Executive Director of MECA, expressed her dismay that the museum decided to censor this exhibit in contradiction of its mission “to ensure that the arts are a fundamental part of the lives of all children.”

“We understand all too well the enormous pressure that the museum came under. But who wins? The museum doesn’t win. MECA doesn’t win. The people of the Bay Area don’t win. Our basic constitutional freedom of speech loses. The children in Gaza lose,” she said.

“The only winners here are those who spend millions of dollars censoring any criticism of Israel and silencing the voices of children who live every day under military siege and occupation.”

Recognizing that the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council has an established track record of targeting Palestinian cultural expression, I wrote directly to JCRC Executive Director Doug Kahn to find out if they were involved in the board’s sudden decision to cancel the show. Indeed it seems they were, though perhaps not alone. This was his response in full:

East Bay JCRC, working closely with the Jewish Federation of the East Bay, shared with the leadership of MOCHA our concerns about the inappropriateness of this exhibit given the fact that MOCHA – an important and valued community institution – serves very young children.

(MOCHA has only stated that they received complaints “from Jewish groups as well as others in the community.”)

However, it doesn’t seem likely that this is about concerns for children’s sensitivities to war imagery. As the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out in its coverage of the incident today, MOCHA has a significant track record of showing the artwork of children living under war, including WWII, without incident. These images apparently aren’t substantively different.

This is, however, about giving voice to Palestinians-in this case children- who endured a simply extraordinary attack on an illegally captive population of 1.5 million people otherwise known as Operation Cast Lead.

The Israel government and its proxies pulled out all of the stops to undermine criticism of the Operation which drew nearly universal condemnation and triggered massive protest marches around the world. An unprecedented smear campaign was launched against a respected Jewish South African jurist named Richard Goldstone who led a UN task force examining Israeli and Hamas war crimes.

The canceling of the art show should be seen in the context of the Goldstone smear campaign, as well as previous successful efforts by a handful of Bay Area Jewish communal organizations to determine what Palestinians can and cannot say. (In contrast, exhibit organizer, the Middle East Children’s Alliance, enjoys significant Jewish support, and the Bay Area chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace is one of many exhibit co-sponsors.)

In 2007, the JCRC pressured San Francisco State University to change the content of a mural dedicated to the late great Palestinian intellectual Edward Said. It’s worth looking at the mural and then reading the JCRC’s critique to understand the depth of their fear of imagery that is so essential to Palestinian memory of fleeing or being expelled from their homes to make way for the then new state. It is odd, to put it mildly, to read Jewish communal professionals so closely aligned with the Israeli Consulate offering in depth art critiques of Palestinian symbolism in a policy-making capacity.

The JCRC was also involved in a deeply messy battle, along with the Anti-Defamation League, over the content of a San Francisco mural painted by young members of the nonprofit H.O.M.E.Y. which works with at-risk kids in San Francisco’s mission district. Not surprisingly, the groups’ insistence that they represented the vast majority of Jews in the Bay Area-an area known for its commitment to independent thought and open artistic expression– triggered significant Jewish opposition. And of course the JCRC is behind the highly controversial restrictive funding guidelines that essentially bar (or should I say threaten to bar) critics of Israel , including BDS proponents, from speaking prominently on panels of institutions funded in some way by San Francisco’s Jewish Federation.

But something tells me that this cancellation of Gazan children’s art, some of which you see here, may well cross a line for a lot of fence-sitters. While I reject the argument of parity that only applies to Palestinian stories, it certainly would have been wiser to lobby the MOCHA board to either work with MECA on adapting the exhibit or to hold an exhibit-like the Israeli government and others have – of artwork by the children of the Israeli city of Sderot rather than cancel the Gazan exhibit.  And to be fair, perhaps they were lobbied to do that but the board chose to wash their hands of the entire issue. We don’t know. I myself would have attended exhibits of children’s art from Gaza or Sderot, and brought my young son. But instead, we have what amounts to yet more erasure. The Israeli government has in essence locked the over 60% of Gazans who are children behind a wall and thrown away the key and forgotten entirely about them. Now the rest of us are supposed to forget about them too.

In the meantime, this must feel like deja vu all over again for MECA. Washington Report on Middle East Affairs reported about this incident in late 2005:

MECA had teamed up with the Berkeley Art Center and Alliance Graphics to present an exhibit last November and December called “Justice Matters: Artists Consider Palestine.” In their works 14 Palestinian and American artists addressed Israel’s occupation and colonization of Palestine.

The artists, MECA and the Berkeley Art Center were attacked by the Anti-Defamation League, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and other people who claimed to represent the mainstream Jewish community. According to Jos Sances, curator of “Justice Matters,” “there was even an effort to close the show down and have the city withdraw its annual support for the Berkeley Art Center.”

Fourteen rabbis (one for each artist?) visited Berkeley’s mayor to condemn the exhibit. The artists were charged with glorifying violence and terrorism, perpetuating anti-Semitic stereotypes and even lying about their own history.

On the other hand, there was support from the community and e-mails to the Berkeley Art Center included comments like: “A powerful, scathing experience. Thank you for it” and “It was very thought provoking to see the other side.” Even an Israeli offered ”my admiration for your courage in showing this important protest art.”

MECA’s Barbara Lubin says the mayor of Berkeley stood up to pressure and the show went on. The level of denial about Israeli human rights violations has dropped so dramatically in many Jewish communities in recent years—synagogues everywhere across the country are split — that I wonder if 6 years later most of those rabbis would have the same response to challenging art. I suppose we’re about to find out.


The railroading of Richard Falk

Professor Richard Falk is a distinguished academic expert on international law with some 40 books under his belt and a lifetime of learning and teaching that has taken him on a journey through some of the best universities in the United States. Naturally, he was not on the radar of what Jewish feminist Letty Cottin Pogrebin calls the “Pro-Israel Mafia” until he was appointed to several high level UN Palestine-related posts including the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories.

In these positions as a human rights watchdog he has proven himself perfectly willing to strongly criticize Israeli human rights policies. In 2007, he famously compared the Israeli treatment of Palestinians in Gaza with Nazi treatment of Jews- warning of a possible impending “collective tragedy” in an article than will only be judged in retrospect as either provocatively alarmist or prophetic, but certainly was morally sincere and rationally-driven.

Naturally, however, this is not allowed.

Continue reading

CUNY trustees dishonor academic freedom in Tony Kushner snub

Fresh off a failed attempt to fire a Brooklyn college professor for not properly toeing the line on Israel, CUNY Board of Trustees member Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld chose a much higher-profile target: Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner. Wiesenfeld, who is a repeat abuser of his power as a CUNY Trustee,  succeeded in getting CUNY to table Kushner’s honorary degree for what is believed to be the first time ever. Kushner’s crimes? Criticizing Israel, and serving on the Advisory Board of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Here’s Kushner’s searing rebuke:

Letter to CUNY Trustees 05-04-11

[Ed. note: Jewish Voice for Peace engages in campaigns that promote boycott and divestment from companies that profit from  the Israeli occupation, not Israel as a whole.)

Wiesenfield cited the “disingenuousness and non-intellectual activity” on US campuses as a reason for barring Kushner, though barring a figure of Kushner’s brilliance seems like a funny way to combat that problem. Unless of course your real goal is ideological control.

Here’s a comparison of the views of Tony Kushner with those of former New York City mayor Ed Koch, who unlike Kushner, received unanimous support for getting an honorary degree from CUNY this year :

As for Wiesenfeld, he knows something about shady proceedings, being appointed by then-governor George Pataki in a last minute session after concerns were raised about his calling blacks “savages” and Jews “thieves.” He also led the Stop the Madrassa coalition to block Debbie Almontaser from opening an Arabic language and culture school in  New York City. Kushner and Almontaser, both are winners of the “Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer Risk Taker Awards” from Jews For Racial and Economic Justice. Koch also defended Glenn Beck from charges of anti-semitism..
Who would you rather honor?

-Jesse Bacon

Anti-Defamation League and SF Jewish Community Relations Council Embarrass Selves: Try to police thought at UC Hastings Law School

The growing campaign to criminalize pro-justice Israeli-Palestinian campus activism and even thought has come to UC Hastings.

The Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council are probably crowing over their successful effort to get UC Hastings Law school to distance itself from a March 24 conference devoted to the legal rights of Palestinians called “Litigating Palestine: Can Courts Secure Palestinian Rights?” (Read an excellent piece on the events by Lisa Hajjar over at Jadaliyya.)

But the truth is that their efforts to stop–in the name of Jews– a conference promoting legal and human rights for an oppressed people is a profound embarrassment to any of us who consider ourselves part of any Jewish community.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, in an email to supporters, JCRC head Doug Kahn called the conference, which featured an impressive range of human rights lawyers and professors from leading law schools, “anti-Israel”. (The conference was organized by the brilliant and highly regarded legal scholar George Bisharat whose primary crime seems to be that he is Palestinian.) Kahn said the JCRC and the ADL, plus the American Jewish Committee met privately with UC Hasting leaders days before the Hastings’ Board of Directors decided at a closed-door, emergency meeting to “take all steps necessary to remove the UC Hastings name and brand” from the conference. This included canceling a planned welcoming talk by dean and chancellor Frank Wu.

But the pressure didn’t just come from these groups.

Another campaigner against the conference was the prolific anti-free speech crusader, UC Santa Cruz Hebrew lecturer Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, who infamously led a successful effort to cancel a UC Santa Cruz speaking engagement by Israeli and Palestinian peace activists who wanted to talk about the negative impact of militarism on Israeli society. She said that allowing such a talk to happen on campus created the same intimidating environment for Jewish students that a noose created for African American students. (The peace activists were not amused. )

Benjamin, building on longtime and successful efforts of the Zionist Organization of America to get the US Department of Education to reinterpret the Civil Rights Act so that it could be used to stop pro-justice Israeli-Palestinian activism, recently filed a nearly 30 page complaint about anti-Semitism at UC Santa Cruz dwelling almost entirely on programming related to Israel and Palestine. The Office of Civil rights opened an investigation based on her complaint, and in a sharply worded letter to UC Hastings’ Wu , which she ccd to every Jewish pro-occupation group she could think of, she threatened the same including the possible withdrawal of federal funds.

The pressure campaign also succeeded in getting the Cummings Foundation to withdraw funding for the conference, though the ADL continued to bitterly complain that attendees could still earn higher education legal credits and that the UC Hastings logo hadn’t been removed from materials fast enough.

Meanwhile, advocates for legal rights for Palestinians are likely writing private thank you notes to Kahn and company for politicizing an entirely new group of students, administrators and academics who were profoundly ticked off by such a clumsy McCarthyite attempt to use far-right talking points to smear lawyers and police thought in an academic setting. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the UC Hastings’ board decision to yield to the external pressure campaign produced few good feelings:

The directors’ action dismayed Hastings’ faculty. Nearly all of its tenured professors signed a letter to the board last week saying that academic freedom includes providing forums for controversial topics, and that the attempt to disavow the conference “undermines our commitment to maintaining both the college’s fiscal viability and its high standards.”

Way to go Rossmore-Benjamin, ADL, AJC and JCRC! Next time you all shout anti-Semitism! in a crowded room, I’m sure we can REALLY count on these folks (not) to come running for help.

Presumably, while the ADL, AJC and JCRC insist on perpetuating the myth that such embarrassing moves represent the will of the Jewish community, they would have absolutely no trouble with a conference on the legal rights of the Israeli government to build settlements on Palestinian land. Because that is exactly what they stand for when they take these actions.

The only word for the growing anti-human rights campaigns driven by old-school Jewish organizations is Shandah, shame.

NYC LGBT Center’s Betrayals of its Values

I have many good memories about the NY Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Center. When I was coming out of the closet, the Center opened its doors to me and showed me the value of building community and the celebration of diversity. Two decades later, the Center has shown me how it has sadly betrayed those values.

I’m deeply troubled by the NY Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Center’s decision to cancel the Party to End Apartheid. There is no good way to spin this story, and the Center, frankly, is not even trying to do so.

I asked them what happened, and this is what I got:

“Thank you for contacting the Center regarding cancellation of the (IAW) event and future meetings of the group at the Center.

The core mission of the Center is to serve the LGBT community. We do offer space to hundreds of LGBT and non-LGBT specific groups without endorsing their mission or purpose. However, when one group’s meetings or activities, regardless of a specific affiliation, interfere with the Center’s focus on our core mission, we reserve the right to ask the group to move. We regret any inconvenience this causes a group and its participants.”

I further inquired about how renting space for an Israel Apartheid Week party “interferes with the Center’s focus on our core mission,” I got this non-answer:

“We won’t be making any further statements at this time.”

Well, if the Center won’t, I will.

By not being explicit about its policies, the Center leaves open the question about which groups may or may not rent space there. Jewish Voice for Peace rented space at the Center. Will we be allowed to do so in the future? Who knows. What about Palestinian Queers for BDS or Queers Against Israeli Apartheid? What will the Center decide? In or out?

If the Center does not answer, Michael Lucas does. He is the Advocate commentator who had threatened to “organize a boycott that would certainly involve some of the Center’s most generous donors,” and who later claimed victory when the Center folded, sending an email to event organizers gloating, “I canceled your event.” Michael Lucas is known for his Islamophobic rants (see for example here and here and here.) If you do not have time or patience to follow those links, I give you Michael Lucas in a few words: “I hate Islam with all my heart.”

Lucas argued that Israeli Apartheid Week is an anti-Semitic event. It is not.

Whether the Center acknowledges it or not, its decision to cancel the event was not a defense against anti-Semitism, but a tacit nod to Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism.

Organizing boycotts, divestment, and sanctions are time-honored tactics used by minority groups to press for their rights. American Jews organized a boycott of Nazi German goods. African-Americans organized a boycott of segregated buses in Alabama. Farm-workers organized a boycott of California grapes, calling for decent wages and working conditions. Queers called for a boycott of Colorado after the passage of the blatantly discriminatory Proposition 2. It seems every one has the right to use this tool, except the Palestinians.

If you want to read the full statement from the organizers of the New York Israeli Apartheid Week, go here. Check out the calendar of events, and if you are in NYC, go and participate.

And whether you are in NYC or not, queer or not, I encourage you to join me in signing the petition calling on the Center not to let wealthy bigots shut down free speech.

–Sydney Levy

NY’s famed LGBT Center folds under pressure – bans “Party to End Apartheid!,” Israeli Apartheid Week event and groups

Taking Pinkwashing to a whole new level, one of Israel’s very very good friends– gay male pornographer Michael Lucas– is boasting that he single-handedly got NY’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Trans Community Center to not only cancel a “Party to End Apartheid” fundraiser to cover costs for Israel Awareness Week, but to ban the group from ever renting there again. How? You know, the usual calls from supporters and threats to withhold major donations (according to Lucas). Stephen Thrasher in the Village Voice writes:

Lucas, one of gay porn’s most outspoken figures, is known equally for his “Men of Israel” films, hisrabidly right-wing political writing for theAdvocate, and his custom-made dildo in the shape of his own manhood.

We were surprised at how quickly he succeeded.

Just hours after writing, “It was an inexcusable decision on the Center’s part to associate itself with a hate group like Israeli Apartheid Week, but there’s still time for them to reverse course and begin restoring their reputation,” Lucas proclaimed victory, writing: “We prevailed! Congratulations to everyone who stood with me in support of Israel. With your help it took only eight hours to accomplish our mission.”

The LGBT Center released a two-sentence statement: “We have determined that this event is not appropriate to be held at our LGBT Community Center, which is a safe haven for LGBT groups and individuals. Therefore, the meeting at The Center has been cancelled and the host group will no longer meet at The Center.”

Safe haven? For whom exactly?

Perhaps it’s the use of the word ‘apartheid’ that got to Lucas. The event was part of Israel Apartheid Week- but that word, whether you agree with it or not, has long been used to describe conditions in Israel by many including former education minister Shulamit Aloni, and former Israeli Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair. And how is Israel so utterly weak that it apparently cannot stand strong or at worst strident language? Isn’t this the core of democracy- protecting popular and unpopular speech?

Here’s a recently released open letter from Queer Palestinians that has something to say about safety, which should extend beyond safety for just Michael Lucas and his friends. It also makes a compelling case that many other groups have made for aligning LGBT freedom with other struggles (including the fight for free speech). A message likely long ago internalized by the LGBT Center except, it turns out, when it comes to Palestinians.

We believe that, as Queer communities, we must pay close attention to any grave human rights violations on our way to support the LGBTQ struggle, especially in a context where the country in question that oppresses, discriminates, and implements an apartheid system. We should question the ethics and the values of Queer organizations or groups that voice fervent support for and participate in an apartheid state’s institutions. Human rights should not be compartmentalized, and the human rights of a certain group should not be more important than others’. We, as Palestinian queers, cannot ignore the struggle and the rights of the Palestinian people.  To us, the two struggles go side by side.

All I can say is, the LGBT Center screwed. It’s appalling how easily they folded to threats from right-wing donors-apparently it took just 8 hours to make this unprincipled decision. I can’t imagine that NY area LGBT activists, who love and helped build the ground-breaking center, are going to like this anymore than the activist community in Toronto that staged a full-out Cairo-style rebellion when a small group of right wing friends of Israel similarly pressured Toronto Pride into banning the word ‘apartheid’ , when associated with Israel, in the parade. (Pride overturned the decision because, like this decision, it was indefensible.)

Thrasher says:

“Party to End Apartheid!” was a benefit for the Siege Busters Working Group, whose membership includes Emily Henochowicz, a Cooper Union art student who lost an eyeduring a peace protest in Israel, and the group Existence is Resistance. Both groups are raising money to send another aid ship to Gaza. The last such unsuccessful effort led to the death of nine people (and to the protest where Henochowicz lost an eye).

Palestinian BDS proponent Omar Barghouti unable to enter US for book tour

Just on the heels of the United States’ joyous support for the Egyptian people’s movement for freedom and democracy, we have this. Here’s a press release from Haymarket Books:

Palestinian Author Kept from Entering U.S. for “BDS” Speaking Tour

For Immediate Release
Contact:
Sarah Macaraeg,
Despite Obama Administration’s Promise to Not Engage in “Ideological Exclusion” Prevalent in Bush Era

Omar Barghouti, Leading Spokesperson of the

Boycott, Divestment, Sanction (BDS) Campaign Against Israel,

Kept from Entering U.S. for Book Release Tour

Inexplicable Visa Delays Effectively Canceling Series of Events on BDS Movement

Sponsors Call on Supporters to Contact the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem and Department of State
to Fulfill Promise of “Promoting the Global Marketplace of Ideas” and Grant Barghouti’s Visa

CHICAGO, IL——Effectively canceling a planned speaking tour, the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem has inexplicably delayed the granting of a visa for Omar Barghouti, founding member of the Palestinian Civil Society Boycott, Divestment, Sanction (BDS) campaign, due to tour the United States this April for the release of his new book, Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights.

Nobel Peace Laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu called the book “lucid and morally compelling… perfectly timed to make a major contribution to this urgently needed global campaign for justice, freedom and peace.” Former President of the UN General Assembly, Father Miguel d’’Escoto Brockmann called it “timely and responsibly written by a man who understands that creative nonviolence is the only way out of the dire situation in Palestine.””
In recent years, numerous foreign scholars and experts have been subject to visa delays and denials that have prohibited them from speaking and teaching in the U.S.—a process the American Civil Liberties Union describes as “Ideological Exclusion,” which they say violates Americans’ First Amendment right to hear constitutionally protected speech by denying foreign scholars, artists, politicians and others entry to the United States.  Foreign nationals who have recently been denied visas include Fulbright scholar Marixa Lasso; Iraqi doctor Riyadh Lafta, who disputed the official Iraqi civilian death numbers in the respected British medical journal The Lancet; respected South African scholar and vocal Iraq War critic Dr. Adam Habib, and Oxford’s Tariq Ramadan, who have both recently received visas to speak in the United States after many years of delays and denials.

For the release of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, Barghouti has standing invitations for events in New York City, Harvard, Yale, Brown, Brandeis University, Washington DC, and Philadelphia. Barghouti studied, lived and worked in the United States for 11 years before permanently relocating to Jerusalem. He attended Columbia University, receiving both Bachelors and Masters degrees from the school. His U.S. born child, whom he needs a visa to visit, currently attends college in Indiana. Between 2005-2010, Barghouti visited the U.S. extensively without incident, on a 5 year visa, which only recently expired.