Monthly Archives: February 2011

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.

Zionist Organization of America board member leads class action lawsuit against Jimmy Carter for Apartheid book

This is an extraordinary and clunky attack on free speech by a group of Americans and Israelis who simply didn’t like former President Jimmy Carter’s book, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid.

Tablet’s Marc Tracy reports that on Monday, a group represented by attorney David Schoen ( a board member of the Zionist Organization of America who boasts defending members of the Israel mafia ) announced it was filing a class action lawsuit against Carter and his publisher Simon & Shuster. They claim the book, marketed as nonfiction, contains“demonstrable falsehoods, omissions, and knowing misrepresentations designed to promote Carter’s agenda of anti-Israel propaganda.”

The publisher responded to Tablet:

“This lawsuit is a frivolous and transparent attempt by the plaintiffs, despite their protestations to the contrary, to punish the author, a Nobel Peace prize-winner and world-renowned statesmen, and his publisher, for writing and publishing a book with which the plaintiffs simply disagree. It is a chilling attack on free speech that we intend to defend vigorously.”

The plaintiffs, Stephen Unterberg, Susan Eckman, Ryan Shuman, Danica Bernard and Steven Tabak, and apparently a cast of thousands who were traumatized by the book,  are demanding “damages” for everyone who ever bought the book. Seriously. You can read the lawsuit yourself below–

Carter Complaint- Lawsuit Against Jimmy Carter

-cecilie surasky

Birthright puts the kibosh on J Street-led trip

The “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby group J Street recently announced with much fanfare that it would be leading its first Taglit-Birthright trip to Israel. Birthright provides young Jews with a free 10-day trip meant to permanently cement their connection to Israel and even more importantly, their commitment to having babies with other Jews (hence the now popular nickname, Birthrate.)

J Street promised that their trip would go to the standard Birthright favorites like Masada or [Holocaust museum] Yad Vashem, but would also interface with human rights advocates and explore progressive Zionism. In other words, it might provide a broader view than most trips, but it wouldn’t rock the boat by taking participants to, say, Bil’in to protest against the wall.

And yet, Ha’aretz reports, right-wing bloggers didn’t like that idea and they organized a successful effort to get Birthright to cancel the tour with J Street. The excuse? How is this for sheer comedy? Birthright told Haaretz’s Natasha Mozgovaya that it was about politics:

…trips of political orientation are not accepted. When it happened in the past, we discontinued working with them. The idea of a “Political trip” is out of question…

Oh yes, that’s right.

J Street rightly pointed to AIPAC’s  “Capital to Capital” Birthright trip for Jewish political activists. (One featured stop on that trip is the Reut Institute which we have written about extensively.) But of course, it goes deeper than that.The essence of Birthright is political. It was never funded to be strictly religious or cultural, even if that was its original intent. It is a program to preserve Jewish unconditional support for Israel – including its occupation and ongoing violations of human rights- in part by nourishing a kind of Jewish entitlement to all of the land, even if Palestinians or Bedouin happen to have been living on parts of it for generations. The program is thought of as the last best hope to save the young Jewish generation from assimilation and decreased support for Israel.

In fact, as I write this on February 1, hundreds of Birthright alum are gathering for an event in NYC called “Take Back Zionism.” An event, which K. Feldman notes in Mondoweiss, doesn’t include David Grossman, for example, as a headliner. Many of them have written here what Zionism means to them.

Here is an example of a Birthright-approved reading list:
The Case for Israel & The Case for Peace, Alan Dershowitz
Still Life with Bombers: Israel in the Age of Terrorism,David Horovitz
Coming Together, Coming Apart, Daniel Gordis
Exodus, Leon Uris
O Jerusalem!, Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre
The Source, James Michener
My Life, Golda Meir In The Name Of Sorrow And Hope, Noa Ben Artzi Pelosoff Warrior, Ariel Sharon
Walking The Bible, Bruce Feiler
Nimrod Flip-Out, Etgar Keret
What Israel Means To Me, edited by Alan Dershowitz

J Street U Student Board President Morial Rothman:

“Those of us engaged on this issue on campus know that there is a deep hunger among our peers to connect with Israel in a way that reflects our Jewish and democratic values of justice and equality”, Rothman wrote in response to the criticism. “In light of this tremendous enthusiasm, we are deeply troubled by Birthright’s abrupt decision to cancel our trip. Revoking this previously-approved opportunity, planned in concert with accredited Birthright trip organizer Israel Experience, sends exactly the wrong message to our community and to our students – and it is a painful message to receive”.

Moving sentiments. But it can be argued that there is an intrinsic contradiction between the values of justice and equality, and the purpose and certainly methodology of Birthright.

The further irony is that thousands of members of this younger generation of Jews are ready to be fully and passionately engaged with Israel and Judaism. Not the Israel of Avigdor Lieberman or Operation Cast Lead, but the Israel of Anarchists Against the Wall or The Coalition of Women for Peace or Breaking the Silence. They are ready to truly engage with building a just and equal future for all people in the region, and to do so as Jews working side by side with Palestinians— but clearly those young Jews are not invited to go with Birthright. Unless, of course, they sneak in.