Category Archives: Pinkwashing

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).

Pinkwashing: Listen to Elle Flanders, Cecilie Surasky on WBAI, Healing the Gay-Jewish Divide

New York’s WBAI Gay Pride 2010 programming: Listen to Jewish Voice for Peace Deputy Director Cecilie Surasky explain Pinkwashing and Brand Israel and Canadian filmmaker and activist Elle Flanders on efforts to censor “Israeli apartheid”.

If you have been following the story, you know that Pride Toronto, the LGBTQI group that puts on Toronto’s annual gay pride parade, yielded to outside pressure to ban the words “Israeli apartheid”, and then, in the face of a huge backlash, rescinded the ban.  Proponents of the ban, led by Canadian Jewish groups, are now fighting back. One legislator, who would rather see Pride Toronto destroyed, is seeking defunding of the organization.

You can write a letter of thank you to Pride Toronto here.They should hear from you-they need thanks for making the right decision and they’ll need support for standing up to censorship.

Elle Flanders is a member of QUAiA, Queers United Against Israeli Apartheid, the group whose mere existence at Pride prompted the censorship campaign. Read Flanders’ moving piece here:

Healing the Gay Jewish Divide-Elle Flanders

As a Canadian Jew who grew up in Israel, I am stymied. My Israeli friends debate what is happening in their country freely. I say the same in Toronto, and I am not only an anti-Semite, but an enemy of the state. As a gay Jew I am told that my only legitimate presence at Pride would be as pro-Israel, running down the street with Israeli flags to ‘show my allegiance’ to the Jewish state. As a gay Canadian I have NEVER carried a Canadian flag at Pride, homonationalism has never been my thing. Does that mean I am anti-Canadian and a Canadian hater? Does it make me an enemy of the Canadian state? Why do I have to show my Jewish pride by not only carrying an Israeli flag, but also silencing all debate on what’s happening in Israel at the moment?

And what about all the Jews that have NO affiliation with Israel whatsoever? Should they have to join Kulanu’s pro-Israel stance if they simply want to march showing their Jewish identity? Is allegiance to Israel-at-all-costs the prerequisite for being Jewish at this point? Bernie Farber and the Canadian Jewish Congress, the B’nai Brith, Hillel, Kulanu and the United Jewish Appeal would like you to think so and it’s damaging our community.

Kulanu, which means ‘everyone’ in Hebrew, is a gay Jewish contingent that marches at Pride, it claims to be Canada’s only gay Jewish organization. I think some other gay Jewish groups may beg to differ, but as they are not pro-Israel, they are dismissed for all intents and purposes. Kulanu says in its mission statement that they do not take a position on the Israel-Palestine conflict, yet their actions over the last two years would lead one to believe otherwise. I am guessing that although I fit the bill of ‘everyone,’ I would not be welcome with my Israel critique at Kulanu who have said expressly in their emails and website, that they march in support of Israel and all Jews who feel similarly, gay and straight, should join them this year.

According to Martin Gladstone, the anti-QuAIA crusader (Queers Against Israeli Apartheid), we should not be marching, as our issues are not ‘queer’. With all due respect, one might ask what ‘support for Israel’ has to do with queer issues? But unlike Gladstone, I would never argue that they should not march. If that is their expression of queerness, support for Israel-at-all-costs, so be it.

The truth is that Israel, through its ministry of foreign affairs, has launched a campaign here in North America to turn all eyes away from the human rights abuses and violations, towards the ‘good stuff’: gay rights; innovations in science; technology; the arts, etc. This campaign as it relates to the gay community has been called Pinkwashing—the using of a gay agenda to cover up less-pleasant realities in Israel at the moment. That’s where this all comes together. That’s one of the reasons QuAIA marches, saying don’t use our queer bodies to justify your war crimes. Sure there is a gay parade in Tel Aviv, that’s fantastic, but it doesn’t make the rest of the issues disappear does it?

Back to the issue of why mainstream Jews in North America seem to be liberal on so many issues yet cannot bring themselves to critique Israel, even in the slightest way. There are issues there that would make the average queer’s hair stand on end, and that get debated in Israeli society regularly. Specifically to the gay plight, do we ever hear about how Rabbis and religious members of the Knesset lead the fight against Gay rights there? Or do we only hear about Israel, the land of tolerance and democracy that has a Pride parade? Do we talk about the gays that got stabbed at a Jerusalem Pride two years ago by orthodox Jews, or do we simply celebrate that a Pride parade occurred? Why the silence on the complexities in Israel by the mainstream Jewish community?

From a liberal perspective, how does a Canadian Jew distinguish between rights for gays and rights for Arabs for example? Just recently, the Knesset passed a law forbidding Arab citizens of Israel from purchasing homes within Jewish settlements (those inside Israel, not the West Bank). Effectively the law states that based on one’s ethnicity (not citizenship), one may not buy property in certain areas. If we simply replaced this for ‘gays’, would the liberal Canadian Jew then be outraged? What if a gay person was forbidden by the Canadian parliament from settling in Alberta? Or let’s make it simpler: What if a Jew was forbidden from living in Mississaugua? Sounds ludicrous? Well, it may, but that’s one of the many laws recently passed as it relates to Arab citizens of Israel. But the community remains mum; they’d rather talk about Iran and its threat to Israel’s existence rather than the daily erosion of democracy therein.

My Israeli friends are baffled by the lack of honesty in the Jewish Canadian community and my Jewish Canadian gay friends are nervous that they have become targets in the ever-more polarizing campaign of Kulanu and the mainstream Jewish Canadian organizations who maintain that ‘either you are with us or against us, you are pro-Israel or for its destruction’. For Jewish members of the LGBT community and their friends, this has produced acrimoniousness and a sense of fear as evidenced by a young gay man who would not take my free speech pamphlet at an event last week. He glared at me and said: “I’m Jewish!” I retorted, “Wow, cool, me too!” His confusion was legitimate in the face of Kulanu’s messaging. He looked even more baffled when I told him I grew-up in Israel. He said, “So, you’ve even been over there? What’s it like?” Despite his absolute ignorance, his mind had been made-up—Those who questioned Israel were the enemy.

I would hence ask Israel’s liberal supporters, when IS it justifiable to speak out against one’s country (or one’s that you support in any case)? Amongst my Israeli friends, the line was crossed so long ago that this is not even the question anymore—their question is back at us—“As Jewish gays in Canada, when will you speak about what is really happening here? Because our government, the rise of the religious right, and the erosion of democracy makes Israel a dangerous place to live in for gays and straights alike. When will you support us as people and not as an ideology?”

Under pressure, Pride Toronto reverses censorship of “Israeli apartheid”

We’ve written extensively about the pressure campaign led in part by Canada’s B’nai Brith to ban the group Queers United Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) from all Pride Toronto events including the LGBTQI pride parade, the Dyke and Trans marches.

B’nai Brith boasted in a May press release:

B’nai Brith Canada has contacted the organizers of Toronto’s Pride Parade to urge them ensure that the agenda of the annual Pride Parade is not allowed to be hijacked by the propaganda of anti-Israel agitators. The Jewish human rights organization has also contacted the Prime Minister of Canada, the Premier of Ontario, and the Mayor of Toronto, all contributors to the Pride Parade, asking for a review of the funding in light of the stated agenda of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid.

And after Pride Toronto remarkably agreed to censor the two words “Israeli apartheid” from the parades (while it’s perfectly legal to utter the phrase in Israel or write it in Israel’s most prestigious newspaper), it seemed as though B’nai Brith and friends won. But after a massive backlash, Pride Toronto has just announced it has overturned the ridiculous decision. Xtra reports:

Pride Toronto (PT) has reversed its May board resolution banning the term “Israeli apartheid” and will instead require all participants to sign and abide by the City of Toronto’s non-discrimination policy.

Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) — the target of the ban — has declared a victory and congratulated the queer community for pushing PT to reverse its censorship decision.

“This is a victory for the Palestine solidarity movement, which has faced censorship and bullying tactics from the Israel lobby for far too long,” said QuAIA member Tim McCaskell in the release.

Of course, QuAIA now owes a debt of thanks to their opponents who have done more than anyone to make sure the phrase “Israeli apartheid” would be on the lips of just about everyone in Canada following the story. Plus, before the ban was rescinded, QuAIA didn’t waste any time in offering an alternative free speech track for pride events. This is creative organizing:

LGBT leaders in open rebellion against Pride Toronto for censoring 2 words: “Israeli Apartheid”

Gay pride parades (now evolved into LGBTQ and straight ally parades) were originally created to give gays and lesbians a way to defy shame, embrace free speech, and fight an unjust status quo. And now in Toronto? No longer.

On June 7, over 20 high-level past and present awardees and grand marshals left their statuettes at the door of Pride Toronto following the resignation of the parade’s international grand marshals. They were protesting what will surely be remembered as one of the most shameful actions ever taken by a pride group: succumbing to pressure from Canada’s excessively right wing B’nai Brith to bar the group Queers United Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) by banning the use of the phrase “Israeli Apartheid.”

Talk about backfiring. Performers and speakers continue to jump ship and the condemnations are coming fast and furious. One can only hope that if for no other reason than the principle of it, people wearing “Israeli Apartheid” stickers will show up at pride parades all over the world, including and especially in Toronto.

The Canadian gay and lesbian paper Xtra has really remarkable coverage of the sequence of events. We wrote extensively about the story here before it was announced that the words “Israeli Apartheid” would be banned not just from the pride parade but also from the trans and dykes marches. (Presumably QuAIA can come to the party if they change their names to “Queers United Against Israeli Mmmmmmm”)

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The Israel Lobby’s Smear Campaign and Toronto Gay Pride

Are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities the next battle ground for the struggle over Palestinian equal rights? They certainly are in San Francisco, where this month’s controversial Out in Israel festival seeks in part to erase the occupation by promoting Israel as a gay mecca, and in Toronto, where a nasty smear campaign is being waged to ban a group called Queers United Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) from the annual Pride parade.

What’s remarkable about Toronto isn’t that some oppose QuAIA’s presence in the parade–in the classic tradition of LGBT parades, which are by their very nature acts of political resistance, QuAIA’s message is challenging and it’s meant to be.  What’s amazing is that their opponents– who object to the term “apartheid” despite its almost commonplace usage by many Israelis–have resorted to openly duplicitous and unethical means for literally banishing the group and harming the parade to achieve their aims.

Actually, it makes perfect sense. You can’t ban a group for using the word ‘apartheid’, so you have to fabricate evidence to suggest the group is a hate group. And that’s exactly what’s happening to QuAIA, which, surprise surprise, includes a lot of self-loving anti-occupation Jews.

The formation of Canada’s Queers United Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) was an inevitable response to Brand Israel efforts to “Pinkwash” Israel. That is, make the occupation disappear and fuel anti-Arab contempt by promoting Israel as a Middle Eastern “modern, Occidental and liberal” mecca in contrast to its “anti-gay”, “darkly exotic” and entirely unsympathetic Oriental neighbors. Yeah, the bigotry is that obvious. (And exactly how are you supposed to organize for LGBT rights when you’re literally fighting for your survival while under a 43 year long occupation?)

But groups like B’nai Brith (which, in Canada, is inexplicably to the right of AIPAC) and the Simon Weisenthal Center, as well as –apparently acting on his own–a lawyer named Martin Gladstone, have been pushing back and demanding that Toronto Pride ban the group from marching in any future parades.

The curiously right-wing Canadian B’nai Brith, which, as Andy Lehrer of Independent Jewish Voices mockingly said, “discovered gay rights this week,” has been complaining about the “hijacking” of gay agenda. So they’ve been going after Pride advertisers.

Gay lawyer Gladstone may be genuinely concerned about what he feels is a hostile anti-Israeli environment at the pride parade, but that wouldn’t explain why he has resorted to a series of unethical actions from possibly trying to stack community focus groups, to creating a propaganda video (see below) with generous footage of anti-Semitic signs from anti-war marches in…. another country! His charges, which have found their way to the mainstream media even after they were debunked, include false claims about a QuAIA chant and transparently false charges that the contingent included anti-Semites who sported swastikas.

QuAIA responds to these false charges here- but Gladstone’s video is still making the rounds, which amusingly asserts that if you march in a gay pride parade you automatically endorse every single group in the parade (tell that to the queer quakers and the LGBT Veterans group.)

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Parvez Sharma 2nd update. Parvez got played?

Parvez wrote about what happened yesterday in Huffington Post. Sharma continues to be my gay, Muslim hero.

Update: Thanks to Cole Krawitz of JVoices who just sent me this article from gay mag The Advocate with the headline, and I kid you not: Israel to Recruit Gay Community in Anti-Iran Campaign.

Israel plans outreach to groups including the international gay community as part of its ramped-up public-relations effort against Iran, reports the newspaper Haaretz.

“We have to lay the foundation in the world, and particularly in Europe, in order to be able to take harsher steps against Iran, especially in the economic sector,” said a senior political source in Jerusalem.

The strategy of the new campaign, which will be managed by the foreign ministry, is to reach people who are more concerned about Iran’s human rights abuses than its nuclear aspirations. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (pictured) famously announced in 2007 that there were no homosexuals in Iran, and international human rights organizations have reported hundreds of executions of gay men and lesbians in the country.

As the first commenter wrote:

This is a classic guilty-conscience move: blame someone else when you get caught. Rather than address legitimate criticisms of its policies, Israel points in the other direction and says, Look over there! They’re worse than we are! Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! Don’t be fooled. Gays can criticize Iran, Israel and Palestinians all at the same time. We can also work towards peace and security for all of them, and equal rights for ourselves, while doing so.

I’d add that in this case, a lot of people are authentically fearful about Iran and Israel’s existence. And they have some good reason to be. But the way to respond is not to whip up the rhetoric of demonization, make Ahmedinejad appear to be much bigger and more powerful than he is, and try to bring the US into a war. Obama says, talk to our enemies. The US and Israel could try a little something called diplomacy for once.