Tuesday, January 19, 2016

LGBT Conference: Hearing from LGBT Jews Would Be Too "Divisive", Not "Safe"

The National LGBTQ Task Force canceled an event from its "Creating Change" conference, apparently due to the host groups' ties to Israel. The event, which would have been on Friday, featured A Wider Bridge, a  group that seeks to present the stories of queer Israelis to the North American American LGBTQ community, and Jerusalem Open House, a prominent Israeli LGBT advocacy and activist organization. While initial reports cited "safety" concerns as the rationale, there were no reports of any incipient violence. A statement from National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey confirmed that the cancellation was instead due to the "divisive" nature of hearing Jews and Israelis speak about their experiences:
“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-Semitic — which are wrong and deeply painful to those of us in the National LGBTQ Task Force family. 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 cancellation is particularly painful given Jerusalem Open House's efforts to recover from the horrific stabbing attack perpetuated by an ultra-Orthodox Jewish extremist at the Jerusalem gay pride parade. That attack deeply traumatized the gay rights community in Israel, and one of the goals of international conferences like these is to let vulnerable queer communities know that the rest of the world has their back. But, of course, Jews can never count on the rest of the world to have our backs, or fronts, or sides. It's a very "divisive" thing to do, after all.

To be most generous to the conference organizers, one suspects that they knew that various anti-Israel radicals would try to disrupt the event, knew that they would not be able to stop them, and knew that this occurrence would distract from the "community-building, social atmosphere" image the conference wanted to display. But let's be clear: that rationale is a tacit acknowledgement of just how deep that prejudice runs. It is a capitulation; an admission that they don't have the resources to tackle it and so certain LGBT persons are outside its protective purview.

I also have to note how, as is so frequently the case, the bald rejection of being labeled "anti-Semitic" is not coupled with any argument why (let alone any consideration of the possibility their interlocutors have a point). Indeed, while they transition straight into universal formulations of their organizational values, they can't spare a word to confirm that they apply to Jews specifically. Do Jews have the right to "self-determination" (do they count as a "people"? It's hardly a closed question). Do they think Jews have the right to organize social justice oriented dialogue on their own terms (evidently not). Perhaps they think it is self-evident that refusing to even listen to Jewish and Israeli LGBT voices describe their own experiences is not anti-Semitic. It doesn't seem self-evident to me, nor to the prominent voices in that community who have blasted the decision. But as is too frequently the case, the spectre of anti-Semitism doesn't prompt introspection, only defensive complaints of how "hurtful" it is.

Finally, the invocation of "safe space" here finely demonstrates my intuition that this concept is a check Jews are not entitled to cash. Here, "safety" is being deployed as a weapon; as a narrative tool to cast Jewish and Israeli groups as inherently putting the lives of others at risk. Jews are hardly the only minority group whose mere presence is taken by some to constitute a threat. When the National LGBTQ Task Force endorses that narrative, it is inscribing violence, not combating it.

The event will be hosted instead at a hotel across the street from the main conference venue. One hopes that the publicity, at least, will give them more attendees. But one also hopes that the remaining participants in the conference will take their owns steps to ensure that LGBT spaces are open to the voices of all.

UPDATE: The Task Force has reversed its decision and reinvited A Wider Bridge. Kudos.


stickytuesday said...

If we're totally frank, Israel has a vibrant, thriving LGBT community that includes Palestinians that have fled their homophobic neighborhoods. Very few countries period, let alone Muslim majority ones, are so accommodating. Any LGBT movement that feels like their priority is the condemnation of such a country for non-LGBT issues, and not the promotion of LGBT rights, is imho a shameful failure. It's shocking to me that they don't see this.

Binyamin Arazi said...

"But as is too frequently the case, the spectre of anti-Semitism doesn't prompt introspection, only defensive complaints of how "hurtful" it is."

It's always the antisemites who are the victims, never the people who are actually being marginalized.