Saturday, January 23, 2016

Protesters Storm Jewish Event at LGBT Conference

A briefly canceled, then reinstated event featuring the Jewish LGBT group A Wider Bridge and the Israeli LGBT group Jerusalem Open House was shut down part way through as nearly two hundred protesters stormed the event and commandeered the stage. It represents an unfortunate end to an unfortunate saga, and another entry in the growing effort to exclude all but the most rabidly anti-Zionist Jewish voices from global deliberative discourse.

Part of the blame for the chaotic reception is due to fumbles by the host organization, the National LGBTQ Task Force, whose initial cancellation decision greatly elevated the controversy over the event and turned what might have been an isolated group of protesters into a full-blown calamity. But we ignore the toxic conditions that have allowed such illiberal tendencies to fester in progressive organizations. As I wrote in my last post:
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.
And that's what we're seeing here. Even if there were some evidence that the Israeli government is actively seeking to leverage its relatively strong LGBT record to "cover" for the occupation (and I continue to think that's oversold), it's become abundantly clear that the "pinkwashing" label has taken a decidedly conspiratorial edge. Any LGBT organization in Israel, or any Jewish LGBT organization anywhere, that is not avowedly anti-Zionist (which is to say, any of substantial size) will simply be asserted to be part of a grand Zionist pinkwashing plot. At that stage, the "pinkwashing" charge has become anti-Semitic root to branch.

A Wider Bridge and Jerusalem Open House are not opposed because they are mouthpieces for the Israeli government. They're opposed because certain purportedly progressive groups want to have a conversation about Israel that does not include Israelis. For the most part, they want to have a conversation about Jews that does not include Jews save those token few who sign on to the exclusionary project. The spurious "pinkwashing" label is there to legitimize this campaign.

It seems that every couple of years Jews get reminded once again that -- when push comes to shove -- nobody (left, right, or center) has our backs. We can't count on LGBT groups to protect our LGBT members. We can't count on anti-racism groups to protect our non-White members. We can't depend on general civil rights groups to protect any of our members. Each time, the message is not "you're one of us" but rather "you're here at our sufferance." I'd love, just once, to be proven wrong on this. But it hasn't happened yet.

Two Links on the Mizrahi Moment

Two older links regarding Mizrahi Jews that I'm posting because (a) they're good articles and (b)  I want to ensure I have them saved for later.

The first, by Ophir Toubul, argues that Israel's White Ashkenazi Left Doesn't Own the Peace Process. I actually had already read this piece before and found it exceptionally insightful, and wanted to make sure I had it memorialized for future reference.  It presents the case for a "Mizrahification" of the peace process and Israel writ large that can genuinely and respectfully interrelate with the broader Middle Eastern community, without pretending that the Mizrahi community represents some post-Zionist fantasy of Jews alienated against Israel and ready to effectively jettison their Jewish communal affiliation and become a subordinate member of a pan-Arab identity.

The second, which I found while searching for the first, interviews American Mizrahi Jews to get their thoughts on a movement by American Arab groups to get "Middle Eastern" disaggregated from "White" on the Census. Their thoughts are fascinating, complex, and often deeply ambivalent. Most would identify as Middle Eastern if given the chance, and many articulated instances of discrimination based on their Middle Eastern appearance. But unlike their Muslim and Christian Arab brethren (organizing under the slogan "Check it right, you ain’t white!"), the Jews were often reluctant to self-identify as "people of color." Some suggested that for them anti-Semitism was a more serious day-to-day discriminatory threat than anti-Middle Eastern sentiment, and (implicitly) that "people of color" denotes a particular type of discrimination qualitatively different from that which they experienced. Others simply didn't seem to view identifying as "Middle Eastern" and identifying as "White" as competitive with one another.

Anyway, both articles are good reads, and so both are getting a plug and permanent enshrinement on my blog's archives. Congratulations.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Evicting Jewish Settlers and the Arab MK Who Cried Foul

Israel can be a weird place sometime, at least for persons who think it's straightforward one:
Israeli troops forcibly removed Jewish settlers from homes they said they had purchased from Palestinians in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron on Friday, prompting some right-wing Israeli lawmakers to threaten to withhold support for the government.
So far, not that weird. Maybe some folks would be surprised that this particular Israeli government would evict Jewish settlers in any case. But that's not the strange part. The strange part is who was among the objecting lawmaker:
Three right-wing lawmakers, two from Likud and another from the ultranationalist Jewish home party, said they would not attend parliamentary votes on Monday in protest at the move.
“It is forbidden to evict Jews from their homes and there will be consequences, we demand the prime minister’s involvement in the matter,” said Ayoub Kara, a Druze Arab Likud lawmaker.
 So ... that's not exactly the statement one expects to read from an Arab MK, even one on the Likud list (most Arab members of the Knesset are part of the Joint Arab List). But it just goes to show you that Israel is a much odder place than one gives it credit for.

(For my part, for what it's worth, good riddance to these Hebron settlers. But nobody asked me).

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Trumping the Undercard

I got to say, this is pretty neat:
Boxing promoter Bob Arum plans to make a statement against Donald Trump with an all-Hispanic undercard on his next big pay-per-view show. 
Arum said Tuesday that he'll feature all Hispanic fighters on the undercard of Manny Pacquiao's third meeting with Timothy Bradley on April 9 in Las Vegas. Arum called it "the Donald Trump undercard." 
Arum is no fan of the Republican presidential contender's calls for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and the deportation of an estimated 11 million people living in the country illegally. 
"I want them to know there are a lot of people that have their back and are not going to allow them to be deported," Arum said. "And if Trump got elected, I would be in the streets with them protesting."
At one level, it's not too surprising that a boxing promoter would take this stance, given the importance of the Latino community as the main base of boxing fandom in the United States. But still, it's a bold step and one that, as a boxing fan, I'm proud to see.

This article also informed me that before his boxing promotion career Arum, now 84 years old, was an attorney with the Department of Justice in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. He's also a graduate of Harvard Law -- a distinction he shares with fellow boxing promoter Lou DiBella. Famed boxing adviser Al Haymon is also a Harvard alum. Turns out that there are a lot of really smart cookies in the boxing business!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Zionist Space Conspiracy Continues, Part IV

Yair Rosenberg has the deets. Israel is voted into the UN space agency just as a new planet is discovered. Ali Abunimah is right to be concerned.

Prior entries in the series here, here, and here.

Monday, January 18, 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.