TEL AVIV – A group of American and Israeli LGBTQ Jews that was set to host a reception at the largest conference of LGBTQ activists in the United States has been banned from the event due to pressure from anti-Israeli activists, who slammed the group for being supporters of a “settler colonial nation engaged in apartheid.”
The U.S. nonprofit A Wider Bridge, which builds connections between American and Israeli LGBTQ Jews, was scheduled to host a reception on Friday with leaders of Jerusalem’s Open House for Pride and Tolerance at the Creating Change conference in Chicago.
The National LGBTQ Task Force, which organizes the conference, had given approval to the group months ago to host a reception following Jewish Friday night prayer services.
On Friday, however, Arthur Slepian, the founder and executive director of A Wider Bridge, received a call from the conference director saying the reception was being cancelled for reasons of safety and security. Slepian told the Haaretz newspaper that there was no evidence of this, but the director refused to elaborate.
On the same day, Dean Spade, an associate professor at the Seattle University School of Law, published a blog post criticizing the National LGBTQ Task Force over the Jewish reception.
Describing A Wider Bridge as “an Israel advocacy organization,” Spade, who is also the founder of a transgender organization, accused the organization of “pinkwashing,” – i.e., promoting Israel’s LGBT rights record in an attempt to deflect attention away from its treatment of the Palestinians.
“It is not an organization focused on LGBT Jews, or an organization focused on LGBT Israelis,” wrote Spade. “It is an organization focused on linking LGBT people in the U.S. to Israel, the settler colonial nation engaged in apartheid, condemned by the world.”
Slepian slammed the conference organizers for giving into the pressure. “It sounds to us like capitulation in the face of intimidation by a small number of very loud anti-Israel activists in the community who did not want to see us have any part of the conference,” he told Haaretz.
“It is outrageous. It is censorship, it is bullying, it is giving in to this new model that some people have if you disagree with some point of view it’s not enough to disagree, but you have to deny them any platform to speak and be heard,” he added.
“The National LGBTQ Task Force caves to extremists,” said A Wider Bridge in a statement on its website and Facebook.
A petition started on Change.org called on the conference organizers to reverse their decision and apologize to A Wider Bridge. Within a few hours, the petition had garnered nearly 500 signatures.
Rea Carey, the executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, said in a statement that “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.”