Pinkwashing protesters at the Creating Change event
A number of LGBTQ leaders in the US have expressed concern about what they say is growing anti-Semitism, intolerance and censorship among some activists who are opposed to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people.
In recent years, many activists in the social justice movement have dismissed and labelled Israel’s mostly progressive policies towards LGBTQ people as “pinkwashing” – an attempt by the Israeli state to paper over its human rights violations against Palestinians and present itself as a “modern democracy”.
The issue recently came to a dramatic head when around 200 activists disrupted a controversial reception at the Creating Change (CC16) LGBTQ conference in Chicago featuring A Wider Bridge (AWB), a group that aims to build ties between LGBTQ Americans and Israelis. CC16 was hosted by the LGBTQ Task Force.
There have since been claims and counter-claims about the nature of the protest, with some insisting that anti-Semitic comments were made amidst the chaos, shouting and scuffles, while others deny this. The activists had earlier pressured the LGBTQ Task Force to cancel the function and ultimately, through their protest, succeeded.
In an open letter to the LGBTQ Task Force published on Wednesday, a group of almost 50 influential members of the American LGBTQ community expressed their “collective and deep concern” at the actions of the protesters.
They accused the activists of “physically intimidating and ultimately shutting down” the reception and reported claims of anti-Semitic insults and actions. They wrote that the protesters used “such hostility and aggression that speakers and attendees at the event were justifiably terrified and felt physically threatened.”
In the letter, the LGBTQ leaders called for “some form of an ‘active pluralism’ policy”. They argued that “such a policy, while respecting the free speech rights of individuals and groups, would not allow protesters to effectively censor the speech of other groups, much less threaten the physical well-being and safety of those with whom they do not agree, including Jewish and Israeli LGBTQ groups.”
“It is intellectually, politically and morally dishonest to claim that in the name of freedom, liberation, or some other progressive ideal, there is a right to target and exclude Jewish/Israeli groups, to foment physical intimidation and harassment, and to encourage anti-Semitism.”
The letter concluded with: “There is a long and ugly history of this kind of censorship where individuals with controversial ideas and viewpoints have been silenced in the name of the ‘greater good.’ We should know by now that such censorship results in fewer (not more) good ideas and greater (not lesser) oppression of us all.
“Indeed, given that we come from a movement where LGBTQ people were effectively shut out from participation in the public discourse for so many years, what happened at CC16 was extremely dangerous. If we as a movement really believe in the values we profess to hold dear, then it is time to put an end to this.”
The letter was signed by well known members of the American LGBTQ community – some Jewish, some not – including journalist and author Dan Savage, retired politician Barney Frank, South African born American activist Melanie Nathan and Edie Windsor, the woman who sued the US in a bid to legalise same-sex marriage.
In a statement of their own, the organisers of the #CancelPinkwashing protest insisted that they were the ones who were “pushed and physically intimidated” by “Zionists” during the fracas.
They also said that they had accomplished their goals by having “shut down the pinkwashing reception and raised the national visibility of pinkwashing as a Zionist tactic.”
The activists further argued that their critics are falsely equating “anti-Zionism and all criticism of Israeli policy with anti-Semitism” in order “to silence political debate and distract from occupation and colonialism, which are at the heart of this issue.”
“We are extremely disappointed by the unaccountable, racist actions of the Task Force as an institution. We will continue to press them on our demands and move forward in our work to confront pinkwashing and push LGBT organisations to name and reject their complicity in colonial occupation,” they said.