Pro-Israel LGBT group welcomed back to national confab

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After an outcry over perceived anti-Israel bias, the National LGBTQ Task Force reversed its decision to cancel a reception hosted by A Wider Bridge, a pro-Israel LGBT organization based in San Francisco.

 

Arthur Slepian, A Wider Bridge

The Jan. 22 event, which was scheduled as part of the annual Creating Change Conference taking place this week in Chicago, will go forward as planned.

 

“I have decided to reverse our decision to cancel,” said task force executive director Rea Carey in a Jan. 19 statement. “It is our belief that when faced with choices, we should move towards our core values of inclusion and opportunities for constructive dialogue, and canceling the reception was a mistake … I apologize that our actions left people feeling silenced.”

A Wider Bridge, which works to build connections between the American Jewish and Israeli LGBTQ communities, had also invited leaders of the LGBTQ organization Jerusalem Open House to appear at the Shabbat reception.

In his statement, A Wider Bridge executive director Arthur Slepian credited LGBTQ and allied supporters of Israel for calling and emailing the task force. He also thanked Carey for undoing the decision and for apologizing.

“These past few days demonstrate we have much more work to do in building bridges,” Slepian said, “and strengthening the LGBTQ communities of North America and Israel.”

The controversy erupted last week after heavy lobbying by anti-Israel activists who demanded cancellation of the event.

In her initial Jan. 18 statement, Carey explained, “We decided to cancel a Friday night reception titled ‘Beyond the Bridge’ when it became clear to us that it would be intensely divisive. 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.”

That triggered a rapid response from pro-Israel LGBTQ activists and other Israel supporters. A Wider Bridge asked supporters to deluge the task force with calls and emails. A Change.org petition quickly circulated, calling on the task force to demonstrate “there is a safe space … for supporters of A Wider Bridge and LGBTQ people and allies who want a constructive relationship with Israel and LGBTQ Israelis.”

That petition garnered more than 1,375 signatures.

The controversy rippled through social media and the blogosphere. LGBTQ activist Dean Spade tweeted: “Why is [the task force] inviting an openly Zionist organization to present, with no mention of occupation/pinkwashing/Palestinian rights?”

“Pinkwashing” refers to the charge that Israel touts its social tolerance of the LGBT community to cover up alleged abuses of Palestinian rights.

Writing in the Huffington Post, Gender Rights Maryland executive director Dana Beyer called the cancellation “a stain on the LGBT community,” adding, “This is not the type of change for which the task force stands and is a disgraceful act of capitulation.”

Carey acknowledged that the decision to cancel “made it appear we were taking sides in a complex and longstanding conflict … in canceling the reception we deeply offended many people, and our reversal will offend others. … Enough. We are a community of people coming together at Creating Change, and no one should be threatened for their opinions no matter how much you disagree.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.