New York LGBT Center Lifts Ban On Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

The New York LGBT Center was thrust into national headlines in 2011 when it abruptly cancelled a scheduled End Israeli Apartheid meeting.

Israel_Palestine and the Queer InternationalPro-Israeli advocates (including porn producer Michael Lucas) insisted the series was anti-Semitic, while those supporting the event claimed the Center had caved to Lucas and influential pro-Israeli donors—and was guilty of “pinkwashing,” i.e. promoting Israel’s support of its gay community to distract from other human-rights violations.

As a result, the Center issued a “moratorium” on any events addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—from either side.

Well, someone didn’t get the memo: This week lesbian novelist-historian Sarah Schulman was scheduled to do a reading from her new book, Israel/Palestine and the Queer International.

That is, until the center abruptly canceled the event.

Schulman (right) was not happy, to say the least. She told Buzzfeed:

Center-Bars-SchulmanISIt seems that they hold cliched and stereotyped beliefs about punitive rich Jews who will pull out their Jew-money if anyone criticizes Israel, and it was this misguided prejudice that lead them to defensively ban any criticism of Israel.

I know it sounds insane, but I honestly think that that is what happened. A weird kind of anti-Semitism combined with a profound lack of intelligence and integrity.

In the wake of even more public outcry, the Center has now lifted its ban. On Friday, Center director Glennda Testone released a statement that read, in part:

In 2011 the Center was thrust into a controversy involving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict about which we took no position, but were forced to expend significant resources to address. This controversy placed substantial strains on management resources and front line staff, and created an environment that interfered with our ability to assist those in our community who needed our services.

In response, we imposed a moratorium on renting space to groups that organize on all sides of this conflict, which, while itself controversial, allowed things to cool down and gave us time to rethink the Center’s space use policies.

Our resulting Space Use Guidelines, Terms and Conditions will govern the use of our space going forward, and, accordingly, the moratorium is no longer in effect. The Center does not endorse the views of any groups to which it rents space. We adamantly believe in and defend free speech and the open exchange of ideas, but we deplore the rhetoric of hate and bigotry.

The decision has left both sides unhappy: Supporters of Schulman and the Palestinian cause see the reversal as a lame attempt to save face. On the other side are those who felt an LGBT community center is not the place to get into a debate on international politics.

Their number include members of the New York City Council (including openly gay Speaker Christine Quinn) who issued a joint statement:

We categorically reject attempts by any organization to use the Center to delegitimize Israel and promote an anti-Israel agenda.

We adamantly oppose any and all efforts to inappropriately inject the Center into politics that are not the core of their important mission.

What do you think: Does an LGBT center have the obligation to vet who rents its space to make sure they’re on-message?


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  • 2eo

    There are right and wrong on both sides.

    Israel and its supporters are right to challenge latent Anti-Semitism still prevalent in the western world. Israel and its supporters are wrong to mothball everything anyone ever says about Israel as Anti-Semitism when a lot of criticism is legitimately about some of their absolutely abhorrent policies and abuse of humanity.

    Palestinian supporters should stop painting the picture that is is entirely one sided when they are guilty of many of the same crimes.

    It’s a shame American politicians and funding groups are leading the discussion as their is no chance of moderate and actual discussion with the American nature of total polarisation on most political and human issues.

  • Cam

    The attempt to co-opt the gay movement by folks representing a horrendously anti-gay country like Palestine seems no different than the GOP using Log Cabin to try to cover for anti-gay activities.

    Sorry, but in Palestine it is ILLEGAL to be gay, that comes along with arrest and abuse in prison sanctioned by the govt.

    If they want me to give a shit about them here is an idea, stop arresting, torturing, and killing my gay brothers and sisters.

    “Pink Washing” is B.S.. It would be like claiming that gays supporting HRC or Get Equal over the Westborough Baptist Church were just pinkwashing.

    Bigots are desperate to deflect the conversation anywhere else but their bigotry. I suppose next it will be “Gender Washing” to complain about Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women?

  • Kieran

    Nice to see Queerty finally report on this important and troubling story of censorship at the NYC Gay center. I read about this uproar days ago on another gay website and was able to join atleast a thousand others in signing a petition calling on the center to do the right thing and celebrate diversity of political thought and opinion. (Btw, the other gay website was definitely NOT the ‘Advocate’, which ofcourse chose to ignore this important story for reasons that should surprise no one.)

    Israel is not untouchable. One can criticize Israeli Government treatment of the Palestinians in the Occupied territories without being smeared as an “antisemite”. We have nothing to fear from the free and open exchange of political ideas and discussion. The ideal of free speech and diversity of political thought is something our community should uphold and demand. It is ridiculous and insulting to even suggest that gay people should ignore the injustice and oppression of others because it isn’t “on message”.

  • balehead

    Main point here….Israel is pro-gay, Palestinians will kill you………No wonder gay rights are taking so long….

  • Merv

    It is in US interests for Israel to improve relations with its neighbors. Right now, much of our military and security spending is an indirect result of this conflict. The main obstacle to peace right now is the Likud party in Israel, and their not-so-secret policy of bit-by-bit takeover of most West Bank land, with the eventual goal of concentrating the Palestinian population in small Bantustans.

    An added side-benefit to improved relations is that it will in the long term improve the plight of gay people in Muslim countries by cutting the legs out from under the religious parties that benefit from milking the conflict.

  • Cam

    Correct Merv, and as an add on. It is in the interest of the anti gay violent bigots in Palestine to try to stop their horrific gay rights record from being pointed out. This anti”Pink Washing” campaign is a very clever attempt to do just that. Attack the countries that don’t arrest and torture gays and don’t really explain why that is bad, but that somehow they are evil for being good on gay rights.

  • Aidan8

    There are gay Palestinians, gay Israelis, and people on both sides of a multitude of political and social positions. There are gay people here in the US that care about and think hard about the Israel-Palestine conflict. Why not have reasonable debates, discussions, events, etc. that address it? The worst thing to do is NOT engage…. nothing changes is we don’t engage.

  • Freddie27

    Censorship in all its forms should be rejected. Hopefully Israel’s deplorable human rights record, occupation of another people’s land, apartheid policies can be better exposed without pinkwashing.

  • Charles The Great

    @Freddie27: and can you please tell me what parts of Canada’s Indian Act did Israel even copy? South Africa did and they copied: The residential school system, native reserves ( which created the Bantustans) the past system, and the second class system. Also if this is the case then what did Israel use? Also it is the same in Northern Cyprus and of course when Turkey does the same it never a matter.

  • Charles The Great

    @2eo: fair enough! and good comment.

  • Charles The Great

    @Freddie27: Also Turkey is not targeted for the deplorable human rights record( ask Kurds in Turkey), occupation of another people’s land ( Northern Cyprus), apartheid policies( ask minorities and people in Cyprus kicked off their land by Turkey in 1974) at the same time LGBTs rights are allowed and they call themselves a liberal democracy? Also, with the United States you should not be even talking that is a very long list.

  • Charles The Great

    Sarah Schulman is not a little angel on this subject that she is trying to portray. Last year she backed the banning of an Israeli group from doing something similar in the Seattle area

  • Charles The Great

    @Merv: and the PLO was created in 1964 to rid Jordan from the West Bank since before 1967 it was apart of that nation. Gaza was under the control if Egypt and neither nation did nothing to establish a Palestinian Nation before .

    In the Arab world, Palestinians are second class citizens. They can not get jobs, own land, get a education, can not leave refuge camps. Also Assad in Syria is murdering them also with nothing coming from these kind group period.

    As with the Bantustans what did Israel copy from Canada’s Indian Act? Funny it was this act that was copied by South Africa to create Apartheid. One thing I notice is Anti Israel groups can not even get that period.

  • J.F. Mulligan

    Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (NYC QAIA) statement in response to rescission of the LGBT Center’s moratorium on Palestine solidarity organizing

    The New York City Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center issued a statement lifting the moratorium on Palestine solidarity organizing and discussion of Israel/Palestine.

    While we are pleased to see the Center’s announcement, we in QAIA believe that the true test of the Center’s new space usage policy will come when we request space at the Center. We are also concerned that the Center’s guidelines for using space there says “no group utilizing space at the Center shall engage in hate speech or bigotry of any kind.” We completely deplore bigotry of any kind, but we cannot help but wonder who will define “hate speech” and/or “bigotry of any kind.” There needs to be more clarification on this issue. Such open-ended policies have frequently been used to silence critics of Israel, most often when anti-Arab/anti-Muslim forces conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.

    In spite of lifting the moratorium, the Center appears to be positioning itself to police and shut down queer organizing in support of Palestinian queers, and Palestinian civil and human rights. A statement issued by pro-Israel elected NYC officials just minutes after the Center’s announcement, clearly coordinated with the Center, “reject[s] attempts by any organization to use the Center to delegitimize Israel and promote an anti-Israel agenda” and dismisses this burgeoning queer movement as “politics that are not the core of [the Center’s] important mission.” The elected officials’ makes clear, both to the Center and to the queer community, that the Center’s ban on mentioning Palestinians, queer or otherwise, has its source in powerful political circles. The bigotry institutionalized in New York City’s politics, which has chained our community center for the past two years, must still be challenged.

    Regardless of how the Center implements this decision and regardless of the misguided and uninformed opinions of these elected officials, we in QAIA are committed to continuing to organize around our mission to help end Israeli apartheid, the system of control exercised over the lives of Palestinians living under the illegal Israeli occupation. We expect a prompt issuance of detailed guidelines for the use of space at the Center as well as the formal complaint procedure mentioned in the Center’s statement on the rescission of the ban; such guidelines should be free from any ambiguity on the question of the right of individuals as well as organizations such as QAIA to engage in discussion of Israel/Palestine and organizing in solidarity with the people of Palestine. We will remain vigilant in responding to any attempts by either elected officials, Center donors, other organizations, or the Center itself to modify or interpret the new policy in such a way as to preclude free and genuine discussion of the Israel/Palestine issue on the Center’s premises.

    We are pleased that our two years of organizing is beginning to have positive results, but the LGBT Center is not in the clear yet and our work is not yet complete.

Comments are closed.