American LGBTQ group cancels event with Israelis, later backtracks

A Wider Bridge says group calls off encounter under pressure from anti-Israel activists; decision later reversed

Illustrative: Local Jewish communities in the Bay Area show their support for the LGBTQ community at the San Francisco pride parade. (Daniel Dreifuss/Flash 90/File)
Illustrative: Local Jewish communities in the Bay Area show their support for the LGBTQ community at the San Francisco pride parade. (Daniel Dreifuss/Flash 90/File)

An upcoming meeting between members of an Israeli gay organization and the US’s National LGBTQ Task Force was cancelled by the American group, apparently due to pressure by anti-Israel activists, but reinstated Tuesday with an apology.

A Wider Bridge, which works to build connections with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer individuals and groups in Israel, says that the National LGBTQ Task Force canceled the reception with leaders of Jerusalem’s Open House, scheduled to be held at the Creating Change conference in Chicago, which takes place from Wednesday to Friday.

The organization announced over the weekend that it would move the reception, scheduled for Friday, to a new location outside the conference venue.

A Wider Bridge, in an email blast and a statement on its website, called for the event to be included on the conference’s program, and for an apology from the National LGBTQ Task Force for the cancellation.

“We are saddened by what appears to be capitulation to the intimidation of a small number of anti-Israel extremists who want to shut down the voices of those who don’t adhere to their rigid and exclusive party line. As LGBTQ people, we are all too familiar with being oppressed through shaming, the closet, and imposed silence, and we see great danger in allowing this kind of censorship and blatant double standard to become the norm in our community,” said Arthur Slepian, executive director of A Wider Bridge, in the statement.

“A Wider Bridge is one of the leading LGBTQ organizations in the country, an advocate for LGBTQ rights here in North America, in Israel and around the world, and it is both sad and disgraceful that the organizers of Creating Change decided that there is no place for us in this significant gathering of LGBT leaders from around the U.S. and the world. We work to promote honest dialogue and collaboration and to present Israel to our program participants in all of its complexity. Our trips include visits to the West Bank, and our participants engage with Palestinians, Israeli Ethiopians, transgender leaders, and LGBTQ leaders from Israel’s religious communities,” he said.

A Wider Bridge said it sought to bring speakers from the Jerusalem Open House to talk about its Jerusalem March for Pride, where last summer a teenage girl was killed and six other wounded by a Haredi Orthodox attacker, and its aftermath.

“The National LGBTQ Task Force is an organization whose work and mission we support and admire. On most issues, we are on the same side. But they have the power to decide which voices get heard at the nation’s largest LGBTQ gathering, and in this instance, they have used that power in a misguided and irresponsible way. We will not let them define A Wider Bridge as ‘outside the tent,’ censor our voices, or blacklist us and our work as ‘unkosher’ for Creating Change,” the organization said in a statement.

On Tuesday, the National LGBTQ Task Force backtracked and reinvited the representatives from A Wider Bridge.

“It is our belief that when faced with choices, we should move towards our core value of inclusion and opportunities for constructive dialogue and canceling the reception was a mistake,” it said in a statement.

“We are aware that our original decision made it appear we were taking sides in a complex and long-standing conflict, which was not the intention, and that in cancelling the reception we deeply offended many people, and our reversal will offend others. In reversing the decision today, we want to make it quite clear that the Creating Change Conference will always be a safe space for inclusion and dialogue for people with often widely different views.”

The Anti-Defamation League on Tuesday “strongly commended” the Task Force for its apology.

“We are very pleased that the Task Force has reversed course and taken responsibility for their deeply misguided decision to cancel this reception. We were surprised and disappointed with the initial choice to cancel an event that had been designed to celebrate and embrace ties with Israel’s diverse LGBTQ community. That initial decision was unworthy of an organization committed to justice and equality,” it said.

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