The National LGBTQ Task Force has reinstated a joint American-Israeli event at their annual conference, after its cancellation provoked strong protest from progressive Jewish community.
This coming Friday night, A Wider Bridge, a U.S.-based non-profit that fosters connections between American and Israeli gay Jews, and Jerusalem’s Open House, Israel’s premier gay rights organization, were set to host a Shabbat reception at the Creating Change conference in Chicago. Convened by the National LGBTQ Task Force, the conference is billed as the largest LGBTQ gathering in America. Naturally, one would expect gay Jewish organizations to take part. But over the weekend, the long-approved Wider Bridge event was cancelled by the Task Force, after the organization came under pressure from a small group of radical anti-Israel activists.
In a statement to Haaretz, Rea Carey, the executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, said 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.”
Needless to say, this booting of Israeli gays and their American Jewish supporters did not go over well with the progressive Jewish community. The New Israel Fund, which has long funded Jerusalem Open House and many other liberal Israeli groups, condemned the move as “morally and pragmatically wrong.” A petition calling for the event’s reinstatement gathered over 1,100 signatures, including those of prominent LGBT rabbis and activists—Jewish and not.
In addition, some of America’s most prominent LGBT Jewish activists took to social media to call on the Task Force to reverse course. Colorado Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), the first openly gay parent in Congress and one its leading LGBT advocates, expressed his support for A Wider Bridge on Twitter:
— Jared Polis (@jaredpolis) January 19, 2016
Reached for comment, Polis added: “Especially in the wake of the violence at last year’s Jerusalem Pride, it’s important to hear voices from the LGBTQ advocacy community from Israel and other nations in the Middle East. In Israel, the anti-LGBT violence was broadly condemned across the political spectrum, and A Wider Bridge played an important healing role. I hope that The Task Force reconsiders.”
Roberta Kaplan, the lawyer who argued United States v. Windsor through the Supreme Court and successfully invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act, was even more forceful:
“The organization ‘A Wider Bridge’ is one of the most progressive voices in all of Israel, both on LGBT issues and Palestinian issues,” she told me. “And regardless of whatever your views on those issues are, by essentially excluding that kind of a speaker from an LGBT event, I think—and I assume this was unintentional—but I think what you’re saying is that no one affiliated with the State of Israel in any way is welcome at our event, and to me that’s a completely unacceptable statement.”
“The way that our community, the LGBT community, has achieved the success that we have in the United States and Israel and other places is through open dialogue and sharing views, and making our case so that people who are not gay understand what our lives are like and understand our dignity. By shutting down discussion, you make that virtually impossible.”
Faced with this outcry, the National LGBTQ Task Force changed course on Tuesday. “Having taken in a range of information and seeing what has happened over the last couple of days, I have decided to reverse our decision to cancel the ‘Beyond the Bridge’ reception hosted by A Wider Bridge with guest speakers from the Jerusalem Open House,” executive director Carey said in a statement. “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.”
“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. It was not at all our intention to censor representatives of the Jerusalem Open House or A Wider Bridge at Creating Change and I apologize that our actions left people feeling silenced.”