Schulman: NY LGBT center labors under ‘stereotyped beliefs about punitive rich Jews’ who will pull out money if ‘anyone criticizes Israel’

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We mentioned that the leading intellectual Sarah Schulman was barred from presenting her book that is critical of Israel at the NY LGBT Center. From an interview with Saeed Jones of Buzzfeed, she describes a “weird kind of anti-Semitism” exhibited by the center’s executives– and also talks right of return:

SJ: Some argue that BDS’s stance on the Palestinian right of return is way too radical. Do you feel this is an accurate description of the group’s strategy? And, as a follow-up, do you personally feel that Israel should continue to exist as a Jewish State?

SS: I believe in equal rights for all human beings. If there is a Jewish Right of Return, there can also be a Palestinian Right of Return. I do not support different levels of rights based on religion.

SJ: The LGBT Center’s decision to bar you from discussing your book Israel/Palestine and the Queer International on its premises has, once again, sparked criticism from all directions. Why, if you had to speculate, does this keep happening?

SS: It’s hard to understand the logic of the LGBT Center. At the failed community meeting with their director, Glennda Tentone and her board, there were no Jews on staff, yet they kept telling us that this censorship would make the Center a ‘safe space” for Jews! It was bizarre, especially considering that Jews like myself, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, Judith Butler, Joan Nestle etc were among the 1500 people who signed a petition for an open center. It 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.

SJ: Do you think the Center’s reluctance to engage in a critical discussion regarding queer politics in Israel/Palestine reflects a broader tendency in the LGBT community?

SS: Absolutely. The current board comes primarily from Corporate, not from the community.They primarily rely on foundation support and city contracts to run their service programs and don’t need or want community based organizations meeting there. It is no longer the center of gravity for the space. It’s a bureaucracy, tragically.

Myself, I would say that while this belief might seem insane, it is plainly the belief of many executives of political and cultural organizations, and it can neither be evaded or exploded till it is examined. The centrality of pro-Israel funders to leftwing cultural causes is a fact of establishment life; in the Democratic Party the percentage of money that comes from Jews is said to approach 2/3, and the assumption is that many of those givers care about Israel. Last year I wrote– apropos of Obama’s craven messaging on Israel to Jewish supporters– that perceptions of outsize Jewish power have existed since the Balfour Declaration in World War I, when British leaders (and German ones, too, unsuccessfully) courted Jews out of the belief that their financial support was crucial to victory. The Balfour scholar whose work I cited in that post, Jonathan Schneer, shares Schulman’s contention that this belief is an anti-Semitic fiction. That seems to me too facile a dismissal of a real element in our political culture, which empowered Jewish journalists have a duty to scrutinize. 

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