NYC coalition calls on elected officials to stop fueling Islamophobia and suppressing criticism of Israel

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The following press release was issued today:

March 12, 2013

At Press Conference, LGBT, Muslim, Jewish, Arab, Iranian, South Asian and University Groups Deliver Open Letter Condemning NY Politicians Who Fuel Islamophobia and Seek to Suppress Criticism of Israel

New York - A historic coalition of LGBT, Muslim, Jewish, Arab, Iranian, South Asian and university groups today delivered a letter to New York City elected officials, calling on them to stop impeding their constituents’ free speech on Israel’s apartheid policies, the “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions” (BDS) movement and the movement against Israeli government “pinkwashing.” The letter is available online here.

Organizations represented included Adalah-NY, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee New York, theCenter for Constitutional RightsFIERCE!Jewish Voice for Peace-NYCJews Say No!The Muslim Defense Project of the NYC Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy(NYAGRA), NYC Queers Against Israeli ApartheidPark Slope Food Coop Members for BDSQUEEROCRACYRaha Iranian Feminist CollectiveSEVA NY, and Students for Justice in Palestine at Brooklyn CollegeColumbia UniversityHunter College and NYU.

Members of the coalition gathered on City Hall steps in Manhattan at 1 PM ET to protest the role of elected officials in fueling Islamophobia and acts of violence against people perceived as Muslims – including immigrants, Sikhs and others. The groups also called on officials to explain the “full extent to which the Jewish Community Relations Council [a pro-Israel lobby group] and other forces far beyond our communities have guided our elected officials to chill free speech in a local co-op, a public university, and an LGBT community center.”

Over a dozen elected officials in the past year have issued public statements aimed at stifling their constituents’ criticisms of Israel. Some implied a threat to defund Brooklyn College if it hosted a presentation on BDS, drawing a stern rebuke from the Center for Constitutional Rights warning them that such threats might well violate the law. Some claimed to support the return of open discussion to New York’s LGBT Community Center after a two-year ban on all mention of Palestine there, only to qualify their support by “categorically reject[ing] attempts by any organization to use the Center to delegitimize Israel and promote an anti-Israel agenda.” Some worked with multi-million dollar pro-Israel lobby groups to push the Park Slope Food Co-op not to vote on, or to vote against, joining a boycott of Israeli goods. Mayor Bloomberg denounced human rights activists at the Co-op, claiming they “want Israel to be torn apart and everybody to be massacred.”

Phan Nguyen, of Park Slope Food Coop Members for BDS, said:

“Last year, [NYC Council Speaker Christine] Quinn and several elected officials didn’t just tell co-op members to vote ‘no’ on a boycott; they were actively trying to prevent a vote. They were not members of the Co-op — they were operating under the direct coordination of the JCRC [Jewish Community Relations Council of New York]. This is the same JCRC that defends Ray Kelly’s program of spying on Muslims. The same JCRC that organized against free speech at Brooklyn College. The same JCRC that held a ‘routine consultation’ with Chris Quinn just before she issued a statement attacking LGBT activists for Palestine.

“Our electeds claim they are only attacking free speech and human rights activists because they’re concerned about balance. Were Jerry Nadler, Hakeem Jeffries and Yvette Clarke concerned about balance when they attended the AIPAC conference last week? Did former City Comptroller Bill Thompson call for balance when he attended the ‘Iron Dome Tribute Luncheon’ last week? Did Bill de Blasio seek balance when he teamed up with JCRC AstroTurf organization Iran180, which employs homophobic rape imagery to promote divestment and sanctions against Iran?”

Carolyn Klaasen of Jewish Voice for Peace-NYC, said:

“This silencing has often equated criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism and threats to the safety of Jewish residents of New York City. Such statements not only trivialize an ugly history of anti-Semitism, but also ignore the fact that open debate and criticism of states is necessary for our collective security.”

Leslie Cagan, of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, said:

“LGBT communities around the world are organizing to question Israel’s use of LGBT rights as a ‘pinkwash’ of its apartheid policies against Palestinians – but in New York we find ourselves fending off attacks from our own elected officials acting as proxy for Israel lobby groups. As LGBT people, we refuse to be baited by anti-Muslim, anti-Arab rhetoric. Many Palestinian LGBT groups and Israeli LGBT groups are talking about the fact that you can’t argue for LGBT rights under an occupation that doesn’t respect any rights at all. It’s unconscionable that our electeds would seek to stop us from talking about that here.”

Samia Shafi, of Adalah-NY, said:

“Our detractors argue that BDS is divisive–but when Israel isn’t held to the same standards of human rights as every other nation, that is in fact divisive.  Some argue that the BDS is an obstacle to negotiations, but human rights and justice are non-negotiable. The Palestinian people have never and will ever accept anything less. Nor should we.”

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