NYC LGBT center overturns ban on Palestine-related activities following uproar over Schulman event (Updated)

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Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (NYC QAIA) issued a statement in response to the LGBT Center ending its moratorium on Palestine solidarity organizing:

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.

Here is the statement issued by NYC Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, NYS Assembly Member Deborah Glick, NYS Senator Brad Hoylman, and NYC Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer from the QAIA website:

Re: New LGBT Community Center Space Use Guidelines

“We support the new Space Use guidelines, terms and conditions being implemented by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center. Their decision to allow groups to have open discussion and to create a resolution process to address complaints of potential hate-related speech is the correct approach. Under the Center’s new guidelines, all parties will have access to rent space to organize around LGBT issues, and the Center will remain a safe space, where hate-related speech will not be tolerated. This will allow the Center staff and board to promote its core mission of providing health and wellbeing services to our community, in addition to providing a safe and secure forum for issues relevant to NYC’s LGBT community.

That said, we want to make abundantly clear that 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.

We vehemently oppose the absurd accusations by some groups that Israel is engaged in so-called “pinkwashing”. We find this charge offensive and fundamentally detrimental to the global cause of LGBT equality. These accusations should be understood as just one part of the arsenal of those who seek to completely discredit the state of Israel altogether. In fact, Israel’s highly laudable record in advancing LGBT rights deserves praise, not scorn. Given the very poor record of much of the world on LGBT issues, we should be celebrating Israel’s – or any country’s – LGBT equality advances. We must always encourage countries with strong records of achievement for our community to be rightly and publicly proud so they may set an example for others. We continue to believe that the boycott, sanctions and divestment (BDS) movement against Israel is wrongheaded, destructive, and an obstacle to our collective hope for a peaceful two-state solution.

We applaud the Center Board and staff for taking this important step. We now hope everyone will respect the Center as a safe space for open and safe discussions. We hope the Center can move forward and serve the LGBT community as it has always done.”

Original Post:

Josh Nathan-Kazis reports for the Forward:

A New York gay community center announced February 15 that it had lifted a moratorium on events relating to Israel days after coming under heavy criticism for barring a prominent gay scholar from speaking about her new book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The decision, announced at 4:50 PM on a Friday leading into a three-day weekend, lifts a two-year ban on events relating to Israel at a the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center, a key gay communal institution in New York.

In an emailed statement, the Center announced that the “the moratorium is no longer in effect.”

The Center’s policy barring Israel-related events came under renewed scrutiny on February 13 following a report in the Gay City News that the organization had declined to allow a speech by Sarah Schulman, a professor at The City University of New York. Schulman was set to talk on her new book, “Israel/Palestine and the Queer International.”

Schulman praised the Center’s reversal in an e-mail to the Forward. “The community showed their heartfelt belief in open expression and caring for each other, proving yet again that our common value is social justice,” she wrote.

Elected officials responded immediately to the announced end of the moratorium. A statement signed by City Council Speaker and Mayoral candidate Christine Quinn and other gay elected officials praised the new guidelines, but condemned claims of “pinkwashing” — the allegation that Israel uses the equality it offers gays to distract from its treatment of the Palestinians. Schulman wrote a widely read column backing the “pinkwashing” theory in the New York Times.

For background on the Center’s ban see Ethan Heitner’s comic here and for more from Schulman see here.

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Gay elected officials praised the new guidelines, but condemned claims of “pinkwashing” — the allegation that Israel uses the equality it offers gays to distract from its treatment of the Palestinians. It’s a common Hasbara talking point in discussions about Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians that Arab countries harshly mistreat gays,… Read more »

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 earlier today (Feb. 15, 2013) lifting the moratorium on Palestine solidarity organizing and discussion of Israel/Palestine.… Read more »

This is good news. It does not prove that the earlier ban was dictated by BIG MONEY as many supposed, nor does it disprove it. People and groups and organizations that depend on fund-raising are obviously subject to the power of the fund-providers. As a larger example, look at the… Read more »

“that Arab countries harshly mistreat gays, and so therefore Israeli policies are “comparatively better.” “ Another Hasbara strawman attempting to stagger to its straw feet. Like Jewish DNA, “we made the desert bloom”, Mark Twain’s cherry picked quotes, Jewish Nobel prize winners, computer chips, mobile phones, etc etc etc, ad… Read more »