Queer activists in New York City have welcomed a decision by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center (LGBT Center) to end a two-year ban on events related to Palestine.
The LGBT Center announced the end of the “moratorium” and a new “space use” policy in a statement on 15 February.
But NYC Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QAIA) cautioned in a response posted online that, “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.”
QAIA pointed to a clause in the LGBT Center’s new policy emphasizing that “no group utilizing space at the Center shall engage in hate speech or bigotry of any kind.”
“We completely deplore bigotry of any kind,” QAIA said, “but we cannot help but wonder who will define ‘hate speech” and/or ‘bigotry of any kind.’”
“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,” QAIA added.
Ban imposed under threats from Zionist donor
Managers at the LGBT Center imposed the ban two years ago, succumbing to the threat of a donor boycott orchestrated by Michael Lucas, after Siege Busters, a group that had been meeting at the center for over a year, requested space to hold an Israeli Apartheid Week event.
Lucas, a vocal opponent of Palestinian rights, is a pornographer whose work includes Men of Israel, a film featuring men having sex against the backdrop of the ruins of ethnically cleansed Palestinian villages.
Queer activists fought to end censorship of Palestine events
QAIA has spearheaded a determined two-year campaign to open the center back up to Palestine solidarity groups.
Matters came to a head last week after it was revealed in Gay City News that the LGBT Center had refused a request for space for Sarah Schulman to do a reading from her new book Israel/Palestine and the Queer International.
In an interview with Saeed Jones of BuzzFeed, Schulman called the ban a “weird kind of anti-semitism,” where LGBT Center managers held “cliched and stereotyped beliefs about punitive rich Jews who will pull out their Jew-money if anyone criticizes Israel.”
Amid rising controversy about what now effectively amounted to book-banning, the LGBT Center’s decision to lift the ban is a clear indication that intimidation, threats and bullying from donors cannot make the issue of Palestine disappear or silence Queer activists.
Full statement from NYC Queers Against Israeli Apartheid
15 February 2013
The New York City Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center issued a statement lifting the moratorium on Palestine solidarity organizing and discussion of Israel/Palestine. 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.