Columbia prof Katherine Franke joins academic boycott of Israel and will not speak at the Equality Forum

In a statement and video published on the Gender and Sexuality Law Blog of Columbia Law School, Professor Katherine Franke has made a very public declaration of solidarity with Palestinians and support for the Palestinian call for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions on Israel.

Specifically, she is boycotting Equality Forum happening now in Philadelphia where she was scheduled to speak. This annual conference chooses a nation to highlight and discuss its culture and policies toward LGBTQ individuals. This year’s selected country is Israel. Michael Oren is the keynote speaker.

Professor Katherine Franke, Director, Columbia Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, Joins Academic Boycott of Israeli-Government Sponsored Conference

New York, May 4, 2012—Responding to the call from a wide coalition of Palestinian civil society organizations and joining more than 700 U.S. academics who support a boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions, Katherine Franke will boycott the annual Global LGBT Summit, organized by the Equality Forum in Philadelphia, at which she is scheduled to speak today. Instead, she has recorded a video explaining her decision to boycott the summit, and asked that it be shown in lieu of her attendance. Her video statement will be available here at 4 p.m. EDT today. A transcript of her remarks are here.

“To uncritically celebrate Israel at a conference organized around notions of equality and liberty, and have Michael Oren, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, serve as the keynote speaker at the ‘international equality dinner,’ is taken as a slap in the face by our queer brothers and sisters in Palestine as well as by the queers within Israel who are actively seeking a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said Franke. “By avoiding any programming that offered a balanced view of the human rights record of its ‘featured nation,’ the Equality Forum lost an important opportunity to be a leader in the international gay human rights movement, and instead allowed itself to be used as a part of Israel’s larger efforts to deflect criticisms of its human rights record.”

Franke, along with Columbia Professor Kendall Thomas, was a member of a first delegation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer academics—together with artists and community leaders—who traveled to Israel-Palestine this past January to learn firsthand how the struggles for sexual rights are being worked out as part of the larger Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Our trip convinced us that we have a responsibility to share with our U.S.-based LGBTQ communities what we saw and heard so that we can do more together to end the occupation,” said Franke.

Rabbi Rebecca Alpert who was scheduled to speak on a panel about religion, and Pauline Park, who was also a member of the January delegation and was slated to speak on transgender rights, have also decided to boycott the Equality Forum’s global summit this year due to its selection of Israel as its “featured nation.”

In her statement, Franke highlights “Palestinian Queers for BDS” for organizing solidarity from LGBTQ communities internationally.

While it may seem natural for gays to side with Israel, after all they have such good gay rights laws, this support reflects a major weakness of so many human rights movements that tend to prioritize their own struggles without considering the ways in which all forms of discrimination are linked. In Israel/Palestine gay rights and human rights more broadly are necessarily connected to one another, and treating one domestic minority well does not excuse or diminish the immorality of the state’s other rights-abridging policies. Had South Africa enacted good gay rights laws during the Apartheid era no one would have seen that as excusing their treatment of black and colored people. For this reason I have chosen to honor PQBDS’s request that we boycott the Equality Forum.