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Russian Attack?

Russian Attack?


A U.S. speaking tour this month was supposed to be Nikolay Alekseyev's American "debut," where the 33-year-old Russian gay activist cemented his position as a global civil rights leader. But the trip has mostly been a disaster, with the California portion of the tour canceled amid accusations that Alekseyev is anti-Semitic.

Alekseyev is one of the world's most visible young gay activists -- as a lawyer and author of two law books now in the U.S. Library of Congress, he forced the hand of Russian officials by suing them multiple times for their cancellations of Moscow Pride. He's been repeatedly intimidated by Moscow police and in October was kidnapped from the Moscow airport and detained by officials who held him for two days as they pressured him to drop the lawsuits (he refused and was later released). That same month the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Russia violated the European Convention on Human Rights when it banned three Moscow gay pride festivals. The situation for gays in Moscow has gotten somewhat better since then, as an Alekseyev-sponsored gay rights protest in the fall was met with police support instead of resistance.

All of this initiated the planned seven-city Alekseyev speaking tour (with stops in Chicago, New York, Dallas, Fort Worth, West Hollywood, San Francisco, and Palm Springs, Calif.), organized by Andy Thayer, a Chicago-based gay rights activist and cofounder of the Gay Liberation Network. Longtime gay activist Robin Tyler was producing the California leg of the trip, and she helped recruit groups like West Hollywood's Congregation Kol Ami, the Jewish Community Relations Council, GetEqual, Christopher Street West, Equality California, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights as co-sponsors for the three California events. Things were on track until February 26, when Scott Long, a senior fellow at Harvard Law School's Human Rights Program, translated the following post from Alekseyev's blog (which has since been deleted) and placed it on a civil rights listserv:

"The Jews and Mubarak ... The Israeli Prime Minister urged Western leaders to support Egyptian dictator Mubarak ... And who after this are the Jews? In fact, I always knew who they were."

The passage was posted January 31 and had already been deleted by Alekseyev, but it spread like wildfire. When Tyler became aware of the post last week, she says, Thayer told her Alekseyev needed 24 hours to clarify his remarks. After the day passed, Tyler says two planned conference calls between the California event sponsors, Thayer, and Alekseyev never happened because the latter wasn't ready to discuss his position on the blog post (Alekseyev denies this).

"Andy said Nikolay refused to issue a statement and said he would 'deal with his remarks' when he got to California," Tyler says. On Monday afternoon, "We said that we had given Nikolai every opportunity to explain himself, but at this point, we had waited 24 hours, and that we were canceling him. Andy went to Nikolay's motel, told Nikolay, and Nikolay put out a statement saying he was canceling the California tour!"

For his part, Alekseyev says he was bullied by the California gay leaders and was told by Tyler what to say when he spoke in California. Tyler denies this; she says a reporter told her Alekseyev had said he "hated America" and that Tyler sent Alekseyev an e-mail that advised him to avoid saying anything like that on his speaking tour.

On Tuesday, Alekseyev spoke at New York's Columbia University as part of his tour. The speech went off without a hitch, according to, until a Columbia professor asked Alekseyev about the controversy.

"You've been accused of being anti-Semitic, and I'd like you to respond to the charge," she asked, adding, "We're in a university setting and so we want to have an open discussion."

Alekseyev denied being anti-Semitic and listed Jewish friends of his (see video below).

"Probably my quote was misinterpreted," he said. "What I said was I condemn the statements of the Israeli government when they said in the middle of the crisis concerning Egypt [and] said that they support [Hosni] Mubarak and all the world should unite around Mubarak and help him to stay in power and that Israel is ready to accept him on their territory. I'm sorry, but it pissed me off completely, and I clearly said what I think, but probably there was a semantic in the translation, or something like that, from Russian into English and the word Jews was understood as if I meant all the Jews in the world, but I clearly said what I think about the Israeli government and their policy and there is absolutely nothing to add. As I said, I have many Jewish friends; it's not an issue for me at all."

After the Columbia speech, Alekseyev released an official statement on the matter:

"In the light of the controversy concerning the cancellation of my speaking engagements in California, sponsored by a group of local LGBT organizations, I would like to make the following statement, the essence of which was addressed tonight during my speech at Columbia University.

"I would like to state that I am a strong believer in human rights and equality for everyone, irrespective of any personal characteristics, whether it is sexual orientation, race, gender, national or ethnic origin, religion or any other basis. I did publish in my blogs the comments which were addressed against the Israel Government after the Israeli Prime Minister called the world to support Egypt dictator Mubarak and to unite around him, disregarding popular public efforts to oust him. I was angry that anyone could support this dictator as he was killing his own people. My comments appeared to blame all Jews for the actions of the Israeli government and its supporters.

"The accusations of me distributing anti-Semitic statements on blogs were initiated by notorious human rights campaigner Scott Long who had to quit his position at Human Rights Watch (HRW) due to his involvement into slandering British human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell for which both Mr. Long and HRW had to make a public apology. Mr. Long was intentionally waiting for my trip to the U.S. to start this campaign against me, which he started the day I arrived in Chicago, a month after this comment were made by me and already long ago after it was removed and address directly with the few who read them and contacted me to discuss it. If Scott Long was truly interested in stopping anti-Semitism, why did he wait a month to raise an objection, but instead wait until I landed in the U.S. to start this tour? One can doubt Mr. Long would have ever distributed this information if I did not have any speaking engagement in the U.S. I regret this personal vendetta, which goes on between the two of us for years might have hurt other people.

"I would like to say that I have several Jewish friends who I treasure, including one Jewish-American who played a significant role in Moscow Pride movement for years, helping to organize all our events in Russia. I adore her and I consider her as one of the most outstanding people I met in my life. Without her Moscow Pride campaign would not be as successful as it was.

"My mum's stepfather was a Jew who immigrated to Israel from [the] Soviet Union. I am one of the only persons who always defended Jewish people against the hypocrisy of Switzerland during World War II. This is the topic which almost no one is courageous enough to raise neither in Switzerland itself, nor elsewhere. Just as no one was courageous enough to challenge Gaddafi regime from within Libya and I already did it in 2002 during my trip there risking problems to exit this country. My grandfather died in World War II fighting the regime, which is responsible for killing of millions of Jews. He was fighting for freedom and liberation aged younger than me now. I don't even know where he found his resting place.

"Every time I am in Berlin, and a few weeks ago was not an exception, I visit a massive monument to millions of Jews who died under Nazi devastating rule. I always dreamt to visit Jerusalem and I am sure I will do it very shortly.

"I am a great believer in justice and a great opponent of all injustice. I am always very direct in what I say and sometimes people interpret it the way they want to use it against me.

"It is true that I had to cancel my appearances in California due to enormous pressure from the organizers of the tour there. I always said in the last 48 [hours] that I would answer any question anyone might have about this issue after my speeches and make them public. And so, I did it tonight at Columbia University in New York, an institution which I admire for not surrendering to the harsh pressure Mr. Long put on them in the last day to cancel my appearance. But I still plan to come to California as I know many people are waiting for me there and I have no right to punish them or disregard them.

"Closing this statement I would like to stress that I was not personally contacted by any organizers of my tour in California with questions concerning my statements on policy of the Israeli Government. I was not invited in the several conference calls Californian organizers held in the last 48 hours on this issue."

In July, Scott Long did indeed apologize to Peter Tatchell of Outrage! for disparaging him in stories and media reports, and Long resigned his position at Human Rights Watch in August. A history of animus between Long and Alekseyev is well known, but Long says his translation and release of the blog post was not timed to destroy Alekseyev's U.S. trip.

"I only heard about the comments from Russian friends sometime in the first or second week of February," Long tells The Advocate. "I spent much of the month packing and moving from New York to Boston, and then it took a while to have a native speaker double-check the translation. I had no idea Alekseyev was touring California until I was told so the evening after I posted the information. My sole role in this was to send the comments to an activist listserv where Russians and others have expressed concern in the past over Alekseyev's divisive methods and ties to right-wing figures. I understand Alekseyev is expending his energy trying to shift blame for what he wrote to me; that's unproductive. He should explain what he meant by the comments (and clearly he didn't mean "the Israeli government"; comments on the blog post asked him why he was targeting Jews in general, and he didn't backtrack); apologize to those who were offended; and get on with his life."
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Neal Broverman

Neal Broverman is the Editorial Director, Print of Pride Media, publishers of The Advocate, Out, Out Traveler, and Plus, spending more than 20 years in journalism. He indulges his interest in transportation and urban planning with regular contributions to Los Angeles magazine, and his work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times and USA Today. He lives in the City of Angels with his husband, children, and their chiweenie.
Neal Broverman is the Editorial Director, Print of Pride Media, publishers of The Advocate, Out, Out Traveler, and Plus, spending more than 20 years in journalism. He indulges his interest in transportation and urban planning with regular contributions to Los Angeles magazine, and his work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times and USA Today. He lives in the City of Angels with his husband, children, and their chiweenie.