The National LGBTQ Task Force's Creating Change conference was once again rocked this year by protests over the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
As the conference opened last Thursday in Detroit, "a group of activists holding Palestinian flags took the stage unannounced and led a 13-minute protest for Palestinian liberation and against Zionism," according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, a news service.
"In a state that elected the first Palestinian woman to the U.S. Congress, there is still a ban on Palestine at Creating Change, because the Task Force is afraid that people are going to come here to seek their full liberation, and donors might get mad," said one of the speakers, who was not identified by name. "Right now, our content is being censored, our liberation is being silenced and our voices are being shut down because the Task Force is too cowardly to have a conversation on one of the leading social justice issues of our time: Palestinian freedom."
A second speaker, identified as Mina Aria, called on the Task Force to fight "pinkwashing, Zionism, Islamophobia, and colonial violence." Critics of Israel use the term "pinkwashing" to contend the nation uses its pro-LGBTQ policies to divert attention from abuses of human rights.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict centers on Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory. "For many years, successive Israeli governments refused to consider a Palestinian state, while most Arabs denied the legitimacy of Israel," notes the Global Policy Forum, an independent group with consultative status at the United Nations. Attempts to resolve the conflict have been going on since the 1970s but have been complicated by many factors.
While some pro-Palestinian activists see Israel as a colonizer and oppressor, some pro-Israeli ones see the criticism as anti-Semitic and threatening to the existence of Israel. The was a clash between the two sides at the 2016 Creating Change conference in Chicago, centering on a reception hosted by A Wider Bridge, a North American organization promoting LGBTQ equality in Israel and constructive engagement between U.S. LGBTQ leaders and the nation.
Tyler Gregory, executive director of A Wider Bridge, and Rabbi Denise Eger of Congregation Kol Ami in Los Angeles, issued a joint letter to Task Force executive director Rea Carey expressing concern about this year's protest. They said the protesters spread "falsehoods," such as accusing the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish group, of homophobic actions, and sent anti-Semitic messages.
The protest "ended with calls of 'from the river to the sea,' an anti-Semitic dog whistle from those wishing to see the Jewish State and its inhabitants disappear," they wrote. They added that they do not aim to silence differing voices on the Israel-Palestine relationship and said there must be space for dialogue.
Another LGBTQ Jewish group, Keshet, had a somewhat different take. "To be clear, we believe that there is no room for anti-Semitism in the LGBTQ rights movement or in any other liberation movement," Keshet leaders wrote in a Facebook post. "While we believe that criticism of Israel is at times anti-Semitic, we do not believe that it is necessarily anti-Semitic. In the case of this year's Creating Change conference, we view blanket accusations of anti-Semitism as inflammatory and divisive. They do nothing to move forward conversations about anti-Semitism in America."
Carey issued a statement on the Task Force's Facebook page. "We are aware that some have expressed concerns about protests at Creating Change, including the protest on Thursday regarding Israel and Palestine," she wrote. "As we have before, the National LGBTQ Task Force firmly condemns anti-Semitism. We firmly condemn Islamophobia. We firmly condemn attacks on each other's humanity. The perpetuation of white supremacy is harmful to all. There are a number of misunderstandings and misinformation being thrown around. ... We want and appreciate all feedback, and part of being in community together means holding each other as we evolve. We are committed to staying in respectful conversation as we move forward towards Creating Change 2020."
The Palestinian-American congresswoman to whom the protesters referred, Rashida Tlaib, denounced both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia during a speech to the conference Saturday night. She cited the need "to fight against transphobia, homophobia, racism, antiblackness, Islamophobia, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, sexism -- you name it. Because we know that these things are intertwined, they are so connected. We know that those that advance hate, they are trying to deny it for all of us, they are trying to deny all of our existence."