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Sherry Wolf: Save New York's Center

Sherry Wolf: Save New York's Center


COMMENTARY: Why would a gay-porn star and mogul, Michael Lucas, want to squelch the right to free speech at a sanctuary for the oppressed and marginalized, New York City's LGBT Center?

Lucas's wealth and fame as an entrepreneur in the gay adult entertainment industry would be inconceivable without the right to free speech, including for those with controversial opinions. Yet on February 22 he used his money and connections to slander groups of social justice activists in order to pressure the center to cancel an Israeli Apartheid Week event and ban a small group of pro-Palestine activists, the Siegebusters Working Group, from ever meeting there again.

This is an outrageous abuse of power and influence that should be opposed by everyone who believes our community centers must remain liberated spaces of democracy and debate. Keep in mind, the LGBT Center has hosted a range of non-LGBT-related groups in its 28-year history -- from Overeaters Anonymous to antiwar organizations -- so the stated excuse about the political content straying from the "mission of the center" is just a ruse.

Besides, what could be more within the mission of a haven for diversity than groups of Arabs, Jews, blacks, and whites of every sexual orientation gathering to challenge a humanitarian crisis?

Which brings us to the crux of the matter -- Lucas's odious charge that people who argue that Israel is an apartheid state are "anti-Semitic." Lucas is welcome to his own opinion, but not his own version of the facts.

Please, don't take my word for it -- here is the former Israeli attorney general, Michael Ben-Yair, describing Israel's history and laws in 2002:

"We enthusiastically chose to become a colonial society, ignoring international treaties, expropriating lands, transferring settlers from Israel to the occupied territories, engaging in theft and finding justification for all these activities. Passionately desiring to keep the occupied territories, we developed two judicial systems: one -- progressive, liberal -- in Israel; and the other -- cruel, injurious -- in the occupied territories. In effect, we established an apartheid regime in the occupied territories immediately following their capture. That oppressive regime exists to this day."

In 2005, Israel's former education minister Shulamit Aloni argued that Israel is "no different from racist South Africa." Jewish South African leaders in a famous "Not in Our Names Declaration of Conscience" state, "It becomes difficult, particularly from a South African perspective, not to draw parallels with the oppression experienced by Palestinians under the hand of Israel and the experienced in South Africa under apartheid rule."

An international campaign for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel has global support, including diverse voices from queer theory icon Judith Butler and South African archbishop Desmond Tutu to Auschwitz survivor and International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network spokesman Hajo Mayer.

Are they all anti-Semites too? This charge, more so than almost any other -- including the charge of homophobia -- has destroyed careers, eviscerated university departments, and now, tragically, has our LGBT Center turning its back on Palestinians and kicking good activists to the curb. It is a form of "intellectual terrorism," as BDS leader Omar Barghouti puts it.

Barghouti, by the way, is being prevented by the Israeli government from getting a visa to the United States to tour for his new book, Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights.

Lucas and other shills for Israel's crimes keep touting that country as "the only democracy in the Middle East," and they promote Israel's LGBT-friendly policies as if those laws can "pinkwash" away the racism and inequality. Palestinian queers who just toured the United States are unequivocal on this question. "There is no magic pink door in the Apartheid Wall," Sami Shamali explained. Israel doesn't treat LGBT Palestinians any better than it does their straight counterparts.

As a longtime anti-Zionist Jew and member of Siegebusters as well as the author of Sexuality and Socialism, I am accustomed to occasional rants from right-wingers. I honestly couldn't give a crap that some Michael Lucas has mobilized his "troops" to fill my in-box with nasty inanities. My line on being called a "self-hating Jew" is the same as journalist Max Blumenthal's: "I may occasionally hate myself, but it has nothing to do with being Jewish."

The real crime here is that money and power now threaten to transform an institution where ACT UP was born into yet another occupied, homogenized venue where wealthy and powerful voices can squelch all the rest. Don't let it happen.

Click here to sign the petition to "Save New York's LGBT Center: Don't Let Bigots Shut Down Free Speech."

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