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As organizers of New York City’s Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), we are dismayed to learn that New York’s LGBT Center has canceled the scheduled March 5 “Party to End Apartheid” that was to take place there. We are equally dismayed that the Center also has banned one of the organizers of this event, and a member of our coalition, the Siegebusters Working Group, from holding its regular meeting at the Center. Israeli Apartheid Week, now entering its seventh year internationally and its fifth year in New York City, is a series of events designed to educate people about Israel’s apartheid nature and to build Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns in concordance with the just demands of Palestinian civil society.
In 2008, The LGBT Center hosted an Israeli Apartheid Week event discussing the boycott campaign against Israeli billionaire, diamond manufacturer, and settlement builder Lev Leviev. This year’s IAW in New York includes conversations about BDS as a tactic, discussions of recent protests and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa, a book release party for NY spoken word artist Remi Kanazi, and a discussion with queer theorist Judith Butler and filmmaker John Greyson. These events will be taking place in many venues across the city, including university campuses and churches.
On Tuesday, February 22, 2011, gay adult film producer and right-wing columnist Michael Lucas issued a press release threatening to boycott the LGBT Center for allowing local IAW organizers to meet and plan an event there. Lucas denounced IAW as a “hate group” and called us “anti-Semitic.” This is an ill-informed mischaracterization. IAW is not actually a group, but it is a part of the global BDS movement, which strongly opposes all forms of racism, including racism against Jews.
As anti-racists, IAW organizers – who are Palestinian, Jewish, queer, straight, and much more – denounce Lucas’ false accusations and are shocked that the Center has caved in to his threats. The Center’s brief statement, issued without any input from the event organizers mere hours after Lucas made his threats public, declared that the Center is a “safe haven for LGBT groups and individuals.” Yet the cancellation of this event and the banning of the organizing group from the Center send a clear message to LGBT people that we are not welcome if we are Arab or Muslim, or if we advocate human rights for Palestinians.
Lucas’ press release claimed that, “Israel is the only country in the Middle East that supports gay rights, while its enemies round up, torture, and condemn gay people to death.” But as Palestinian queer organizer Sami Shamali reminded NY listeners at last week’s Audre Lorde Project event organized by author Sarah Schulman, “There is no magic pink door in theApartheid Wall.” Israel does not treat queer Palestinians any better than it does their straight counterparts, yet anti-Muslim and anti-Arab groups and individuals, like Michael Lucas, continue to claim that Israel is a wonderful place for gay people. These pinkwashing arguments, designed to mask the true nature of Israeli apartheid, have prompted groups likePalestinian Queers for BDS to assert that Palestinian queers can speak for themselves and to demand that people like Lucas stop abusing their name.
On February 23, IAW organizers received an e-mail from Michael Lucas, gloating, “I cancelled your event.” Let us not allow one individual to drown out the voices of millions of Palestinian people. Let us not allow one individual to change the nature of the LGBT Center from one of democracy and safe space to one of censorship and exclusion. We demand that the LGBT Center reverse its decision and guarantee the right of organizers to continue to meet and hold events there.
IAW in NYC Coordinating Committee
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