Protestors call for destruction of Israel

Queer anti-Israel protestors disrupted the opening reception of the National LGBTQ Task Force’s annual Creating Change Conference last weekend in Chicago chanting “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

Hava Holzhauer, the Florida regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, called the protest hateful and was shocked at how out of control it got. At one point hotel security called police to break up the event.

“[That chant] is a very anti-Semitic and anti-Israel statement. It calls for replacing the state of Israel with Palestine,” Holzhauer said. “This wasn’t a peaceful protest. This was a hateful protest. They used words that were chilling. Calling for the destruction of Israel, those are words of hate.”

Some people reported one protestor calling a Jewish man a kike, a historically offensive and derogatory term. In another incident video footage showed one protestor covering a Jewish man’s face with a Palestinian flag. After he removed the flag by grabbing it out of the protestor’s hand others appeared to lunge at him, but were pulled back. The protestors then shifted their focus on the Jewish man chanting in loud angry voices “Shame on you, shame on you.”

In a strongly worded statement after the conference wrapped up the Task Force condemned anti-Semitism.

“I want to make this crystal clear: the National LGBTQ Task Force wholeheartedly condemns anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic statements made at any Task Force event including our Creating Change Conference. It is unacceptable. Hate speech of any kind is unacceptable whether it’s directed at Jewish or Muslim people.”

Earlier in the week the Task Force had cancelled the opening reception after some activists complained that the Task Force was promoting “pinkwashing” at their conference. Pinkwashing is a term describing a public relations strategy that uses Israel's good record on LGBT rights to deflect from its treatment of the Palestinians.

After the abrupt cancellation other activists and groups complained and the Task Force reversed course.

“I have decided to reverse our decision to cancel the ‘Beyond the Bridge’ reception hosted by A Wider Bridge with guest speakers from the Jerusalem Open House,” said Rea Carey, executive director of the Task Force. “It is our belief that when faced with choices, we should move towards our core value of inclusion and opportunities for constructive dialogue and canceling the reception was a mistake.”

The reversal though only fanned flames of discontent resulting in a 200-person protest at the opening reception.

Holzhauer said the protest was misguided.

“Jerusalem Open House is a community organization not just for Israelis and Jews but Muslims, Christians, Palestinians everyone regardless of religion, ethnicity, or nationality,” Holzhauer said.

Carey promised things would change before the next conference.

“In light of all that has happened, I have already started a review of the Conference so we can make needed changes in the future,” she said in a statement. “Among them are: inclusiveness and program content review; safety and security; and promoting conversation and peaceful protest.”

Many of the Jewish attendees told other media outlets that once the protest started they didn’t feel safe.

Bashar Makhay of the group Tarab-NYC told the Windy City Times he was disappointed with the Task Force.

“Disappointed that they choose to stand up for racism, colonialism and imperialism, and not for human rights. By inviting A Wider Bridge they did just that, and they threatened to arrest us. Enough is enough. We won't stand for injustice."

Faith Cheltenham, president of BiNet USA, who took part in the protest told the Windy City Times:

"It's wonderful because we're seeing people be represented. There are many LGBT people who think treatment of Palestinians is incorrect. Many people. There are very few people who'd say, 'You know, they're getting everything they want. ... It is cultural apartheid, so much so that the Obama administration recognized that. They actually said recently that this is unjust. So when you come here to the LGBTQIA gender non-conforming queer community and you deal with us, that's our movement. That's our intersection."

Holzhauer though sees it much differently saying that using intimidation to shut down other people’s voices goes against everything the conference is meant to stand for.

“They prevented the speakers from speaking,” she said. “It’s ironic and hurtful and disappointing. This is a conference about creating change.”