This piece was originally published in The Concordian on April 8th 2014. Our CAMERA Fellow at Concordia, Michelle Soicher, organized the event described below.
It was meant to be a non-political snapshot of Israel’s sexual minorities for the purpose of fostering dialogue and widening viewpoints. Yet the documentary ‘Out in Israel’, hosted by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) and featuring noted speaker and activist Jayson Littman, instead caused protests and a last-minute pull-out by sponsor Queer Concordia.
“As soon as the event went live [on Facebook], people went nuts. There were really inflammatory posts, there were accusations of pinkwashing, and very very quickly the topic shifted from LGBTQ rights to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict,” said CAMERA fellow, Concordia student, and event organizer Michelle Soicher.
Pinkwashing is a term that refers to when a corporate entity or state brings attention to its LGBTQ-friendly policy for the purpose of drawing attention away from other abuses. In the past, Israel has been accused of pinkwashing to distract from its track record with Palestinian human rights. Littman, an activist in both Jewish and gay communities and a worker with the organization A Wider Bridge, was on hand to speak of pinkwashing and Israeli LGBTQ experiences in general.
The pressure caused Queer Concordia, invited to co-sponsor the event as it touched upon issues of interest to its membership, to pull out.
The event carried on as scheduled only to be intruded on physically by a small group of very vocal protesters, allegedly claiming to be affiliated with Queers against Apartheid, a group in solidarity with Palestine. For some half hour or so, the dozen or so individuals chanted and protested before leaving.
“What I expected was a bunch of people with contrasting views. I expected a great Q&A,” Soicher said in reaction to the disruption, clearly disappointed with the protesters who hadn’t stayed for the event and left as swiftly as they came.
Though Soicher insisted the event wasn’t political, she did have an opinion on pinkwashing.
“The LGBTQ rights in Israel are the results of LGBTQ fighting for them. They weren’t handed to [them] — you can’t create a culture of tolerance to distract from something else. As Jayson [said] it, Israel sells itself as LGBT friendly for tourism [purposes] and nobody is distracted from the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.”
When reached for comment, Queer Concordia reiterated the negative reaction to the event was behind their cancellation.
“After discussing the situation as a board and considering the feedback we received from other on-campus organizations we work closely with, we decided participating in this event would not be a good representation of our organization,” said Queer Concordia Communication Coordinator Emmett Anderson. Other QC members were unable for comment.
Despite the negative attention, Soicher said it is important to have such conversations, regardless of their sensitive nature, in an effort to give depth to what she calls “a very complicated, long-standing conflict.”
“I think Concordia students owe it to themselves and owe it to the student body to have two sides —at least— of what’s going on.”
The Concordian attempted to reach Queers against Apartheid but received no response.