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NY LGBT Center slammed as center of anti-Israel activity
By BENJAMIN WEINTHAL
01/06/2011
Manhattan institution providing fig leaf for Arab homophobia, Wiesenthal Center says.
 
A New York City LGBT Community Center’s decision to host an event of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid last week has drawn sharp criticism.

Prominent US gays and the Simon Wiesenthal Center on Wednesday laced into the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Center and Queers Against Israeli Apartheid.

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Dr. Shimon Samuels, the Wiesenthal Center’s international director, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that Queers Against Israeli Apartheid was a group of “self-hating gays” who “are working against the interests of their own brothers and sisters and should be shunned by all LGBT NGOs. By accepting them, the New York center is providing a fig leaf for Arab homophobia.”

He continued, “Gay anti-Zionism is an oxymoron in that Israel is the only country in the Middle East and in the Islamic region where sexual diversity can be practiced freely without discrimination. In fact, many Palestinian and other Arab gays have sought refuge in Tel Aviv. Gays certainly had no such rights under South African Apartheid, and to even apply that term to Israel is defamatory and the theft of another people’s narrative.”

In February, the LGBT Center agreed to provide space during “Israeli Apartheid Week” to the anti-Israel group Siege Busters, to raise money for a new flotilla to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.

After Michael Lucas, a columnist for the gay monthly The Advocate and an adult entertainment producer, called for a financial boycott of the LGBT Center, the center pulled the plug on its “A Party to End Apartheid” event with Siege Busters, saying that the group was not involved in LGBT issues.

As for the center’s move to host Queers Against Israeli Apartheid last week, Lucas told the Post, “The president of the board of directors for the LGBT Center, Mario Palumbo, and its executive director, Glennda Testone, are staunch anti-Zionists. In fact, they are anti-Zionist and anti-Israeli to the point that they would not meet with representatives from major Jewish organizations (Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs) that wanted to explain to them that the word ‘apartheid’ cannot be applicable to the Jewish state.”

Lucas continued, “Initially, they agreed to the meeting, but then they canceled it two hours prior. However, they have had many meetings with all the anti-Israeli organizations that requested a meeting, culminating in the decision to grant them the space.”

It appears that the activists from Siege Busters have switched over to Queers Against Israeli Apartheid so they can argue that their group is involved in LGBT issues.

“If the NYC LGBT Center is to embrace this new ‘policy of moral relativism’ it will need to open its doors immediately to other hate organizations that cleverly append the word ‘queer’ to their names, like ‘Queer Neo Nazis, ‘Queers for al- Qaida,’ ‘Queers for Ahmadinejad,’ ‘Queers for Prop 8,’ or ‘Queers Against Gay Adoption,’ ‘Queers for AIDS,’ Lucas said.

“Of course they won’t do it, because they would consider this hate speech, but bashing Israel is perfectly fine with them.

The center is absolutely out of touch with reality. They don’t understand that the majority of gay people do not support the idea of allowing QAIA [Queers Against Israeli Apartheid] to meet at the center.”

In an e-mail to Testone, Stuart Appelbaum, the openly gay president of the New York-based Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and president of the Jewish Labor Committee, wrote, “You had the opportunity to meet with us before and chose not to, despite your promises, always claiming you were too busy... You then broke your commitment that no decisions would be made until after we met. You dissembled and were disingenuous throughout the entire process.

“I am prepared to review publicly how you treated the Jewish community, the JCPA [the Jewish Council for Public Affairs] and the JCRC [the Jewish Community Relations Council]. I find it outrageous and insulting, and inexcusable.”

Appelbaum, who works with a statewide lobbying and advocacy group in New York to secure same-sex marriage rights, told Testone that she has “turned the LGBT Center into a locus for anti- Semitism where material is handed out stating that ‘Zionism equals Apartheid.’” Cindi Creager, director of communications and marketing at the LGBT Center, sent the Post a press statement from May 25 that said, “The center recently received a request for space rental by a group called ‘Queers Against Israeli Apartheid’ for the purposes of holding recurring meetings to plan for local Pride events.

This afternoon we informed the group that the center would allow access for these meetings...

The center does not have a position on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, nor does it endorse the viewpoints of this group or any others that use rooms here. This is a complex issue, and there is a tremendous diversity of viewpoints within the LGBT community.”

Post queries to Testone and Palumbo were not returned. Creager told the Post on Wednesday, “Our statement is where things stand today.”

Efforts to reach Queers Against Israeli Apartheid in New York were unsuccessful.

A representative in Toronto wrote the Post on Wednesday, “We are not affiliated with the New York group and so far we have no idea who is involved with them. I can’t find a webpage or contact info.”

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, senior rabbi of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in Manhattan, told the Post last week, “The rhetoric is very high and people on all sides of this are very charged up. The center’s leadership has been doing an incredible job listening to people and trying to find the best path through these thorny issues. They’ve been thoughtful, they’ve been balanced, but you can’t win for losing here.”

Kleinbaum, who is a lesbian, added that “I am hopeful that thoughtful, fairminded people can discuss these burning issues of the day without destroying each other in the process. I am proud of the center’s work and its leadership.”

Lucas fired back in a statement to the Post, “This rabbi, for whatever reason, pretends that she represents all LGBT Jewish people. This is simply not true. At this point, her synagogue, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, is basically facing a crisis because of her strong anti-Israeli stand.

She bashes Israel all the time, making people get up and leave services. It’s not that she’s just anti-Israeli, it’s that she’s not neutral, as she should be. She is very vocal in her hatred towards Israel. No wonder the LGBT Center chose her as a counterpart to groups that oppose Queers Against Israeli Apartheid.”

Jordana Horn contributed to this report from New York.
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