National LGBTQ group reverses decision to cancel event with Jerusalem activists

(JTA) — The National LGBTQ Task Force has reversed its decision to remove from its conference schedule a reception hosted by a U.S. organization with a Jerusalem advocacy group.

A Wider Bridge had charged that Friday’s event with leaders of Jerusalem Open House at the Creating Change conference in Chicago had been canceled due to pressure from anti-Israel activists. The group, which aims to build connections with lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders and queers in Israel, announced over the weekend that it would move the event to another venue.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force — the oldest national LGBTQ advocacy group — said in a statement issued Tuesday that the original decision to cancel the event was made by staff, and that neither board members nor the local host committee were involved.

“In reversing the decision today, we want to make it quite clear that the Creating Change Conference will always be a safe space for inclusion and dialogue for people with often widely different views,” Carey said. “It was not at all our intention to censor representatives of the Jerusalem Open House or A Wider Bridge at Creating Change and I apologize that our actions left people feeling silenced.”

Canceling the reception “was a mistake,” she said.

“We are aware that our original decision made it appear we were taking sides in a complex and long-standing conflict, which was not the intention, and that in cancelling the reception we deeply offended many people, and our reversal will offend others,” Carey said.

Carey said she has been concerned about the “intense escalation” over the issue in recent days, and “the threats towards people who hold a range of views.” She called on those planning to hold protests during the Creating Change conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or other issues to be “peaceful.”

Arthur Slepian, executive director of A Wider Bridge, in a statement thanked the task force for reversing its decision and for what he called its “gracious apology.”

A Wider Bridge said it sought to bring speakers from the Jerusalem Open House to talk about its Jerusalem March for Pride, where last summer a teenage girl was killed and six other wounded by a Haredi Orthodox attacker, and its aftermath.

“We will not let them define A Wider Bridge as ‘outside the tent,’ censor our voices, or blacklist us and our work as ‘unkosher’ for Creating Change,” the organization had said in a statement.

The group said it engages with Palestinians, Ethiopian-Israelis, transgender leaders and LGBTQ leaders from Israel’s religious communities.

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