NEW YORK – The World Jewish Congress teamed up with the leading pro-Israel LGBTQ organization in the United States, A Wider Bridge, last week, for a special discussion on the experiences of pro-Israel LGBT activists and tools for bringing Zionism back into the LGBT discourse.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement has in recent years infiltrated the LGBTQ community in the United States to promote its anti-Israel agenda, leading to an atmosphere of exclusion, ostracizing, and censure for pro-Israel members of the community, including expulsion from pride events and discourse. After years of seeking a safe space that encompasses both of their identities, the pro-Israel LGBTQ community has found that it has an ally in the Jewish world.
The unprecedented LGBTQ n' Z: A Conversation About Pride, Zionism, and Inclusivity, was conceived of following a contentious summer of Pride events across the United States, where marchers from A Wider Bridge, carrying rainbow flags emblazoned with the Star of David, were shunned, physically and verbally accosted, and excluded.
Matt Nosanchuk, Former Associate Director of Public Engagement and the White House’s liaison to the American Jewish community, opened the event as keynote speaker, led the discussion with a keynote address, in which he described his overlapping identity as a Jew, Zionist, and member of the LGBTQ community adding that it was in great part his experience and familiarity with these worlds that led to his appointment in the White House.
Nosanchuck said: “I am Canadian-born, a Detroiter, a Michigander, a Detroit sports fan, a Democrat, a progressive / liberal, a Stanford alum, a metrosexual, a lawyer, a Jew, a Zionist, an Obama administration employee, a father, and a gay man. Each of you can probably generate similar lists for yourself… for me my identities as a Zionist, a Jew and a member of the LGBTQ community have been intersecting and overlapping since I came out.”
Regarding the phenomenon over the summer in Chicago, Nosanchuck said: It has become completely about identity in some notorious cases…. Just because someone is Jewish or is Israeli, we are told we don’t have a place among our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community…. We can’t use the ‘Z’ word. We have to renounce support for our connection to Israel. And we have to swear allegiance to the Palestinian cause. The message is that we can’t be both. To the extent we identity with the Jewish community or Israel, we are unwelcome in the LGBTQ community.”
A discussion followed with experienced LGBTQ-Zionist activists moderated by Slate journalist Mark Joseph Stern, featuring former Senior Advisor to Israel's Minister of Health and Member of the World Jewish Congress-Jewish Diplomatic Corps Assaf Weiss, Muslim pro-Israel campus activist Nadiya al-Noor, and A Wider Bridge Deputy Director Tye Gregory.
During the panel, Weiss said: “The LGBTQ community isn’t anti-Israel or anti-Semitic. That’s exactly what BDS wants us to think. We are Zionists and Jews, and we are just as much a part of the LGBTQ community.” Weiss added that he had attended a BDS event presented as supporting LGBTQ Palestinians, and that the organizers there refused to condemn Hamas’ execution of a gay Palestinian man, turning the blame for all suffering on Israel. "When a person’s hatred of Israel is so blinding that they can't even condemn the execution of a person just because he is gay, it is a clear exploitation of legitimate LGBTQ Palestinian’s suffering for the promotion of an anti-Israel and anti-Semitic agenda," he said, "this something that all of us within the LGBTQ community must object to.”
Al-Noor said: “Pro-Israel members of the LGBT movement at my university had to choose between being Jewish and being queer. They came to this school because they knew they had a queer community there, and the decision was heart-breaking for them. They chose being Jewish. This is a rampant disease on many campuses.”
Gregory said: “This can’t be a conversation that stays in this community. This can’t be a personal conversation. That’s why we are glad to team up with the World Jewish Congress, to expand the conversation.”
Prior to the discussion, WJC CEO and Executive Vice President Robert Singer said:
“After decades of LGBTQ Jews fighting for full inclusion in Jewish spaces, LGBTQ Jews now find themselves fighting for inclusion in LGBTQ spaces, with repeated challenges from BDS activists seeking to co-opt the LGBTQ and progressive movement in America.
“This phenomenon must end – it is time to bring Zionism back into the LGBTQ discourse and to demand that a movement that thrives on inclusivity not exclude its members over their support for the State of Israel,” Singer said.