(JTA) — An anti-Israel protest has again led to controversy at Creating Change, an LGBTQ conference that was the site of a raucous anti-Israel protest in 2016.
At the opening of this year’s conference, organized by the National LGBTQ Task Force, a group of activists holding Palestinian flags took the stage unannounced and led a 13-minute protest for Palestinian liberation and against Zionism. The speakers were not interrupted or asked to leave by the event organizers.
JTA obtained video of the event, at which speakers led chants of “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go.”
The conference took place from Jan. 23 to 27 in Detroit.
The first speaker of the protest, who did not give their name, said the conference did not include pro-Palestinian programming because it could upset donors. The speaker invoked Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the Michigan Democrat who is the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress.
“In a state that elected the first Palestinian woman to the U.S. Congress, there is still a ban on Palestine at Creating Change, because the Task Force is afraid that people are going to come here to seek their full liberation, and donors might get mad,” the speaker said. “Right now, our content is being censored, our liberation is being silenced and our voices are being shut down because the Task Force is too cowardly to have a conversation on one of the leading social justice issues of our time: Palestinian freedom.”
The second speaker of the protest, Mina Aria, called on the Task Force to fight “pinkwashing, Zionism, Islamophobia and colonial violence.” Pinkwashing is a term that connotes what critics see as Israel’s covering up of human rights abuses by trumpeting its LGBTQ-friendly policies.
JTA has called and emailed the Task Force for comment, and has reached out to Aria. On Sunday, the group wrote in a Facebook post that it “firmly condemns anti-Semitism. We firmly condemn Islamophobia. We firmly condemn attacks on each other’s humanity. The perpetuation of white supremacy is harmful to all. There are a number of misunderstandings and misinformation being thrown around.”
Tye Gregory, executive director of A Wider Bridge, a pro-Israel LGBTQ group that also advocates for LGBTQ rights within Israel, said the Task Force’s staff “either don’t have the core competence to fix this problem or don’t care what we have to say.”
“When you say Israel and Zionism are the problem, you’re directly implicating other attendees at the conference and stirring up hate,” Gregory told JTA. “I want to make sure those in the Jewish community and those who care about Israel outside the Jewish community have a welcoming space.”
But Keshet, a national Jewish LGBTQ organization, said in a statement that public protests on a range of issues are a regular part of Creating Change every year and that in this year’s case, it views “blanket accusations of anti-Semitism as inflammatory and divisive.”
“Every year, the Creating Change conference is a site of protest,” said the statement. “To be clear, we believe that there is no room for anti-Semitism in the LGBTQ rights movement or in any other liberation movement. While we believe that criticism of Israel is at times anti-Semitic, we do not believe that it is necessarily anti-Semitic.”
The protest this year recalled a similar one at the same conference in 2016, when pro-Palestinian activists tried to disrupt a Shabbat service hosted by A Wider Bridge. The protesters chanted “Hey hey, ho ho, pinkwashing has got to go.”
The first speaker at the protest this year also criticized the Anti-Defamation League, saying it has “committed acts of severe violence against the queer and trans liberation movement.” The speaker also claimed that the ADL spied on gay rights groups in the 1980s.
The ADL did not comment by publication time.