NYC QAIA response to NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson's statement on Israel's Independence Day

Corey Johnson just went on a
JCRC-funded junket to Israel again.

New York City Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (NYC QAIA) condemn New York City Speaker Corey Johnson's appalling statement celebrating Israel's Independence Day.

The Speaker is the leader of the New York City Council and as such has a responsibility to represent all of the residents of this great city, including those who trace their origins to Palestine. As Speaker, he also has a responsibility to uphold the standard of human rights articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and embodied by the United Nations, whose General Assembly and Security Council have called on Israel to end its illegal occupation in UN Resolutions 242 and 338. Nowhere in Speaker Johnson's statement celebrating Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israel's Independence Day) is there any recognition of the illegality of Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories or of the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous people of historic Palestine that was the pre-condition for the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. Instead, Johnson characterizes the state of Israel as 'a beacon of hope and opportunity'; but it is anything but a beacon of hope and opportunity either for its Palestinian citizens, whom it subjects to institutionalized discrimination and racism, or to the Palestinians in the occupied territories, whom it subjects to a brutal apartheid regime. And Speaker Johnson's use of the expression 'Am Israel Chai' is despicable, as it is coded language for the triumph of the Israeli state over the Palestinian people.

An openly gay man who claims to understand discrimination and oppression, Johnson has betrayed the Palestinian people and LGBT/queer Palestinians in particular with a statement that erases their oppression. Johnson's statement is especially egregious given that the Israeli military has wounded more than 1,600 unarmed Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip since the Great March of Return began on March 30, killing 36 of them, three of them children and one of them a journalist (Yasser Murtaja) who was wearing a vest clearly marked 'press' when he was gunned down by an Israeli sniper. Palestinians began the Great March of Return to protest the policy of incremental genocide being pursued by the Israeli government in the Gaza Strip, to which it has subjected its residents through an illegal blockade that is in clear violation of international law. In light of the countless war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Israeli state, we call on Speaker Johnson to issue a statement condemning those crimes against the indigenous people of Palestine and Johnson should use his power as the second most powerful elected official in the City of New York to challenge the illegal occupation of Palestine.

NYC QAIA was founded to create a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community-based challenge to Israel's illegal occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip and to support Palestinians  — both LGBT and non-LGBT — in their struggle against Israel's brutal and illegal apartheid regime.


Statement By Speaker Corey Johnson

Re: Israel’s Independence Day    

Today I join in celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day.  For 70 years the State of Israel has stood as a beacon of hope and opportunity, overcoming seemingly insurmountable challenges.  I am honored to be in Israel to mark this historic occasion with my Council colleagues on a mission to learn more about Israeli culture and economic opportunities, as well as to meet with civic, government, and business leaders. As Americans we saw firsthand the shared democratic principles and values that both our countries possess. We have also seen and met many people hard at work with a genuine spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship, and a desire to provide a better life for themselves and their children. Clearly, the Israeli dream is no different than the American version, nurtured in an environment like ours that encourages free-thinking, free speech and a commitment to equality. I stand here proudly as an American with a genuine love for the people of the State of Israel, wishing their country a happy 70th.  "Am Yisrael Chai!"


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FAQ for trolls

QAIA’s facebook page has been heavily trolled lately. The comments display an exhausting mix of misinformation and straight-up racism. Our work is on anticolonialism, not on educating trolls. So rather than take commenters on individually, we’ve written up this FAQ. It gives real answers to the often ridiculous “questions” posed to us here. We’ve also banned hateful commenters and deleted conversations. They are archived, don’t worry.

Here’s the list of comments we respond to here. It may grow as needed. (2019 update: nope, the trolling is pretty much always the same.)
“There is no apartheid or genocide in Israel!”
  2. “You don’t get to self-report that you aren’t anti-Semitic! Anti-Semitism is a problem in queer anti-racist organizing!”
  3. “Israeli security is for the protection of Jews under threat from racist/hostile Arabs!”
  4. “Israel is where Palestinian queers run to, because in Palestine, queerness is punishable by death!"
  5. “Queers and Jews who are anti-Zionist are self-loathing!”
  6. “Queers are being murdered in Chechnya, Syria, etc. – but Israel is your problem?!”
  7. “You’re condemning a Jewish-only state but promoting an Arab-only state?!”
  8. “Saying Jews are white is only logical if you’re anti-Semitic!”
  9. “What about Arab oppression of minorities?!”
  10. “Do you protest Pakistani, Saudi, Iranian apartheid?!”
  11. “I oppose occupation/acknowledge Israeli apartheid exists, but I’m still a Zionist.”

1. “There is no apartheid or genocide in Israel!”

There is apartheid. The 2017 UN ESCWA study examined Israel’s governance of Palestinians in the four categories Israel uses: in the Occupied Territories, Jerusalem, inside Israel, and in refugee camps. It also used international jurisprudence to define apartheid. The report was published according to usual UN practice. (The claim that it “wasn’t cleared” before publishing is a canard: such studies don’t get “cleared.” They are research publications.) Here’s a running list of apartheid laws in Israel.

There is genocide. Genocide is a term defined by the Polish Jewish scholar Raphael Lemkin in 1944. The term has been debated and updated, as ideas should be. Israel’s destruction of Palestinian life fits Lemkin’s definition and others since then. Here’s a simple legal explanation from the Center for Constitutional Rights.

2. “You don’t get to self-report that you aren’t anti-Semitic! Anti-Semitism is a problem in queer anti-racist organizing!”

We got this troll-comment in response to this post, where QAIA said that anti-Semitism isn’t an issue in queer, anti-racist organizations like the Chicago Dyke March. Self-reporting can be iffy (as when Israelis say “there’s no apartheid or genocide in Israel.”) It’s worth looking at the context.
  • QAIA folks work in many queer anti-racist organizations, and our trolls don’t. It’s an activist culture we know. Queer anti-racist organizations – especially collectives! – are extremely attentive to any inkling of anti-blackness, anti-immigrant bias, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, transphobia, and classism. They are intensively self-policed, believe it. They’re. Not. Anti-Semitic.
  • Accusations of anti-Semitism against queer anti-racists only ever come up when people call for Palestinian rights. Literally, ever. 

    Accusations of anti-Semitism have been levelled by white Jewish activists against queers of color, without any acknowledgement of the power differential between them. White queers claiming they’re being victimized by queers of color… If you’re okay with that, this FAQ is not up to your needs.

  • Accusations of anti-Semitism are often levelled against Jews, without the accuser acknowledging that complication. They’re implying that the person is acting from outside a community, against that community, which is a pretty vile deception. Accusing someone of being self-hating requires a lot more engagement and questioning in order to be credible. Lying about someone being both self-hating and anti-Semitic for your own ends? Despicable. 

  • Stories about supposed instances of queer anti-racists being anti-Semitic are increasingly being placed by organizations with PR departments, and are increasingly “post-factual.” For instance, a staff person of a Zionist LGBT organization wrote an article in a national Jewish newspaper about the Chicago Dyke March claiming that supposedly anti-Semitic organizers were “triggered” by seeing a Star of David. Only much later did the people whom she said were “triggered” get to speak for themselves – and not in a national newspaper. Among them were Jewish activists, who had also been wearing Stars of David and other Jewish symbols. Anti-Semitism is real, but the recent crop of accusations is not honest, and it interrupts anti-racist work that actually is interested in combating anti-Semitism along with other racisms.

3. “Israeli security is for the protection of Jews under threat from racist/hostile Arabs!”

Since 1948, Israel has been a colonizer working with other colonial powers. When we talk about security, let’s talk also about what we’re trying to secure.

In more recent decades, Israel has not been insecure: it’s been the aggressor. But it has been useful to present Israel as a vulnerable victim – a tactic commonly used by powerful states. Like when Americans cry “why do they hate us?” as US drones bomb civilian schools and hospitals. Here’s just one take on Israel's insecurity.

4. “Israel is where Palestinian queers run to, because in Palestine, queerness is punishable by death!”

If you’re truly interested in Palestinian queers’ needs, read what this activist from Palestinian queer organization Al Qaws says about Israel as a “haven” and Palestine as a home place for queers. Please stop concern trolling us about Palestinian queers, and worse, using them as props for your argument.

5. “Queers and Jews who are anti-Zionist are self-loathing!”
  • Being anti-Zionist means being against the reasoning of Zionism. It means being against the idea that we as queers, Jews, or anyone else need to fence ourselves in, and fence others out, in order to be safe.
  • It means rejecting the idea that danger to Jews, queers, or anyone is somehow lessened by occupation, apartheid, and the dehumanization of Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, or others.
  • It means rejecting the Israeli governments’ (and lobbyists’) claims about its intention to “protect” anyone. The idea of believing what any state claims about its virtues is silly, whether it’s Israel, the US, or any other. In the case of Israel, which openly represses, jails, and kills civilians who disagree with it, believing it’s a democracy that “protects rights” is ludicrous.
  • Queers and Jews are anti-Zionist because we’re fighting for our survival and liberation, and Israel is a violent oppressor and generator of violence.

6. “Queers are being murdered in Chechnya, Syria, etc. – but Israel is your problem?!”
  • This is like “all lives matter” but worse. In order to deflect attention from Palestinian suffering, you’re using another group of people’s suffering that also isn’t yours. And you’ve chosen specifically queer suffering to try to claim some moral ground. It’s so foul. Please. Stop. 

  • Israel is the US government's key partner in making war, developing weaponry, and generating fear and "clash of civilizations" rationales for colonialism. So yes: Israel is particularly our problem.

  • When people are working against Israeli apartheid, it doesn’t mean they’re not working against other abuses. 

  • Anti-Zionist queers care about queers, and also other people. A million people in Gaza are starving, without a health care system or other basic needs, denied electricity (cooling, food storage, running water) by a terrifying collusion between Israel and the corrupt Palestinian Authority, and trapped at closed borders by agreement between Israel and Egypt. Palestinians have been undergoing some version of these abuses for 65 years. And Chechnya is your problem? (Of course it is – but Palestine should be too.)

7. “You’re condemning a Jewish-only state but promoting an Arab-only state?!”

Who TF is promoting an Arab-only state? Anti-Zionism opposes the Zionist idea of a state that grants different rights to different groups of people. Supporting Palestinian rights doesn’t mean expelling Jews, it means making people equal and ending the pretense that Palestinians don’t have a right to live freely in Palestine. It also means undoing  some of Israel’s illegal actions, like expelling Palestinians from their homes. Wondering what that would look like? Read one possibility here.

8. “Saying Jews are white is only logical if you’re anti-Semitic!”

Not at all. European Jews were once marginalized as a race, excluded from civic life and political and economic power. Today, they are generally not. White supremacists do indeed target all Jews as a race, and as they gain power, European Jewish inclusion is less stable. But the claim that European Jews are people of color – as it has been made lately by Zionists – is a coded claim that European Jews are marginalized in US and Western society like black people and historically colonized people. And that claim is untrue.

Jews from outside of Europe are people of color, including Arab, Asian, and other Jewish people. Some Jews from POC heritage have white privilege, including political and economic power, that has been created by the whitening of European Jews and the complicated nature of Jewish racialization. Recognizing those Jews as people of color is a way of recognizing and undoing Zionism’s portrayal of Jews and Israel as “European.” At the same time, it’s important to notice when “people of color” is being used to describe people who have and are exercising power – for example, the Israeli military – as if they were disempowered.

9. “What about Arab oppression of minorities?!”
There’s a robust discussion of racism and classism in Arab communities. Pay attention. No need for people from a country with a white supremacist and queer-phobic president, police force, and militia movement to be all that smug.

10. “Do you protest Pakistani, Saudi, Iranian apartheid?!”
QAIA works on the issue of Zionist violence, US support for it, and Israeli pinkwashing. We are proud and supportive of other anti-racist and anti-colonial activists around the globe (and we can’t help it: we especially love the queer ones.) There are SO MANY other issues that also need attention. We encourage trolls to get off our Facebook and go address them.

11. “I oppose occupation/acknowledge Israeli apartheid exists, but I’m still a Zionist.”

Yeah… no.

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In support of the Chicago Dyke March, and against pausing our work on racism & state violence.

In the attacks on the organizers of the Chicago Dyke March, NYC Queers Against Israeli Apartheid see a panicked attempt to shut down the growing queer movement against Zionism and Israeli apartheid. To do it, they switch hats in the middle of the conversation. A Wider Bridge (“Building LGBTQ Connections With Israel”) and other Zionist activists bring political Zionist messages into a queer space, and when queers object, they say they’re being targeted as Jews. They’re not.

A Wider Bridge has made these claims of anti-Semitism (and even homophobia) in LGBTQ spaces before. They appear intended to sow Jewish mistrust of queer community.

Why would they do that? The claim that Jewish people are marginalized “even by queers, who are supposed to understand oppression” seems aimed at making Israel more appealing, more necessary, to a generation of Jews and non-Jews that increasingly rejects Israel as racist and violent. It turns the spotlight away from violent armies, cops, and the people of color they target. This is not a new practice: similar tactics were used to push Arab Jews to separate from their home communities and become Israeli. It’s a violent disruption of community, and a cruel way to use people.                            

Let’s also be clear about where this is happening. Anti-Semitism is a problem in party politics from left to right, and among the white supremacists freewheeling around the U.S. right now. It is not a problem in dyke marches or other explicitly grassroots, antiracist queer spaces. It just isn’t. What’s big in those queer community spaces are anti-Zionism and anti-pinkwashing.

In the last decade or so, virtually all the alarms raised about anti-Semitism in U.S. queer communities have been about challenges to Zionism, and have been raised by pinkwashing organizations. This is important: it means that charges of anti-Semitism in queer spaces are intentional diversions. And they work. The conversations online get so focused that they turn on individual words rather than how power is being used. They become so intense that they destroy friendships and alliances. The damage to progressive queer community seems to be deliberate.

In the last month, Zionist LGBT activists have diverted our attention from catastrophic state violence against Palestinians by claiming anti-Zionist queers are anti-Semitic and homophobic. The uproar shuts down discussion of the fact that Gaza is down to two hours of electricity per day. That Israeli settlers continue to shoot at Palestinians in their homes and streets while Israeli soldiers stand aside. That Palestinians, queer or otherwise, can’t move freely even within their shrunken, fenced-in spaces: not for medical emergencies, not for education, not for food, not for work.

Queers are fighting back against pinkwashing, and against charges that queers who oppose Zionism are “homophobic.” Now we have to fight back against the manipulation of our community conversations. Yes, it’s important to hold each other accountable in conversations about racism, including anti-Semitism, and violence. But check those conversations. If we’re not talking about power and our relationship to it, if we’re obscuring actual state violence happening now, then we’re being played. That’s how to tell when charges of anti-Semitism are being used to mess with queer movements, rather than to improve them. And that’s when to say: no more.

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NYC Pride/Resistance 2017: photos!


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Letter in support of #cancelpinkwashing: to 'Creating Change' and The Task Force

January 20, 2016

NYC QAIA stands with those LGBT community members challenging the pinkwashing of Israeli occupation and apartheid by A Wider Bridge at the Creating Change 2016 conference in Chicago, as expressed in the #cancelpinkwashing statement.

A Wider Bridge's mission is to 'pinkwash' the Israeli occupation of Palestine and generate support for Israel within the LGBT community in the United States. It serves as a front organization for the Israeli government and the Israel lobby that supports it. AWB is trying to mislead the community about the nature of the event that the National LGBTQ Task Force cancelled and then uncancelled. AWB insinuates that those who opposed the reception were targeting the shabbat service scheduled to precede it, and Jerusalem Open House, which is a co-sponsor of the event.

In fact, the anti-apartheid activists who spoke with Creating Change's Sue Hyde made clear that they were not objecting to the shabbat service or to the participation of JOH, but rather to the reception and AWB's use of it to promote the Israeli government and its illegal occupation of Palestine. AWB dishonestly portrayed the #cancelpinkwashing initiative as 'anti-Semitic.' AWB board member Dana Beyer went so far as to write a blog post on entitled, "National LGBTQ Task Force Censors the Jews" (1.17.16), in which she called the Task Force's initial decision to cancel the AWB event "an act of bigotry against Jewish LGBTQ persons as mean-spirited as any other."

It is well documented that the Israeli government is actively rebranding itself by using "community" organizations, mostly targeting youth and LGBT people, to make the case that Israeli is a hip Middle Eastern hangout rather than an apartheid state. The campaign's much-repeated tactic has been to slip an ostensibly Jewish cultural event onto conference agendas that is in fact intended to build support for the Israeli government -- and to cry discrimination if anyone objects. The Task Force is not the first victim of this ruse, but it has a responsibility to understand the tawdry history it is currently reenacting.

Clearly, the Task Force has not understood it yet. In the Task Force's Jan. 18 statement reversing the cancellation, executive director Rea Carey wrote: "It is our belief that when faced with choices, we should move towards our core value of inclusion and opportunities for constructive dialogue and canceling the reception was a mistake," adding, "We are aware that our original decision made it appear we were taking sides in a complex and long-standing conflict."

In fact, by reversing its original decision and re-scheduling the pinkwashing event, the Task Force is taking sides, providing a platform to build LGBT support for Israeli apartheid and occupation. The reference to 'inclusion' rings especially false as LGBT Palestinians living under the occupation are not included, given that Palestinians need special permission from the Israeli authorities to leave the West Bank, which is rarely granted.

It is not clear what the Task Force is planning when Carey says, “…we will also be creating a facilitated session for dialogue around these issues.” It is hard to imagine how this can happen when the organizers are hosting a group whose mission, again, is to build support for an apartheid state that is specifically using LGBT rights rhetoric -- and Creating Change -- to target Palestinians.

Further, we are upset that Carey felt she needed to call for "peaceful protests" should any be planned at Creating Change. Strong feelings and sharp disagreements should not lead to the assumption that a protest would be anything other than peaceful. In the current climate of Islamophobia in this country, this statement only serves to reinforce stereotypes.

An organization cannot insist that it is on the cutting edge of the pursuit of progressive social and political change when its annual conference legitimizes the pinkwashing of Israeli occupation and apartheid.

Naomi Brussel, Leslie Cagan, and Pauline Park
on behalf of NYC Queers Against Israeli Apartheid
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"When gay rights trample racial justice: Why the NYC Council should cancel its Israel junket"

QAIA's op-ed is in Mondoweiss today, just a week before NYC Councilmembers take off on their junket to Israel -- placing the Israel lobby clearly above their constituents. Lots of speculation about why they're doing it, and about how much they're squirming. This is by far not the first such junket to Israel, but it's the first time New Yorkers have really organized to say: WTF?? It won't be so easy for electeds to say yes to the JCRC next time around.
(Read the story on to access the reference links behind the text.)

When gay rights trample racial justice: Why the NYC Council should cancel its Israel junket Activism 
By Emmaia Gelman

Recently, community groups called on New York City Councilmembers to skip an all-expenses-paid, eight-day junket to Israel. Much like the South Africa boycott, Palestinians have called on the international community to end “business as usual” that normalizes apartheid. The Councilmembers, many of whom are in the Progressive or LGBT Caucuses, are planning to violate the boycott when they travel in February.

Challenged on Israel’s racism, Councilmembers’ excuses quickly turned to gay rights. Bronx rep Ritchie Torres emailed Gay City News saying: “Which country in the Middle East is most protective of LGBT rights? In which country would I –– as an American, much less a gay one –– feel most at home? The answer to both questions is undoubtedly Israel.”
(Image: Anti-Defamation League)
Torres is gay, but the words weren’t his: they were practically verbatim from an Israel lobby group. In fact, it’s mostly right-wing (not LGBT) organizations writing the “gay rights” lines in support of Israel. By contrast, Palestinian LGBT groups say that Israel’s daily violence makes all Palestinians so unsafe that LGBT rights are not a matter for separate discussion. Arab LGBT voices assert that Israel preys on them even as it claims to support them.  New York LGBT organizations have made clear that queer justice and racial justice are inseparable, from Israel/Palestine to our own streets.
Torres’ insistence on separating them is telling. At home, he stands with #BlackLivesMatter and he’s a champion of racial justice challenging the NYPD. In Israel, he’s American and gay. There, he stands with the Jewish Community Relations Council (staunch defenders of Muslim surveillance and “brothers and sisters in blue”) – and a State of Israel where rights are allocated, and lives valued, according to race. The JCRC are defenders of a state that segregates housing, buses, citizenship, and indeed gay rights. Still more perverse: Israel’s iron-fisted policing, field-tested on Palestinians and Israeli dissenters, have shaped the NYPD’s approach to New Yorkers as a “human terrain” of threat levels.
To improve Israel’s image, lobbyists now tout Israel’s LGBT “tolerance” as often as they conjure anti-Semitism. In New York, the JCRC uses gay rights rhetoric, and political leverage over LGBT elected officials, to clamp down on LGBT criticism of Israel. In 2011, Palestine rights groups were meeting at the LGBT Community Center. Israel lobbyists, including the JCRC, weighed in with elected officials who pushed the Center to ban discussion of Palestine. When the ban prevented lesbian author Sarah Schulman from discussing her book, LGBT communities voiced outrage – and the situation was again managed by the JCRC. Gay City News found emails in which the JCRC approved LGBT officials’ new position: they could endorse lifting the ban while reiterating support for Israel as a matter of gay rights. The Center’s statement lifting the ban, and officials’ statement in support, were released within an hour of JCRC approval.
The JCRC has managed Councilmembers’ dealings with constituents on other occasions. In 2013 Councilmembers attacked Brooklyn College for hosting discussion of the Palestinian call for BDS. The JCRC appears to have vetted Councilmembers’ letter as it had before. (The letter illegally threatened to pull CUNY funding.) A decade earlier, a Jewish justice group was honoring the parents of an activist for Palestinian rights, and four elected officials were on the host committee. Working with the American Jewish Congress, the JCRC called Councilmember Christine Quinn, who quickly quit the host committee and pledged to “boycott” along with Councilmember Gale Brewer. The other officials also dropped out. All had been longtime supporters of the justice group. [NY Sun, “Synagogue Honoring PLO Supporter” 5/30/03] Later, Quinn characterized the JCRC as “keeping us on a daily basis in New York City focused and united in our support of Israel.”
The police murders of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and an alarming roster of Black people of all genders and ages, have brought racial justice to center stage. Also, public support for Israel has crumbled after last summer’s war on Gaza, and is falling further as Palestinians now freeze to death in demolished homes. It’s to be expected that the JCRC cultivates officials in communities of color and LGBT communities, using them to repaint Israel’s liberal veneer. For the first time, though, New Yorkers are resisting the JCRC’s demands. It may take courage to resist the politically powerful Israel lobby. But ignoring Israeli apartheid is a dangerous game. Public officials who were slow to join the call for South African divestment are still tarred with that failure. Those who refuse to recognize Israeli apartheid should fear the same fate.
Palestinian LGBT voices are not hard to hear, nor are New York’s voices for racial justice. Instead, City Hall seems to be inviting American Israel lobbyists to tell LGBT people of color in the Middle East what’s good for them, and then repeating their words. We’re left to wonder what the JCRC has whispered in the ears of Progressive and LGBT Caucus members to make them stray so far from their principles – and their voters.
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