FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
"US Social Forum" Bans Advocate for Middle East Gay Community
Intolerance for Israel Trumps Human Rights Commitments, Causes Harassment of Scheduled Speaker
and Sudden Cancellation of Educational LGBT Workshop
[Los Angeles—June 23] StandWithUs, (SWU) was suddenly banned from presenting a Gay Rights workshop at the international US Social Forum (USSF) conference being held in Detroit, Michigan, from June 22 to June 26.
USSF notified SWU on Tuesday, just two days before SWU was scheduled to present its “LGBTQI Liberation in the Middle East” session.
“The cancellation letter claimed that we had ‘masked the true nature’ of the workshop and were really trying to ‘defend Israel,’ but this is patently false,” according to SWU Midwest Director Brett Cohen, an expert on gay issues in the Middle East who was approved by USSF to lead the session. “We gave them our program plan and background about our organization, and website information months ago. In all that time, the conference organizers never asked for more information.”
Cohen has been harassed for several weeks by USSF participants who emailed him intimidating messages with thinly veiled threats that violence might break out at his session. The organizers of the USSF were unwilling to offer security at the workshop, and warned Cohen, “Security is important to the US Social Forum. At the same time, the social forum is an open space," implying that Cohen's physical safety might be at risk.
In their message to the forum, the organizers stated that they cannot, “allow the workshop to proceed uncontested.”
“The real tragedy is that once again, the voice of the persecuted Middle Eastern LGBTQI community is being silenced. They face murderous persecution and discrimination. In Iran, gay men are forced to undergo sex change operations, or face execution. Across the Middle East, gays are murdered by their own families in 'honor killings.' They face active discrimination and often, legal punishment for the 'crime' of being gay. We wanted to highlight their plight using videos and documents produced by LGBT rights organization members who live in hiding for fear of death in every country in the region except Israel. Our goal was to shed light on their plight and connect conference participants to these important organizations so that they could offer assistance and shed light on this viciously persecuted minority. I thought building these coalitions was the purpose of this conference,” said Cohen.
“Apparently, USSF was so afraid that participants might indirectly learn that Israel has an outstanding record on LGBT issues and is a refuge for persecuted gays in the Middle East that they chose to turn their backs on the cries for help from this suffering minority across the region. This was the only workshop about the plight of gays in the Middle East, but the organizers’ unfortunate prejudice against Israel trumped their commitment to human rights. And they tried to 'shoot the messenger' by harassing and intimidating Brett Cohen, and to make sure the message for much needed help was never heard,” said SWU CEO Roz Rothstein.
SWU has been committed to education about LGBT suffering in the Middle East. The organization has had projects such as iPride 2009, which connected non-Jewish gay leaders from around the world with the annual Tel Aviv Pride event and introduced them to gay Israeli politicians and to many different gay rights organizations with offices in Israel. SWU's campus advocacy programs have always included education about gay issues in the Middle East.
“The USSF response highlights once again how anti-Israel prejudice and ignorance hijacks and perverts human rights values, and clouds the judgment of those who claim to be human rights activists. They refuse to acknowledge Israel’s many efforts to find a path to peaceful co-existence. In effect, they end up supporting radical groups and intolerant governments that make a mockery of all their purported ideals. They have shown that they are so focused on hating Israel that they cannot focus on standing up for the people at risk like those in the LGBTQI community who suffer under the oppressive regimes. When USSF and other activists take these positions, they don’t seem to be proponents of human rights. Instead, they are hypocritical or actually enemies of human rights and of peaceful co-existence. The leaders of the USSF have shamefully silenced the suffering of Middle East gays because of their own hateful intolerance. Anti-Israel bigotry is alive and well at the USSF. Such bigotry is a grave threat to human rights values everywhere when obsessive focus on Israel trumps all else.” concluded Rothstein.