Much Is Lost By Not Listening to Each Other

In the aftermath of January’s Creating Change conference in Chicago, where our program about Jerusalem’s LGBTQ community was shut down by a large group of anti-Zionist protestors, A Wider Bridge has learned a number of simple but important truths. The first lesson is this: Storytelling is powerful. A Wider Bridge’s Executive Director Arthur Slepian in a special column on The Advocate

The guests that A Wider Bridge brought to Chicago were two leaders of Jerusalem Open House, the city’s flagship LGBTQ community center. They never got to speak, but after Chicago, we brought our guests to cities across the country, and everywhere we went, as they told their story, hearts opened up. They spoke about the challenge of making Jerusalem a place that can be a home to all LGBTQ people — the secular and the religious, Jews and Palestinians, the old and the young. They spoke candidly about the fear, anger, and grief that gripped their community after the stabbings and murder at last summer’s Jerusalem Pride March and the paths the community has chosen to walk toward healing. They invited everyone they met into dialogue with them. As they spoke, their integrity, their character, and their commitment to bringing people together all became evident.

RELATED: Members of the Ethiopian-Israeli LGBT Movement tell their personal stories

Stories reveal our humanity, and when we share them, the distance and differences that separate us melt away. This is the opportunity that was missed in Chicago, and perhaps why the protesters were so intent on shutting down our program. Had it taken place, it would have revealed the humanity and courage of our Israeli guests.

The second lesson, an unfortunate one, is that the forces on display in Chicago were not some kind of aberration. Both anti-Semitism and the idea that “shut it down” is the right response to programs that one objects to have become an integral part of the far left’s anti-Zionist campaign. For example, a scheduled speech by activist Janet Mock at Brown University was fiercely protested in March by anti-Israel activists simply because the talk was to be hosted by a Jewish group on campus. Mock canceled her talk when it became clear that her message would be drowned out by the controversy. Just this month, a speech by the mayor of Jerusalem was disrupted by protesters at San Francisco State University, and he was never permitted to speak. These events and others like them demonstrate the radical left’s antagonism toward Israel.

Their accusations of “pinkwashing” — that speaking about LGBT issues in Israel is an attempt to distract people away from other issues — have a “through the looking glass” kind of absurdity. They turn something that is essentially good about Israel into something to be condemned. But the accusations also contain an element of anti-Semitism, as they promote the stereotype that Jews, whatever we might be saying or doing, are really acting with some ulterior or sinister motive.

The third lesson is perhaps the most important, and certainly the most hopeful. We are seeing that the movement for LGBTQ equality is increasingly a global one, and it is clearer than ever that Israel and its LGBTQ community have a vital role to play in moving it forward. It is this idea that is actually at the heart of A Wider Bridge’s work.

There is so much that LGBTQ activists across the globe can learn from each other’s successes and challenges, and Israelis have both much to teach and much to learn. Consider the events since last summer’s Jerusalem Pride March, in which that ultra-Orthodox man ran into the crowd and stabbed and murdered a 15-year-old girl. continue reading on The Advocate