The Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC) may have played a role in crafting a statement issued earlier this year by gay and lesbian elected officials that voiced approval of the LGBT Community Center’s new space rental policy while excoriating opponents of Israeli government policies on Palestine.
The statement was issued on February 15, the same day the Community Center announced it was lifting a two-year-old ban on renting space to groups that organize around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The ban was instituted in 2011 following objections to pro-Palestinian groups meeting there. The ban was ended following a ferocious outcry this year when author Sarah Schulman was barred from reading from her book “Israel/ Palestine and the Queer International.”
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn issued the statement and was joined by Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, State Senator Brad Hoylman, and City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer. The Center is within the districts represented by Quinn, Hoylman, and Glick. Van Bramer chairs the City Council committee that oversees institutions such as the Center.
The Center, which declined to comment, effectively returned to the space rental policy that was in place in 2011 before it instituted the ban, which is that it reserves the right to rent or not rent space to any group. All groups must now sign a pledge that promises they will not engage in hate speech when meeting in the Center. The Center also created a way to lodge complaints about hate speech.
The elected officials approved of the new space rental policy, but half of the four-paragraph document attacked the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement that targets Israel as “wrongheaded, destructive, and an obstacle to our collective hope for a peaceful two-state solution,” and disputed the charge that the Jewish state engages in “pinkwashing,” the practice of pointing to its pro-gay laws to defend against accusations it is abusing Palestinians.
A copy of the statement was sent to the JCRC moments before it was released publicly, according to records that Gay City News obtained under the state Freedom of Information Law.
Minutes later, Michael Miller, the JCRC's executive vice president and CEO, wrote to Quinn via email saying of the statement, “Bravo and thanks. Shabbat Shalom!”
A February 20 article in the Jewish Daily Forward paraphrased a JCRC staffer saying “that the speaker’s office had a brief, routine consultation with the JCRC about the statement before it was issued.”
The JCRC is the leading mainstream Jewish voice in New York City and a powerful defender of Israel. It has funded trips to Israel for elected officials, including three for Quinn since 2007. Many local, state, and federal officeholders are publicly allied with the group. The JCRC is not known to have any interest in queer community politics, so its inclusion in a discussion about the Center’s space rental policy was peculiar.
Jamie McShane, a Quinn spokesman, said forwarding the statement to the JCRC was not unusual.
“The reason for that is that as a matter of professional courtesy we will often let advocacy organizations know that we are putting out a statement so they will hear about it from us first,” he told Gay City News.
Miller made a similar assertion.
“As you are likely aware, it is quite common that before a statement on a public issue is made public, so as not to be blindsided, advocates or concerned parties are sent an advanced copy of that statement,” he wrote in an email. “I presume that is why a copy of the joint statement was forwarded to us shortly before it was released.”
Schulman and members of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QAIA), one of two groups originally banned, were taken aback.
“It is appalling that organizations that fund propaganda trips for the occupation of Palestine are setting city policy regarding the free speech of New Yorkers,” Schulman wrote in an email. “Once again, Quinn is on the wrong side of justice.”
In a statement, QAIA members were equally censorious.
“We’re well aware that the pro-Israel lobby is a strong force in NYC politics and that Chris Quinn is a politician, not a community leader,” the statement read. “But as human rights activism against Israeli apartheid takes root in New York, we have been truly disgusted to see her do the JCRC’s bidding in silencing queer voices and human rights activists, and in turning LGBT institutions against both.”