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January 28, 2016 0

Crossing the Line: When Criticism of Israel Becomes Anti-Semitic

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

Task Force Protestors

Pro­test­ers at Task Force Con­fer­ence in Chicago

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the wake of a protest against a recep­tion fea­tur­ing an Israeli com­mu­nity group at a recent LGBTQ con­fer­ence, there has been wide­spread con­tro­versy. We have read blog posts and arti­cles, watched videos of the protest, and heard from friends and allies who were present at the demonstration.

Yet, what was per­haps most painful for many of us is that we value and embrace much of the good work of these activists and orga­niz­ers.  They are some of our nation’s lead­ing advo­cates, work­ing to secure jus­tice and fair treat­ment to all. Often they stand as allies in our work for jus­tice and equality.

Unfor­tu­nately, though, this fis­sure is not a new expe­ri­ence.  Since start­ing as the CEO of ADL last sum­mer, I per­son­ally have heard from many col­lege stu­dents that their Jew­ish faith ren­ders them pari­ahs on their cam­puses – unless and until they affir­ma­tively denounce Israel.

Cam­pus Hil­lels and other Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tions that have long worked with LGBTQ cam­pus groups, stu­dent of color orga­ni­za­tions, and other pro­gres­sive clubs on cam­pus to host film fes­ti­vals, pan­els, and other events increas­ingly are being shut out, rejected from par­tic­i­pat­ing, even when Israel is not on the agenda. Where other stu­dents are not being sub­jected to a lit­mus test on their views on Israel, Jew­ish stu­dents have been sin­gled out and ques­tioned about their objec­tiv­ity and posi­tion on the issue.

As racial ten­sions flared across the coun­try the past few years, we heard anec­dotes from Jew­ish racial jus­tice advo­cates that they were called “kikes” or tar­geted with other anti-Jewish slurs. When they tried to address the epi­thets, they were told they need to under­stand that “it’s because of Israel.”

Here’s the thing, though. It’s not. It’s anti-Semitism.

Let’s be clear. No gov­ern­ment is immune from crit­i­cism. Surely nei­ther the U.S. gov­ern­ment nor the gov­ern­ment of Israel nor any other.  Indeed, we have crit­i­cized poli­cies and prac­tices of Israeli lead­er­ship when we felt appro­pri­ate to do so.

We rec­og­nize that anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian activists will con­demn Israel. That is a real­ity. That is their right. We dis­agree — vig­or­ously — with their accu­sa­tions of pinkwash­ing, with claims that Israel is an apartheid state, and with other efforts to demo­nize Israel.  And we will speak out, chal­lenge their mis­char­ac­ter­i­za­tions, and dis­man­tle their indict­ments with facts and truths, as is our right.

But when that crit­i­cism of Israel crosses the line into anti-Semitism, we will con­demn it. It is unac­cept­able and can­not be tol­er­ated any­where, espe­cially not in social jus­tice circles.

To be spe­cific, when a per­son con­flates Jews, Israelis, and the Israeli gov­ern­ment, it is anti-Semitic. When all Jews and all Israelis are held respon­si­ble for the actions of the Israeli gov­ern­ment, it is anti-Semitic. When Jews would be denied the right to self-determination accorded to all other peo­ples, it is anti-Semitic.

And when pro­test­ers chant “Pales­tine will be free from the river to the sea,” it is appro­pri­ately inter­preted by most peo­ple as a call for the era­sure of Israel – and it is anti-Semitic. Giv­ing pro­tes­tors the ben­e­fit of the doubt, it is unlikely that most intend their mes­sage to be anti-Semitic. How­ever, regard­less of the intent of the protest, the impact matters.

Yet, too often, when stu­dents, indi­vid­u­als, or orga­ni­za­tions raise the specter of anti-Semitism it is quickly rejected, dis­re­garded, or writ­ten off. Israel’s crit­ics lit­er­ally have writ­ten best-selling books decry­ing their so-called inabil­ity to crit­i­cize Israel.

But Pres­i­dent Obama him­self noted that anti-Semitism is on the rise. And, as he elo­quently reminded, “When any Jews any­where is tar­geted just for being Jew­ish, we all have to respond.. ‘We are all Jews.’ ”

Indeed, we know that women are best posi­tioned to define sex­ism, peo­ple of color to define racism, and LGBTQ peo­ple to define homo­pho­bia, trans­pho­bia, and het­ero­sex­ism. But, does this mean that all women must reach con­sen­sus on what offends them? All peo­ple of color? Every­one in LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ties? Hardly.

So too, we Jews are best sit­u­ated to define anti-Semitism, even if all of us may not likely reach con­sen­sus on the def­i­n­i­tion. Our mil­len­nial expe­ri­ence with intol­er­ance demands the same acknowl­edge­ment as other forms of big­otry. Indeed, it is the col­lec­tive respon­si­bil­ity of activists and orga­niz­ers across the ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum to stop and lis­ten when some­one says,  “You’ve crossed the line.”

Stand­ing up for rights of dis­em­pow­ered peo­ple is a job for us all. ADL has been doing it for more than 100 years. But mar­gin­al­iz­ing and wound­ing oth­ers in the process helps no one. Rather, it divides us and impedes our abil­ity to find com­mon ground in places where our col­lec­tive strength could do so much good.

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January 21, 2014 0

‘That’s So Gay’: Language That Hurts, and How to Stop It

The phrase “that’s so gay” has per­sisted as a way for stu­dents to describe things they do not like, find annoy­ing or gen­er­ally want to put down, while it is promis­ing that fewer stu­dents are hear­ing homo­pho­bic slurs than in pre­vi­ous years.

The phrase is used so com­monly that many stu­dents no longer rec­og­nize it as homo­pho­bic because it is “what every­one says.” When edu­ca­tors and other adults inter­vene, com­mon stu­dent responses include “I was just jok­ing,” “I don’t mean actual ‘gay peo­ple’ when I say ‘that’s so gay’” and “My friend is gay, and she doesn’t mind.”

This year marks the 10th anniver­sary of the Gay, Les­bian & Straight Edu­ca­tion Net­work (GLSEN) No Name-Calling Week. In its 2011 National School Cli­mate Sur­vey, GLSEN’s find­ings remind us of the work that still needs to be done.

  • 84.9% of stu­dents heard “gay” used in a neg­a­tive way (e.g., “that’s so gay”) fre­quently or often at school, and 91.4% reported that they felt dis­tressed because of this language
  • 71.3% heard other homo­pho­bic remarks (e.g., “dyke” or “fag­got”) fre­quently or often
  • 61.4% heard neg­a­tive remarks about gen­der expres­sion (not act­ing “mas­cu­line enough” or “fem­i­nine enough”) fre­quently or often

These kinds of responses rep­re­sent the slip­pery nature of bias and how eas­ily youth can reflect larger social atti­tudes about dif­fer­ence. Biased lan­guage, when it isn’t checked, can esca­late to harsher behav­ior like bul­ly­ing, and may con­tribute to an emo­tion­ally, and poten­tially phys­i­cally, unsafe school environment.

Here are three things adults should con­sider when inter­ven­ing against biased language:

  1. Assume good will. Bias is per­va­sive, and in all like­li­hood a stu­dent is unknow­ingly reflect­ing a bias they heard from peers, the media or fam­ily mem­bers. The stu­dent will likely be open to feed­back and dia­logue. If they do not believe LGBT peo­ple should be mis­treated, their lan­guage should reflect that.
  2. Stay focused, and do not allow your­self to be immo­bi­lized by uncer­tainty or the enor­mity of the topic. Inter­ven­ing in homo­pho­bic remarks does not require a dis­cus­sion about sex­u­al­ity or the his­tory of anti-LGBT slurs. It is about using lan­guage appro­pri­ately and in a way that shows respect for diversity.
  3. Be clear about the bias behind the words. Good peo­ple some­times say cruel things. It doesn’t mat­ter if the stu­dent didn’t intend to be homo­pho­bic, because a neg­a­tive com­ment about any group has the poten­tial to hurt indi­vid­u­als and whole com­mu­ni­ties. While inter­ven­ing doesn’t require a dis­cus­sion about sex­u­al­ity or teach­ing about the his­tory of LGBT peo­ple and/or slurs, the teacher may decide that some class­room instruc­tion in these areas is useful.

 

For more resources, visit ADL’s addi­tional resource page and Cur­ricu­lum Con­nec­tions to down­load Unheard Sto­ries: LGBT His­tory cur­ricu­lum resource.

 

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