Commentary: Finding obnoxious…er, common…ground (groan!)
By Bruce S. Ticker
PHILADELPHIA — Curious how both an Orthodox Jewish leader and a Jewish gay-rights activist can be equally tactless and insulting?
Toronto’s Elle Flanders joined the city’s Pride Parade as spokesperson for Queers Against Israeli Apartheid to bash Israel. Jewish organizations protested her group’s inclusion in the parade, and parade sponsor Pride Toronto initially banned its participation and then reversed itself.
Nathan Diament, who directs the Institute for Public Affairs of the Orthodox Union, railed against a call to action to fund only organizations which have non-discrimination policies – namely, those that hire Jews of gay orientation.
Flanders did not account for the possibility that her tactics might divert attention from the Pride Parade’s primary message: promoting inclusion and tolerance, as attorney and gay activist Martin Gladstone put it. “(QuAIA) has created a divisive, hateful environment,” he told The Canadian Jewish News. “(Pride turned) from a celebration to a battleground.”
“It’s about gay rights. Or it used to be,” added Paul Druzin, a gay participant who served in the Israel Defense Forces.
My on-and-off experience with activism taught me that it is not wise to combine unrelated issues at the same event. Flanders’ Israel-bashing tack could have overwhelmed the ambience of the parade, which fortunately it did not do.
Accusing Israel of “apartheid” is a broad brushed phrase sure to inflame Jews and other supporters of Israel. Flanders would have benefited everyone if she sought a more focused forum and had been more clear about her concerns.
Enough supporters of Israel marched with Kulanu Toronto, the city’s Jewish gay-rights organization as a counter-protest to Flanders’ group. Justine Apple, Kulanu’s executive director, said the number of people marching with Kulanu quadrupled from last year to 500, the Jewish News reported.
Before the event, city councilors proposed retrieving the city’s contribution of $121,000 for the parade and deny Pride Toronto funding for next year. Flanders’ organization is entitled to free speech, but the city has the freedom not to pay for it.
Flanders, who once lived in Israel, dug her hole deeper by telling the Jewish News: “Pride is what it’s always been about, which is achieving equality. Equal rights is about having a voice. I think debate is healthy…The core of American democracy is free speech. It shocks me when it’s free speech for me but not for you.”
Flanders also wants begin a dialogue in the Jewish community about Israeli policy. What dialogue? Her mind is already made up.
From Tulsa, Okla., Lynn Schusterman penned an op-ed for Jewish newspapers urging more forceful support for Jews who count themselves part of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community.
“The continued marginalization of LGBT Jews is especially disheartening for those of us who believe in the power of a fully inclusive Jewish community that embraces every Jew as ‘b’tzelem elokim,’ made in God’s image,” writes Schusterman, who chairs the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.
Then she throws down the gauntlet: “We are asking all Jewish organizations to join our foundation in adopting non-discrimination hiring policies that specifically mention sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. We are also challenging donors to join us in holding organizations accountable for doing so…we will only consider funding organizations that have non-discrimination policies covering both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.”
In a counter op-ed, Diament writes, “She’s overlooked the fact that many synagogues and day schools run under Orthodox auspices or the auspices of other ‘traditional’ views cannot embrace homosexual activity as legitimate, a perspective based upon clear teachings of Jewish law and tradition going back to the Bible.”
Diament goes on to defend an exemption in Congress from the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act to ban workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. He also warns that Schusterman’s proposal, “if taken to its logical conclusion, would result in Orthodox institutions being excluded from Jewish community support by having them denied funding from Jewish foundations and, one presumes, federations.”
Diament’s main fear is likely that Orthodox organizations might lose support from some Jewish groups, but he is disingenuous to warn about the Federation system, the Jewish charity operation that allocates money for services for the Jewish community and Israel.
Federation leaders would be suicidal to deny Orthodox organizations funding with the exception of legitimate reasons unrelated to sexual orientation. The federations reach out to any Jews for contributions, and it is easier with the Orthodox because they are so close-knit.
Diament’s reference to Congress seems misplaced. He claims that Congress “realized that an exemption for religious employers is a necessary balancing of civil rights for gays and the religious liberties of sectarian institutions.”
Doubtful. Members of Congress probably feared they would lose far more votes among the ultra-religious than the gay community.
At least, Diament and Flanders can claim to have something in common. It would help us all if they looked to Schusterman’s example of goodwill.
Bruce S. Ticker is a Philadelphia freelance journalist.