Sunday, February 27, 2011

NY gay center pulls plug on Israel-Apartheid event thanks to Michael Lucas

American-Israeli gay porn producer says he "defeated a group of anti-Semites," calling it a "landmark moment" in his life. 

With Israeli Apartheid Week a week away, Israel seems to have found an unexpected champion in Michael Lucas, a popular gay columnist and porno producer with dual US-Israeli citizenship.

Lucas told
The Jerusalem Post by phone from New York Thursday that “I defeated a group of anti- Semites” who sought to equate Israel with the former South African apartheid regime at an event slated to be held at the city’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) Center.

On Tuesday, Lucas issued a press release threatening to boycott the center if it took part in Israeli Apartheid Week, a seven-day series of lectures and protests organized by pro- Palestinian supporters that compares Israel’s treatment of Arabs and Palestinians to minority-rule in South Africa.

Lucas told the
Post that an Israeli friend had drawn his attention to the planned LGBT center event. He said in his Tuesday statement that “I’m preparing to organize a boycott that would certainly involve some of the center’s most generous donors.”

He added that “it was an inexcusable decision on the center’s part to associate itself with a hate group like Israeli Apartheid Week, but there’s still time for them to reverse course and begin restoring their reputation.”

After Lucas issued his statements, the LGBT center announced on the same day that it would not host the March 5 event called Party to End Apartheid, and would bar the group that had planned the gathering from meeting on its premises.

“We have determined that this event is not appropriate to be held at our LGBT Community Center, which is a safe haven for LGBT groups and individuals,” Glennda Testone, the center’s executive director, said in a statement.

“Therefore, the meeting at the center has been cancelled and the host group will no longer meet at the center.”

Lucas said he had initially called the LGBT center to complain about the event and been told that the community center had an “open door policy” and did not “discriminate.” He told the
Post that critics of his protest had argued that some of the sponsors of the anti-Israeli event were Jews, including a Holocaust survivor.

“So what! There are a lot of self-hating Jews,” said Lucas, adding that “they were put into death camps regardless of their IQ.”

He termed “anti-Israelism the new anti-Semitism,” and said the cancellation of the anti-Israel event at the LGBT center was a “landmark” moment in his life, of which he was enormously proud.

Sherry Wolf, a member of the pro-Palestinian group that organized the canceled event, started an online petition on Thursday in response to what she called Lucas’s “odious lies.”

“If activists allow this decision to stand, the Center will go from being a liberated space of democracy and free speech to yet another occupied, homogenized venue where wealthy and powerful voices can squelch all the rest,” she wrote.

The Russian-born Lucas, formerly known as Andrei Bergman, is the maker of such adult films as Men of Israel, a commercially successful porno that is said to be the first of its genre filmed in Israel with an all- Israeli cast.

Writing in the New Republic magazine, James Kirchick dubbed Lucas “Gay Porn’s Neocon Kingpin” in a 2008 profile piece. Lucas has earned a reputation as a fiercely sharp critic of antigay violence and attitudes in the Muslim world. He writes a column for the gay magazine The Advocate and has lectured at
Oxford University in the United Kingdom.

He told the
Post that he became an Israeli citizen two years ago, and his father’s uncle lives in Israel.

Many Israelis and Israel supporters take pride in the country’s relatively liberal attitude toward gays, especially compared to other parts of the Middle East.

“At first I thought this was a joke,” Lucas was quoted as saying in his press release.

“Israel is the only country in the Middle East that supports gay rights, while its enemies round up, torture and condemn gay people to death – often by publicly hanging or stoning them to death.”

The Israeli government is looking to highlight its society’s pluralism as a way of debunking the analogy between contemporary Israel and
South Africa under apartheid. This week it sent a delegation of volunteer speakers, including several gay and lesbian activists, on a tour of the US to counter claims that it was discriminatory by nature.

“I feel a lot safer in Tel Aviv than I do in most places around the world, including the US,” Jonathan Meisler, 23, a gay rights activist who is part of the delegation, told the
Post this week.

“When I walk down the street with my boyfriend, I don’t feel like I have to hide,” he said. “Israeli society has its problems, but its gay community is very strong and confident.”

While the LGBT community is part of accepted society in places like Tel Aviv – where a gay pride parade has been held every year for well over a decade, with up to 100,000 participants dancing in the streets – this isn’t always the case.

In 2006, attempts to organize a gay pride parade in Jerusalem managed to unite Jewish, Muslim and Christian authorities in opposition to the idea.

Despite their protests, the parade went ahead; during it, a haredi man stabbed and wounded three participants.

In another incident in 2009, an unknown gunman shot two people dead and wounded 15 others at a Tel Aviv gay center. The crime remains unsolved.

Meisler acknowledged that some parts of Israeli society were intolerant toward the LGBT community, but said that on the whole, its record was favorable.

“I don’t go to Mea She’arim [a haredi neighborhood in Jerusalem] to buy fruit,” he said. “I don’t want to provoke them, and try to show respect for them and other parts of Israeli society, even if they don’t always have respect for us.”

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