Sen. Gillibrand to Keynote Social Justice Conference Featuring Supporters of Israel Boycott

Conference described as 'three days of dynamic programming exploring the intersections of art and social justice'

Kirsten Gillibrand
Kirsten Gillibrand / Getty Images
October 10, 2017

Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is scheduled to give the keynote address at an upcoming social justice conference at the Brooklyn Museum, funded by and featuring high profile supporters of the anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement.

"The Brooklyn Conference," set to run from the evening of Oct. 19 through Oct. 21, is described as "three days of dynamic programming exploring the intersections of art and social justice," a "full schedule of … inspiration," with lectures and "thinkshops."

The conference is co-sponsored by JPMorgan Chase and the Open Society Foundations, founded and funded by prominent left-wing billionaire George Soros. One of the organization's objectives is to erode Israel's status as a democracy on the world stage, according to internal emails leaked last year.

Senior program officer for Open Society, Alvin Starks, is slated to speak at the event, as will the head of the Center for American Progress, another Soros project.

As part of our work around the world, the Open Society Foundations also support a range of groups that work to protect the human rights of all in Israel and Palestine.

Black Live Matter co-founders Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi will both be giving speeches. Garza has defended the Movement for Black Lives platform's inclusion of a pro-BDS policy, and both women have been outspoken about their condemnation of Israel on social media.

This summer, Garza repeatedly tweeted her support for the Chicago Dyke March organizers expelling two Jewish Zionists from the event, writing, "Shoutout to @DykeMarchChi for standing up for their principals when folks tried to take it over for their own agenda."

Meanwhile, Tometi has retweeted a link to a report claiming Israel forcibly sterilized female Ethiopian immigrants, a story that blew up on anti-Israel websites in 2013 after over 30 Ethiopian women claimed they were forced by Israeli officials to take contraceptives without their consent. An Israel governmental probe concluded in 2016 found "no evidence" of truth to these claims.

Tometi tweeted in 2012, "I can't believe that sh*t!" in response to an Israeli flag being hung outside the New York Stock Exchange, in honor of the annual America-Israel Friendship League Israel Day at the NYSE.

Women's March national co-organizers Linda Sarsour—who has repeatedly compared Zionists to white supremacists—and Bob Bland will be offering the "The Resistance Revival" Workshop. Sarsour and Bland recently appeared with their fellow Women's March leaders at a Johns Hopkins University lecture series, a move criticized by Jewish student leaders.

Murad Awawdeh, the director of political engagement at the New York Immigration Coalition, will also be speaking at the conference. A frequent defender of Sarsour online, Awawdeh has called on the world to "come to grips that ISRAEL is racist, apartheid, hostile, terrorist state not interested in peace."

Other respected voices in the BDS movement—which seeks to isolate Israel economically and culturally as a form of punishment for the ongoing Palestinian conflict—who will be featured at the museum include writer Claudia Rankine, who was involved in the successful 2017 call on the PEN American Center to reject funding from Israel for its major World Voices literary festival; and artist Tania Bruguera, who contributed an essay to a how-to anthology on boycotting apartheid, from South Africa to Israel, called Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency, and Cultural Production.

Jonathan Birchall, lead communications officer of Open Society, told the Washington Free Beacon, "The Brooklyn Conference is focused on 'exploring intersections of art and social justice' in a U.S. context, something we at the Open Society Foundations are proud to support alongside JP Morgan Chase. It has nothing to do with Israel; I imagine its participants hold a range of views on how best to achieve peace in the Middle East."

The schedule also includes talks from Planned Parenthood's executive vice president and chief brand and experience officer, Dawn Laguens; President Barack Obama's special assistant for Native American affairs, Jodi Gillette; and CNN political commentator and columnist Sally Kohn.

The conference will kick off Thursday evening with the annual feminist Sackler Center First Awards. Last year's awardee was Angela Davis, the communist activist and Black Panthers supporter, acquitted in 1972 after guns she bought were used in the fatal courtroom shooting of a judge.

Gillibrand, a New York native, came under fire when she pulled her endorsement of the bipartisan Israel Anti-Boycott Act in late July, as many wondered if she had wavered in her anti-BDS position. Gillibrand responded with claims of free speech concerns.

Update 1:03 p.m.: This post has been updated with comment from Open Society.