Russian gay activist Nikolai Alekseev, (photo, above,) touring the United States to discuss the state of LGBT equality in Russia, spoke Tuesday evening at Columbia University and was pointedly asked to respond to an allegation — based upon an entry he wrote on the blogging site Livejournal — that the thirty-three year-old celebrated activist, journalist, and lawyer was, indeed, anti-semitic.
The allegations were first made by Scott Long, formerly of Human Rights Watch, who, apparently, last summer was forced to apologize to U.K. gay rights activist Peter Tatchell for five years of personal attacks. Shortly thereafter, Long was “dismissed,” according to veteran journalist and gay activist Michael Petrelis, who added that Long’s, “official explanation for moving on would have delighted the editors of Pravda in Brezhnev’s day.”
Human Rights Watch also offered Tatchell an apology.
Calling their apology “unprecedented,” Doug Ireland of Gay City News detailed the story in July, 2010, writing, “Human Rights Watch (HRW), the world’s largest and most prestigious human rights organization, has made a stunning public apology to Britain’s iconic gay and human rights activist, Peter Tatchell, for attacks heaped on him by HRW’s Scott Long, who directs the organization’s LGBT program.
“Long made numerous public statements about Tatchell that were ‘inappropriate… disparaging… inaccurate… condemnatory… intemperate personal attacks,’ HRW acknowledged.
“In the June 30 apology to Tatchell, head of the militant British gay rights group OutRage!, HRW’s executive director, Kenneth Roth, acknowledging the falsehoods circulated by Long, said, ‘We recognize that personal attacks have no place in the human rights movement.’”
Ireland added that “The HRW statement included an admission from Long that he’d made false statements about Tatchell.”
(That’s the background. Now, here’s how Long’s recent accusation of anti-semitism against Russian gay activist Nikolai Alekseev comes into play.)
Ireland continues, writing, “for some, HRW’s apology to Tatchell raises more questions than it answers.”
“Nikolai Alexeyev (Alekseev,) the lead organizer of the Gay Pride events repeatedly banned in Moscow Gay Prides and founder of GayRussia.ru, is among those who have been objects of Long’s attacks. An attorney, Alexeyev — who has brought 168 lawsuits against Russia for outlawing gay demonstrations and for officially encouraging homophobia — responded via email to a Gay City News request for comment, saying, “The problem of HRW’s LGBT programs is that it turns around the personality of Scott. I’d be happy to work with HRW on monitoring in Russia, especially because my group is the most experienced in Europe in dealing with LGBT cases at the European Court of Human Rights — but not as long as the leadership is what it is. I think Peter is very kind to forgive all this dirt that was put on him. This can only be to his credit.”
Fast forward to now.
As reporter Karen Ocamb at LGBT POV wrote Tuesday, “[t]he specific offending quote, captured by Scott Long, formerly of Human Rights Watch and now a Visiting Fellow, Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School was:
“The Israeli Prime Minister urged Western leaders to support Egyptian dictator Mubarak … And who after this are the Jews? In fact, I always knew who they were.”
Note that the above quote was translated from the original Russian and provided by Long.
Last night, Adjunct Assistant Professor Tanya Domi, of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (and a frequent contributor to The New Civil Rights Movement,) pointedly posed the question to a subsequently surprised Alekseev.
“You’ve been accused of being anti-semitic, and I’d like you to respond to the charge,” Domi said, adding, “we’re in a university setting and so we want to have an open discussion.”
Alekseev, who throughout the evening’s ninety-minute presentation spoke excellent English, upon answering this question stammered, but said, “To call me an anti-semite is like to say I burned the Reichstag.”
“Burning the Reichstag,” is similar to the American saying, “the pot calling the kettle black” — but a lot worse. As the story goes, Hitler was responsible for burning the Reichstag — the German Parliament — then accusing the Communists of the evil deed as a pretext to gain power.
Essentially, Alekseev seems to be accusing Long, or those who responded negatively to his Livejournal post, of being the anti-semites, or, at least, evil-doers.
In his speech, Alekseev, “outlined the oppression and even violence he and other Moscow Pride organizers have faced since they first held the event in 2006,” as Michael Lavers wrote. He continued his defense for over three minutes, detailing that he has Jewish friends, and adding that his mother’s stepmother was Jewish, and people he works with are Jewish. This is an unfortunate line of defense as the irony is clear. Who hasn’t heard as a defense of bigotry, “Some of my best friends are (insert oppressed minority name here)”?
But Alekseev denies, emphatically, and for over three minutes, that he is anti-semitic. In the end, he feels it’s lost in translation — “probably there was a semantic in the translation,” Alekseev says, after having accused the Israeli government of saying “all the world should unite around Mubarak… I’m sorry but it pissed me off completely.”
Others have been pissed off completely too, namely Equality California and Robin Tyler, who say, “Our broad coalition of California organizations including Congregation Kol-Ami, Jewish Community Relations Council, Metropolitan Community Church, Los Angeles, Harvey Milk Foundation, SF LGBT Community Center, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Imperial Court of Canada, USA, and Mexico, Gays Without Borders, San Diego LGBT Center, Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition, Jordan Rustin Coalition, Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, City of West Hollywood Lesbian and Gay Advisory Committee, Christopher Street West, WEHO, and Get Equal,” “have decided to cancel sponsorship of the California speaking tour of Russian LGBT Activist Nikolai Alekseev.”
“The California sponsors [of Alekseev's west coast leg of the tour] were unaware of this when they agreed to sponsor Alekseev,” writes Ocamb. “In fact, EQCA’s Andrea Shorter chided Julie Dorf, Senior Advisor for the Council for Global Equality, for not warning EQCA about possible problems with Alekseev when they were having email discussions about international issues.”
But Alekseev beat EQCA to the punch, and canceled the west coast portion of his tour first. And then changed his mind — going, but without the sponsorship — writing on Facebook, “IT IS TIME TO SHAKE CASTRO! AND I WILL DO IT! SO THAT THOSE WHO FORGOT WHAT IS GAY ACTIVISM SWITCH ON THEIR BRAIN AGAIN AND NOT CONCEAL BEHIND THE NAME OF HARVEY MILK!”
(Alekseev apparently uses Facebook a lot. I friended him and was friended me back almost immediately, just hours before his talk at Columbia. I checked his Facebook page and he had written he had just landed in New York only nineteen minutes earlier. When I introduced myself to him at the Columbia event, I referenced the Facebook friendship and he said, “Let’s keep in touch by Facebook.”)
In an earlier Facebook posting, Alekseev acknowledges the Scott Long accusation as the impetuous for his sponsors’ cancelation of his California trip. “Someone called Scott Long decided to run a campaign against me in the last 48h and harassed the sponsors of the events asking them to pull out and cancel,” he writes.
(The obvious question is, why did EQCA and Robin Tyler take Scott Long’s accusation over Alekseev’s reputation? Do we now live in a world where one accusation — albeit unresponded by Alekseev — is grounds for disassociation?)
Alekseev adds, “The bullying campaign by Scott Long made its effect and I got a large pressure which people where not even able to make directly. They understood they were behaving improperly and decided to pressure me indirectly. This is just amazing. This is too much. This campaign has absolutely no reasoning and there is no ground for it.Honnestly, I cannot say that I am disappointed in America. This would be totally untrue.”
It’s apparent that the “bullying campaign by Scott Long” indeed “made its effect” on Alekseev as well. Just two hours after he wrapped up his discussion at Columbia, Alekseev wrote in yet another Facebook message the following very, very long missive:
In the light of the controversy concerning the cancellation of my speaking engagements in California, sponsored by a group of local LGBT organizations, I would like to make the following statement, the essence of which was addressed tonight during my speech at Columbia University.
I would like to state that I am a strong believer in human rights and equality for everyone, irrespective of any personal characteristics, whether it is sexual orientation, race, gender, national or ethnic origin, religion or any other basis.
I did publish in my blogs the comments which were addressed against the Israel Government after Israeli Prime Minister called the world to support Egypt dictator Mubarak and to unite around him, disregarding popular public efforts to oust him. I was angry that anyone could support this dictator as he was killing his own people. My comments appeared to blame all Jews for the actions of the Israeli government and its supporters.
The accusations of me distributing anti-Semitic statements on blogs were initiated by notorious human rights campaigner Scott Long who had to quit his position at Human Rights Watch (HRW) due to his involvement into slandering British human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell for which both Mr Long and HRW had to make a public apology.
(I’d like to draw your attention to this next paragraph, which, if true, says it all.)
Mr. Long was intentionally waiting for my trip to the US to start this campaign against me, which he started the day I arrived in Chicago, a month after this comment were made by me and already long ago after it was removed and address directly with the few who read them and contacted me to discuss it. If Scott Long was truly interested in stopping anti-semitism, why did he wait a month to raise an objection, but instead wait until I landed in the US to start this tour? One can doubt Mr Long would have ever distributed this information if I did not have any speaking engagement in the US. I regret this personal vendetta which goes on between the 2 of us for years might have hurt other people.
I would like to say that I have several Jewish friends who I treasure, including one Jewish American who played a significant role in Moscow Pride movement for years, helping to organize all our events in Russia. I adore her and I consider her as one of the most outstanding people I met in my life. Without her Moscow Pride campaign would not be as successful as it was.
My mum’s stepfather was a Jew who immigrated to Israel from Soviet Union.
I am one of the only persons who always defended Jewish people against the hypocrisy of Switzerland during World War II. This is the topic which almost noone is courageous enough to raise neither in Switzerland itself, nor elsewhere. Just as noone was courageous enough to challenge Gaddafi regime from within Libya and I already did it in 2002 during my trip there risking problems to exit this country.
My grandfather died in World War II fighting the regime which is responsible for killing of millions of Jews. He was fighting for freedom and liberation aged younger than me now. I don’t even know where he found his resting place.
Every time I am in Berlin, and a few weeks ago was not an exception, I visit a massive monument to millions of Jews who died under Nazi devastating rule.
I always dreamt to visit Jerusalem and I am sure I will do it very shortly.
I am a great believer in justice and a great opponent of all injustice. I am always very direct in what I say and sometimes people interpret it the way they want to use it against me.
It is true that I had to cancel my appearances in California due to enormous pressure from the organizers of the tour there. I always said in the last 48h that I would answer any question anyone might have about this issue after my speeches and make them public. And so, I did it tonight at Columbia University in New York., an institution which I admire for not surrendering to the harsh pressure Mr Long put on them in the last day to cancel my appearence. But I still plan to come to California as I know many people are waiting for me there and I have no right to punish them or disregard them.
Closing this statement I would like to stress that I was not personally contacted by any organizers of my tour in California with questions concerning my statements on policy of the Israeli Government. I was not invited in the several conference calls Californian organizers held in the last 48 hours on this issue.
So, is Russian gay activist Nikolai Alekseev anti-semitic? Only Alekseev can know for sure. Was the wording of his Livejournal statement unfortunate, assuming nothing was “semantic in the translation,” as Alekseev puts it? Definitely. Has he responded to the charges sufficiently to exonerate himself? Only you can decide.
But America should know that Alekseev, who is credited by The Advocate as being “the most visible crusader in his country,” patently denies that he is anti-Semitic. And America should also know that his accuser apparently “was intentionally waiting” to make his accusation, and has, as Alekseev said, been “burning the Reichstag.”
The Reichstag, it seems, has been burned a lot.
All photos © Caleb Eigsti, taken March 1, 2011 at Columbia University
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