The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) has called on political and religious leaders in Israel to ensure safety for participants in the ASWAT conference in Haifa.

ASWAT is the only lesbian Palestinian organisation in Israel, and tomorrow it plans to celebrate its 5th anniversary in Haifa.

The event, named “Home and Exile,” will include a book launch to call attention to the needs of the lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

The book launch has drawn threats from Islamic leaders that could threaten the safety of attendees, whose numbers are expected to reach 150.

IGLHRC has asked Israeli leaders to speak out for freedom of expression, but none have done so yet.

Religious leaders have called for the event to be cancelled.

They have described ASWAT as a “fatal cancer that should be forbidden from spreading out within the Arab society and from eliminating the Arab culture.”

The association devotes itself to combating discrimination and increasing awareness for gay women’s rights, in an area where homosexuality is still very much a taboo subject.

In 2006 IGLHRC awarded the leader of ASWAT, Rauda Morcos, with the Felipa de Souza award for courage, leadership, and accomplishment as a voice for human rights.

Paula Ettelbrick, executive director of IGLHRC said: “Open discussion and dialogue are essential to the guarantees of human rights for all who are targeted for discrimination and stigma.

“The venomous nature of these threats serve not only to threaten free expression but to condone violence against ASWAT participants.”

The IGLHRC is supporting ASWATs appeal for increased awareness and international participation in tomorrow’s conference.