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Israeli Pride as Pinkwashing

shai zamir pinkwashing op ed

Shai Zamir’s Yediot op-ed

The following is an op-ed written by Yediot Achronot reporter, Shai Zamir.  To my knowledge, it has not appeared in the paper’s online edition, nor in the Ynet English edition.  It’s important enough to the debate raging about pinkwashing that I wanted it to be accessible to English readers.  It’s a critique of gay pride Israel-style as a facade behind which Israeli racism and intolerance flourish:

The Dance-Line

Racism, Radicalization, International Isolation? What’s More Important is That We’re Full of Hunks on Floats

German. French. Spanish. Gay slang.  Whoever walks around the streets of Tel Aviv in coming days won’t be able to avoid the muscle-bound guys who chatter at every street corner.  They’ve come for the Gay Pride.

They say we’re under boycott.  That Israel has become a pariah because of a bit of suffering involving our rule over another people.  But the White City [Tel Aviv] withstands the ire of Israel haters from within and without, decked out in all the colors of the rainbow.  It makes us just like all the other nations.  For one long weekend, we can sink into the sweet illusion that Israel is a normal place just like any other western city.  But the gap between reality and the gay celebrations mounted with the cooperation of gay hunks from around the world, only grows.

israeli gay pride parade

Float in Israel’s 2012 Gay Pride Parade (Hadar Cohen)

The more leprous Israel becomes, the more isolated, the more religious, and the much more racist, the more improved is the situation for the Israeli LGBT community, which serves as an inspiration for “homos” and lesbians the world over.  Those which we like to call “gays,” because in English everything sounds so much more enlightened.  Like appearances by stars of the past who land here for a second and a half, so the gay community has become a whitening agent [bleach] for an Israel likes to think of itself as free.  Thanks to the surging throngs of bare-chested men, Israel clings to its image as a progressive society.

The very same Bogie Yaalon who supports gay marriage is the same defense minister who tomorrow may enforce apartheid on buses traveling in the West Bank.  There are Israelis who believe we’re talking about a wonderful contradiction, which attests to Israel being a complex society filled with opposites.  But more than anything, it teaches us of the highly-developed tissue of lies we tell ourselves and through which the wave of world boycott may wash Israel away to Hell.

ed murray pinkwashes israel

Seattle’s gay mayor, Ed Murray pinkwashes Israeli apartheid and oppression (Yuval Zelinovsky)

In English, they call it pinkwashing–the methodical concealment of violations of human rights through the exploitation of pink “fuck me” underwear, which the hunks on floats wear.  But the well-funded campaign by the Tel Aviv municipality and the foreign ministry to present a tolerant, gay friendly Israel isn’t meant for outsiders as is generally believed. First and foremost it’s directed internally toward Israelis who like to think of themselves as a sort of burbling brook of democracy in the midst of the primitive dark eastern savannah.

Like Meretz, American TV shows, and di gays from Berlin, gays are above all a branding opportunity meant to help us go without, and feel with: without freedom, without international legitimacy, without any intention of attempting to reach an agreement.  The relative tolerance the gay community enjoys lives on borrowed time, because it isn’t founded on a genuine belief in equality, but on a superficial claim of acceptance of the Other.  Gays and lesbians must know that Israeli society exploits them in order to maintain the semblance of a free society in a nation for which millions of Palestinians have no importance.  A nation which charges anyone who dares to speak of human rights in the Territories as an anti-Semite.  The real truth is that anyone who doesn’t love Arabs can’t love gays.  And those who don’t really love gays should stop pretending.

Thanks for help with translation of Hebrew gay slang from Dena Shunra.

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shin bet job recruitment

Weizmann Street sign with caption: “Thanks to “Z.” this street is safe. the Shin Bet seeks those who want to save lives. To apply, visit shabak.gov.il”

A few weeks ago, a knowledgeable Israeli security source told me that the Shin Bet was launching a wide public campaign to recruit new agents to the security service.  Other than a few ads I feature here, I saw no evidence of the campaign so I didn’t report it.  Yesterday, the other shoe dropped with the report that Israeli universities have provided personal contact information (Hebrew and English here) for thousands of their graduates to the Shin Bet.  The agency has sent recruitment letters to many of them informing them that they may be suitable to work for Israel’s secret police.  They urge the individuals to submit job applications.

shin bet recruitment

Another ad, this one for Chaim Arlozorov Street

In some cases, letters were mailed to social justice activists, who thought such recruitment odd. Were they seeking spies to infiltrate Israeli social justice movements? Some of these recipients hadn’t even served in the IDF, which would render them less desirable candidates.

So a Meretz MK wrote to the prime minister’s office asking why Israeli leftists were being recruited and what was the criteria used to determine who was a suitable candidate to approach.  The response was pretty much what you’d expect: how could you even think such a thing?  That the Shin Bet would recruit people because of their leftist views!!  Preposterous.

In no case did recipients authorize release of their private information.  But it appears that in the national security state such things are pro forma matters and the security services can get what they want and do what they want.  It may summon who it wants and many would be honored to dirty their hands for the sake of the nation.

In truth, all Israeli security agencies including the police have carte blanche to demand whatever information they wish from state agencies like universities, which have no choice but to comply.  But it seems to me that the schools should publicly reveal that the information was demanded and provided so their graduates would be aware of this breach of privacy.

The Shin Bet obtained the names, citizen ID numbers (equivalent to a driver’s license and social security number), and contact information for all graduates.

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sana'a al hafi

It took years for Shabak to detect Sana’a al-Hafi’s alleged smuggling of funds into Israeli prison

Though the Shin Bet is reporting a major success in thwarting a Palestinian effort to smuggle funds to a Hamas leader in an Israeli prison, they’re not revealing that it took years for them to detect the plot and thwart it.  In that time, Sana al-Hafi, age 44, passed “hundreds of thousands” of dollars undetected to her prisoner brother, Sheikh Hussein Abu Kweik.

hussein abu kweik

Sheikh Hussein Abu Kweik, allegedly received large sums from Hamas charity

The Israeli security agency claims that under interrogation, she said the funds were used to purchase her brother “an elegant apartment” and “fancy car.”  This makes absolutely no sense.  Why would she need to go to the danger of smuggling funds into an Israeli prison when she could’ve bought the items herself on his behalf?

Al-Hafi also allegedly told interrogators that the funds were transferred from a Hamas charity, Al Noor, which is dedicated to helping the families of shahids, prisoners, and those wounded in Israeli attacks.  In other words, the Shin Bet is attempting to plant the notion that al-Hafi and her brother are corrupt and misusing Hamas charity funds.

Another bizarre feature of this prosecution is that the victim is being charged under Israeli law with “contact with a foreign agent” when she isn’t an Israeli citizen and her “crime” isn’t a crime in Gaza itself, where she lives.  If Israel annexed Gaza and proclaimed sovereignty over it and charged Gazans with crimes under Israeli law, that would be one thing.  But they’re treating Gazans as if they’re under Israeli sovereignty when they’re not (supposedly).

Shin Bet also makes a point of claiming that Hamas’s heartlessness towards Gazans may be found in the fact that it smuggles enormous sums into Israeli prisons while poverty lurks in Gaza itself.  Making such a claim gives the lie to the hasbara notion there is no siege and commerce is conducted as normal.  If that were so, there would be no such funding crisis in Gaza.  Again, something for which Israel is responsible, not Hamas.

Shabak Recruits Chinese Spies

chinese workers tel aviv

Chinese workers at their camp outside Tel Aviv, live in deplorable conditions  (Rita Castelnuovo/NY Times)

China has raised objections to an Israeli plan to dragoon tens of thousands of Chinese laborers into the West Bank to build new settlements.  These objections are supposedly based on Chinese opposition to violations of international law.  In fact, The Marker’s headline blares: “Boycott Come to the East: China Demands No Chinese Employed in [Building] Settlements.”  China says it insists on this condition “in order to protect” its citizens.

My cynical take is that the moral implications are of less importance to the Chinese government than the cash considerations.  It probably wants a better financial deal than Israel is (yet) offering.  In fact, The Marker story notes China is demanding payment of $6,000 per head.  The Israeli government plan, spearheaded by new Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, hopes to import up to 15,000 Chinese workers.  That amounts to a hefty $90-million payment to the Chinese government each year.  Much of that would go to the local regional governments in China from which the workers originate.  Note, this level of society is where some of the worst corruption in China exists.  $90-million greases a lot of palms!

chinese worker modiin ilit

Chinese worker building Israeli settlement in Modi’in Ilit  (Reuters)

This new system would replace one in which private companies in both Israel and China oversaw the hiring of laborers.  This led to scandalous violations of labor and human rights in which workers paid as much as $30,000 to their Chinese sponsors.  This in turn led to them being little more than indentured servants once in Israel, and held under conditions little better than slavery.  This in turn led to Israel being accused of engaging in human trafficking.

Israel, for many reasons, refuses these Chinese demands.  An Israeli security source revealed to me that one of those is that Shin Bet has been recruiting Chinese as spies in the settlements where they work.  If there are no Chinese workers then that’s the end of the agency’s Chinese spy program.  My source claims the agency has had success in such recruitment (it even placed an ad a few months ago seeking such an agent).  In fact, it calls this agent, with a bit Graham Greene-like bravado, “Our Man in Samaria.”  He monitors Jewish terror suspects who live in the West Bank.  Israeli Shin Bet agents are known and largely exposed in the settlements, but few would suspect the Chinese of being Israeli intelligence assets.  Personally, I’m not certain how useful Chinese spies would be in settlements: they don’t speak Hebrew, they have no familiarity with the culture or society.  Perhaps, they might perform activities like planting surveillance equipment (if trained to do so).

So China may not be especially happy to have its citizens groomed as Shabak spies (that may be why The Marker portrayed China’s refusal to allow its workers to work across the Green Line as “protecting them” i.e., from recruitment).  Another reason the Chinese might object to Shabak doing this is that these spies might return to China and spy for Israel there.  Though given that they are mostly common laborers it’s not clear how useful they would be once they returned to China.  You’d expect Israel would want intelligence on Chinese military affairs and weapons systems.  It’s not clear to me how such individuals could obtain such information.  Though in spy craft, almost anything is possible.

The Marker notes that Israel may continue using Chinese workers under the old system (when Shabak successfully recruited its “man” in the settlements).  But it will run into objections both from the Israeli Supreme Court (which objected to the Chinese peonage) and the U.S. State Department, which lists countries which abet human trafficking.  In this age of BDS, that’s one list Israel doesn’t need.

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During their Las Vegas anti-BDS “Maccabee Summit,” Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban, sat down for a joint interview with an Israeli Channel 2 TV reporter.  She raised the issue of Orange CEO, Stephane Richard’s abject apology to Israel for suggesting his company would like to be rid of its Israeli affiliate.  Saban replied with a tone of menace in his voice that any country that is even thinking about boycotting Israel should think twice because the harsh treatment being meted out to Richard is just the beginning for him.  In other words, if you’re a corporate CEO and want to keep your job, heed Saban’s warning or you may be out in the street.

This is more than hardball tactics.  This is the sort of bullying, brutish behavior for which Adelson is known.  In the Middle East itself, it’s the sort of approach Israel takes to its neighbors.  If you stand in our way, we’ll mow you down.  Even if you don’t stand in our way, we may mow you down just for the fun of it.

During another segment, Saban jointly summarizes (on Adelson’s behalf) their overall goals:

Our interest is to take care of Israel’s interests in the United States.”

You didn’t hear a word about representing America’s interests because that’s not their interest.  They’ve just raised the ugly specter of dual loyalty without having a clue why or how they did so.  They may be billionaires and good at something.  But they ain’t good at this.

Since earlier in the interview, Saban and Adelson had used terms like anti-Semitic and anti-Israel to portray BDS, the interviewer, in one of her few slightly probing questions, asked whether all criticism of Israel must be anti-Semitic.  This is Adelson’s full unexpurgated reply:

“It’s people like you who are saying: ‘Is it really against Israel’s policy that you want to demonize the policy of Israel before anyone ever says that it’s the policy?

But it seemed to have nothing whatsoever to do with anti-Semitism. As a teenager, I suffered from anti-Semitism. A lot. The area in which I grew up [Roxbury, MA] suffered from maimings, killings, rapes, beatings from those who were anti-Semitic. But I can tell you there’s little or no sign in society today that anti-Semitism is even 10% [of Americans].

“But I’m absolutely positive there’s a lot of anti-Semitism on campus. Now, the people who are buying it are not intentionally, I don’t believe are bigots. But they’re buying the arguments that are only reacted to by the various [BDS] groups that are here today. That’s why this summit was put together.”

I understand the man is over 80 years old.  I cut him some slack for that.  But to rewrite the history of Boston Jewry and claim Jews were raped and murdered in Roxbury because they were Jewish?  Really?  To turn Boston into a Ukrainian shtetl?  Pogroms in Roxbury?  No, that’s unacceptable.  But perfectly acceptable in the pro-Israel fantasy world in which he lives.

As they wrap up, Adelson tells the interviewer that it’s now time for dinner. He asks if the Israeli interviewer knows the Jewish saying: “We finish something, let’s eat.  And after eating we say we finished eating, now let’s eat.”  To this bon mot Saban responds: “I support that 100%!”  And they follow this with a high-five.

A zoch in vay.  If this is what Jewish identity has become, perhaps we deserve oblivion.  And with enemies like this BDS can’t lose.

H/t to Abe Greenhouse.

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Last week, prominent Israeli BDS activist, Ronnie Barkan, was interviewed on Yediot Achronot’s TV news channel by Atilla Somfalvi. This isn’t really an interview.  It’s at best ambush journalism.  But I’d go farther: there is state-sponsored terrorism; this is state-sponsored journalism.  It’s journalism in service not just to the State, but to the worst policies and prejudices of a nation (or at least its government).

netanyahu bds czar erdan

Bibi to BDS Czar Gilad Erdan: “I’ve instructed that we increase our hasbara efforts.”

Readers here will note that Yediot let its anti-BDS “freak-flag fly” last week, trumpeting that it was dedicating itself to the anti-BDS cause.  It prominently featured front page articles attacking BDS with vile lies from Ben Dror Yemini and a more centrist Nahum Barnea.  The Barkan interview is part of this scorched earth campaign, which was inspired by the naming of a new government in recent weeks, which prominently features fighting BDS as part of its political agenda.  There is a new BDS czar, Minister Gilad Erdan, who’s pictured falling out of this rowboat in a roiling sea with Bibi Netanyahu in the accompanying Biderman cartoon.

It’s useful to note the propaganda memes Somfalvi exploits in this video.  Among other things, he falsely claims three times (despite the fact that Barkan had already told the researcher who pre-interviewed him that this was untrue) that the activist is funded by BDS.  When Ronnie notes that he earns his living by working with computers, Somfalvi indignantly says, “you mean to tell me that BDS doesn’t accept donations?”  Well, of course it accepts donations like any other NGO.  But do any of those donations go to Barkan?  Or any other Israeli BDS activist?  No, they don’t.  But Somfalvi doesn’t let that stop him.

Barkan reminds the audience that Israeli Jewish rights came at the expense of the non-Jewish native inhabitants of the land, and that BDS demands full equality for Israeli Palestinians as well.  He asks Somfalvi why this idea so disturbs him.  He then goes into high dudgeon, demanding why, if Barkan is so embarrassed by his native country, he doesn’t renounce his Israeli citizenship.  The very act of demanding justice for non-Jewish Israeli citizens is an impermissible act which renders Barkan treif, a traitor to the Israeli (Jewish) nation.

In fact, Somfalvi goads him into doing so telling him: “Go live in Italy.”  He implies that this is where all traitors to the Israeli state belong: abroad.  The BDS campaigner disappoints him when he replies that he is Israeli and will retain his Israeli citizenship, thank you.

The lowest of the low in this interview comes when Somfalvi lets loose with a torrent of abuse against BDS calling it: “sick, twisted, and messed up.”  He even uses the word dafuk which in its crudest form can convey being “fucked up.”  At this point, he is hectoring Barkan and the interview becomes a shouting match (with only the interviewer doing the shouting).

This interview is instructive, not so much for what Barkan says (because he was cut off so often he only managed to get his points across beneath Somfalvi’s bellowing), but for the frightened, cowering response of the Jewish State to BDS.  This is a nation so threatened by the demand for basic democratic rights that it must spend tens of millions of dollars and enlist the resources not just of the State, but of the entire nation to fight an existential war of Good and Evil against BDS.  To employ the Israeli reporter’s own terms, this is truly sick.  It’s pathological and paranoid.

Other Israeli politicians have fulminated about BDS being no different from terrorism.  It’s been labeled as anti-Semitic and falsely described as seeking the destruction of Israel.  Comparisons of it to the Holocaust cannot be far behind.  In fact, an Israeli Supreme Court decision likens BDS supporters to Holocaust deniers.  Such florid abuse of rhetoric only reveals the utter desperation of the Israeli cause.

Finally, in negotiating the terms of the interview Barkan demanded it be live so it couldn’t be edited out of context.  When he was told StandWithUs would be involved he demanded that it be a one-on-one interview, to which they agreed.  Then when he was connected via Skype he noted that a SWU PR flack was there in the studio.  Another example of an Israeli media so infused with self-righteousness it dispenses with honesty.  I suppose they view BDS as evil incarnate and so not worthy of being treated with candor, respect and truthfulness.

After cutting off Barkan in mid-sentence and abruptly ending his portion of the interview, Somfalvi turns to the SWU spokesperson, who proceeds to lie about BDS claiming it’s affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.  He further claims that SWU is non-political (neither “left nor right”), another blatant lie.  I would have no problem with these hasbara outfits arguing based on facts.  But when they, and the Israeli media resort to shouting, bullying and outright lies, they only expose the bankruptcy and desperation of their own cause.

To be fair, it’s important to note that there are Israeli journalists who don’t buy the company line, who aren’t cowed by national consensus, who are willing to do their jobs in an independent fashion.  Ronnie was interviewed on one such TV program and this is the result.  A fair and balanced discussion of military refusal without shouting and hysterics.

Abraham Lincoln once said “a house divided cannot stand.” Israel isn’t a house divided in the sense that Lincoln meant it.  It isn’t riven by self-doubt and a civil war as the Union was then.  But it is a nation that has trampled on those same values for which Lincoln and the Union strove during the Civil War: democracy, freedom, full equality for all.  In that sense, Israel is a nation built on principles it has betrayed.

Further, Lincoln described his country, in his  Gettysburg Address, as:

…A new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

Israel too was at least nominally conceived according to the same principles.  But it has diverged from them.  In doing so, it raises profound questions about whether it too “can long endure.”

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This is an expanded version of the op-ed I published in the Seattle Times several days ago, criticizing Mayor Ed Murray’s pinkwashing Israel junket (he arrives in Tel Aviv tomorrow).  In addition, I’ve added new material based on research concerning Murray’s trip and the New Israel Fund op-ed run in the Times (to which my op-ed responded).

pinkwash ed murray

Mayor Murray: Don’t Pinkwash Israel!

Mayor Murray’s trip to Israel is being funded by the Israeli foreign ministry.  They are paying for his airfare, meals and hotel accommodations.  They aren’t doing this out of the goodness of their hearts.  They aren’t doing this because the Israeli government is a champion of gay rights.  They’re doing this because Ed Murray is a hasbara asset.  The first gay mayor of a major American city comes to Israel to endorse its stellar record as a gay rights mecca.  It changes the media narrative of BDS, Occupation, and endless war.  You can’t buy this sort of publicity.

Another unrelated example of exploitation of the gay rights meme is the invitation offered by the City of Tel Aviv to Caitlyn Jenner.  It seems perfectly appropriate for a transgender celebrity to exploit her fame in the same way that Israel’s pinkwashers seek to piggyback on Jenner’s notoriety for their own political purposes.

There are a few things the foreign ministry doesn’t know about Murray’s trip.  A senior member of his administration revealed that the Mayor hasn’t taken a vacation during his entire term in office.  So he and his partner decided to visit a few other countries in the region before arriving in Israel.  Among them, Jordan and the Persian Gulf.  So the Israeli government is subsidizing Murray’s vacation to Arab countries.  Publicly, the ministry will tell you they have no problem with this.  But it’s got to be embarrassing for the MFA’s golden guest to “go native” in Arab lands.

I tried to get the reaction of the ministry through Israel’s Pacific Northwest consulate, but no one responded to my e-mail messages.  Similarly, as of this writing, the mayor’s staff continues to stonewall release of the Mayor’s itinerary in Israel, where he promised to meet with Palestinian Knesset members and West Bank Palestinians.  The public, which has every right to this information, can’t make any determination on whether Murray kept his promise without it.

Publicola did some further digging and discovered that the Mayor is bringing a Seattle Police Department security detail with him to Israel.  I’m not sure what the security threat is, nor why he couldn’t hire local security and save the taxpayers some money.  But this will set Seattleites back to the tune of $25,000.

Now to the New Israel Fund op-ed which the Times published.  It supported the Mayor’s trip and promoted the notion that Israel was a vibrant democracy struggling with how to bring equality and justice to all citizens (more below).  My own op-ed below rebuts much of this.  But I wanted to add a few details here.  The New Israel Fund (NIF) asked two lay leaders of the local organization to co-author this piece.  Frankly, I doubt either one wrote any of it.  One author, Jon Bridge is the CEO of a local jewelry retailer, Ben Bridge Jewellers.  The other, Hemda Arad, is an Israeli-American who hasn’t lived in Israel in decades.  Neither has any particular expertise in the issue of the status of the LGBT struggle in Israel.

Arad was likely chosen as a co-author both because she was Israeli and because she founded an Israeli feminist NGO, Isha L’Isha.  But when I contacted the group by e-mail, the staff member didn’t even know Arad personally.  I discovered the reason is that she founded it in 1983 and left Israel for America a few years later.  Clearly, she has little or no contact with Isha L’Isha now.  The other errors made  in the NIF op-ed reveal both ignorance and superficiality when addressing gay rights in the Israeli context.

In further research about Arad, I discovered that she is a psychotherapist here in Seattle.  She is named in a State Department of Health list of doctors who’ve been sued by patients for sexual abuse.  This in turn led me to an article published in The Stranger in 2005 which notes that Arad was sued by a patient for conducting a sexual affair with him.  She admitted improper contact.  Who was the patient?  We know because he was a very prominent local citizen, the then-managing editor of the Seattle Times, Alex Macleod!

So the Times published an op-ed co-authored by a woman accused of sexually abusing its former managing editor. Whoops.  There is no record of how this case was resolved.  But given that Arad admitted some of the charges against her, it’s likely there was a confidential settlement and the victim was handsomely compensated for her violation of the ethics of her profession.

*   *

Earlier this month, Daniel Beekman published a story on the controversy generated within the LGBT community concerning Mayor Murray’s June trip to Israel, which will include a keynote address to an international conference celebrating 40 years of gay rights in Israel.

Local pro-Palestine activists, who protested outside City Hall, object to “pinkwashing,” the exploitation of gay rights to promote Israel’s image in the world at the expense of the plight of the Palestinians.

Recently, the Times published an op-ed by Ben Bridge CEO, Jon Bridge and the founder of an Israeli NGO, Isha L’Isha.  NIF is an organization which provides grants to human rights groups in Israel.  It voiced support for the Mayor’s trip and attacked opponents as extremists.

The authors have done a disservice both to NIF and Israel in their presentation.  It shows them (or whoever wrote this for them) to be naïve in the extreme about the true nature of Israeli society and politics.

First, they claim the LGBT protesters come from “the extreme ends of the Israeli-Palestinian debate.”  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  The concepts of pinkwashing and BDS, the movement supporting boycotting Israel until it ends the Occupation, are increasingly mainstream given the increasing radicalization of Israeli society.  Exhibit one in this process is the new Israeli government, widely reported to be the most religiously intolerant, racist and hawkish in Israeli history.

Bridge and Hemda Awad (Isha L’Isha’s founder) claim that Israel has “world class rights for LGBTQ individuals.”  This is patently false.  Israel has bestowed control over marriage and divorce to the Orthodox Jewish establishment.  Views of Orthodox Judaism toward homosexuality are determined by the Biblical command to stone “a man who lies with another.”  Hence, Israel does not recognize gay marriage nor will it ever do so as long as rabbis determine who may marry in Israel.

Haaretz published a survey recently that found that over half of Israeli transgender individuals have been physically assaulted due to their sexual orientation.  In 2009, Israel witnessed its most heinous anti-gay hate crime when a gunman entered a Tel Aviv gay youth center and gunned down several members, included two who died. Though the police arrested a suspect and secured an eyewitness, the case eventually fell apart and all charges were dropped.  The crime has never been solved.

A candidate from the Jewish Home Party proudly declared himself a “proud homophobe” during the recent election. He also organized “Beast Day” (as in “bestiality”) in protest against Israel’s Gay Pride parade.  He won a seat in the Knesset.  So much for those “world class” gay rights.

The op-ed also proudly labels Israel a “democracy” that is a “truly laudable work in process.”  That too is debatable.  If Israel ever was a democracy in the past, it is no longer.  It is an ethnocracy that privileges Jewish citizens over non-Jews.  In almost all international rankings for transparency, press freedom, and human rights, Israel ranks far lower than the western democracies to which it likes to be compared.

Israel is a national security state in which censorship and judicial gag orders are used to conceal virtually any information any general or politician doesn’t want the public to know.  Israel’s Knesset has made it illegal to express support for the international BDS movement.  The new Justice Minister has called for the Supreme Court to be made subordinate to the Knesset.

Israeli media is dominated by Yisrael HaYom, a slavishly pro-Netanyahu publication subsidized with $40-million each year from its owner, Sheldon Adelson.  Israelis have watched as the diversity of their media offerings has progressively narrowed as newspapers have folded under the onslaught.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has a long-cherished wish to take control of independent TV stations which air news that is unflattering to him.  Taking the Communications Ministry portfolio for himself in the new government is considered another step in that process.

It’s hard to imagine who, other than the LGBT protesters against the Mayor’s Israel trip, Bridge and Awad are attacking here:

Palestinian advocates who oppose Jewish self-determination or, in some cases, perpetuate anti-Semitic tropes are a bitter embarrassment to real equal rights, anti-oppression activists.

First, the Seattle protesters were largely American and included Jews.  Nor do they oppose Jewish self-determination, except when it involves decades of oppression of Palestinian self-determination.  Any claim that the protesters are anti-Semitic or used anti-Semitic tropes is absolutely false, nor is any proof offered.

The co-authors further claim:

We know personally that those involved in this celebration have been loudly outspoken on the necessity of peace through two states and equality for all citizens.

This in fact, is not true.  Both the Israeli and U.S. co-sponsors of the Israeli conference are groups dedicated to LGBT issues.  A Wider Bridge, the San Francisco-based, American co-sponsor is considered a major pinkwashing advocate.  It’s brought Israeli gay delegations on promotional tours.  Among a delegation scheduled to visit Seattle was an entrepreneur whose business and residence is in a settlement.

Neither Aguda nor AWB advocate for a political settlement to the Israel-Palestine conflict.  Nor do they advocate for “equality for all citizens,” especially if you include Israel’s Palestinian citizens in that statement.

Further the piece offers, and Mayor Murray repeated it in his response to the protests, the mantra of the two state solution, as if this were the sine qua non of liberality and justice in resolving the conflict.  In fact, it isn’t any longer.  Many Israelis and pragmatic observers of the conflict understand that there is no prospect for a two-state solution under any Israeli government, but certainly not one run by four-term prime minister, Netanyahu.  He promised during the last election campaign there would never be such a deal made as long as he was in charge.

That makes liberal Zionists like Bridge, Awad and the New Israel Fund divorced from the real Israel.  It makes them politically out of touch, despite the good that they try to do.

Mayor Murray promised he would meet with Israeli Palestinian members of Knesset and Bridge adds that NIF:

…Will be happy to arrange for him to meet leaders in civil society fighting for civil rights, including Palestinian-Israeli leaders, to ensure that his presence celebrates Israel’s successes

I tried repeatedly to get the Mayor’s Israel itinerary and a list of those joining his trip, from his staff.  These are documents that should be accessible to the public.  Each time I request it the promised date was moved backward.  I still do not know whether he will be fulfilling the promise he made to meet with Israeli Palestinians and visit Palestinians in the West Bank.  A local activist who made a FOIA request seeking e-mail records related to the trip was told they would not be available until the day the Mayor departs for Israel.

Bridge-Awad close their piece with Mayor Murray’s claim that the Middle East is “complicated.”  No, it’s not.  It’s only complicated for liberals who wish Israel could be more like Holland and less like Iran.  For those of us who see more clearly what Israel has become, we understand that the liberal Zionist vision of Israel as a Jewish and democratic nation is a boat that set sail long ago.

Israel is on a collision course with a destiny that offers war, Occupation, and increasing authoritarian rule.  These are the hard, brutal issues Ed Murray should address when he speaks in Israel.  Not the pablum offered by well-meaning liberals like Bridge, Awad and NIF.

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eizenkot at kotel

Eizenkot’s petek at Kotel: “God, grant me a new war to fight for You!”

Reuters reports that a “senior IDF officer” has broken ranks with Bibi Netanyahu and supports a nuclear deal with Iran.  The story doesn’t identify the official.  But a knowledgeable Israeli source informs me that it is the same individual who was the focus of my last post, Chief of Staff, Gadi Eizenkot.  Further, the remarks about the Iranian nuclear deal were part of the same briefing in which he promised 1.5-million Lebanese refugees during the next war against Hezbollah.

Here is how the news agency portrayed his remarks:

…An unnamed senior military officer said that if agreed by its June 30 deadline, the deal would provide clarity on the direction of Iran’s nuclear program.

The officer said that for now, measures sought by world powers such as stepped-up international inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities and scaling back of its uranium enrichment “allow for the supposition that, in the coming period of years, this is a threat in decline.”

Though horrified by the future war crimes Eizenkot promised in one portion of his briefing, I’m gratified that the most senior officer in the Israeli army is willing to break with his boss and say he can live with what promises to be a nuclear deal between the P5+1 and Iran.  Though there is much that is wrong with the IDF, we can say at least in this instance that it is willing to go against the politicians when it thinks they’re wrong.  The current chief’s predecessor, Benny Gantz, also defied the political hierarchy in saying much the same thing.  But in that instance, then defense minister gagged the army’s leader.  When called before a Knesset committee to testify, Barak refused to allow him to.

That may be why Eizenkot chose to make his remarks in a briefing in which his identity was concealed (at least somewhat).  The fact that the general did make the remarks at all tells me that his bosses, Yaalon and Netanyahu, may realize the jig is up.  They won’t have Iran to beat up on much longer once a deal is signed.

Remember that in this same briefing the IDF chief pivoted to threats closer at hand.  That’s how the promise to depopulate southern Lebanon came up.  Israel’s army is smart enough to look at the history of conflicts over the past thirty years and the ones that most recur are with Lebanon and Gaza.  Since Hamas is not a true military threat, that leaves the IDF with its most potent enemy, Hezbollah.

Eizenkot knows who his next adversary will be.  He knows he must prepare the Israeli people for the next war; for the bloodshed; for the war crimes.  He must offer the justifications that allow Israelis to feel they’re defending themselves when they’re invading a foreign state in violation of international law.

Pivot to BDS

Netanyahu and his new rightist government are making a different pivot.  Instead of the usual suspects, Bibi wants a more urgent and immediate target: BDS.  Whereas Iran used to be Existential Threat #1, BDS is now described in precisely the same terms used previously against Iran: terrorism, anti-Semitic, elimination of Israel.

The far-right throughout history can be defined, in part, by a need for an enemy.  Sometimes the enemy is foreign, sometimes it is domestic.  Netanyahu has no real ideas of his own.  He has no philosophy or political platform.  He exists to rule.  To continue ruling, he must find an enemy to make the public fear and vote for him.  After he leaves the scene (and may it be soon), his only legacy will be fear.

Now that he’s about to lose Iran, he needs a new bogeyman who will make Israelis quake with fear.  Before, Israeli schoolchildren could have nightmares of screaming bearded Ayatollahs.  Now, their nightmares will involve BDS protesters around the world waving placards and screaming for Israeli blood (so to speak).

adelsons

The Adelsons’ Maccabee Campus Summit takes on BDS

Here in America, Bibi’s fat-cat pro-Israel elite gathered in Las Vegas at the behest of Sheldon Adelson, Clinton funder and Israeli intelligence asset, Haim Saban, and ex-felon Adam Milstein.  There they announced that Adelson’s capo di tutti, Shmuley Boteach, was to command a new anti-BDS initiative.  Miriam Adelson gave it the bizarre title, Campus Maccabees Summit.  As if fighting BDS was akin to a great Biblical battle against Hellenists and God knows what other enemies threatening the Jewish people.

The idea that the guy who invented Kosher Lust was going to lead a campus crusade against BDS has veteran Jewish leaders aghast.  You can tell by the anonymous comments they made about the event that they think the idea is whacked out:

“Shmuley should stay out of our bedrooms, out of our foreign policy and away from our campuses. He misunderstands and disrupts all three.”

But no one can say this about Shmuley to someone worth $30-billion who can buy and sell your organization in half-a-millisecond.

Those of us who support some or all of the tenets of BDS realize that Adelson and his cronies are taking Israel and the Jewish people down a dangerous road.  One that will likely lead to a car crash.  There’s little we can do to avoid it except warn them as they come careening past.  It doesn’t give me any pleasure to know that Jewish leaders are off the rails.  But in the struggle for Israel, when your opponent persists in making a fool of himself, far be it from you to stop him from going down in flames.

Orange Sees Red

Since I mentioned Haim Saban, let’s talk about his own minor BDS debacle over the past day or so.  He owns the Israeli telecom, Partner Communications.  It provides cell phone service in Israel under license from the French company, Orange.  Its CEO told an audience in Egypt that the relationship with his Israeli partner was a pain in the neck and he wanted to be rid of it as soon as possible.

It’s not clear to me whether the French company is ending the business relationship imminently or will wait till its contract expires.  It’s not even clear what is that date.

But the very notion that a company Saban owns might be harmed directly by BDS has made him apoplectic.  Which is of course delightful.  For BDS to be effective it must be not just a moral movement or based on abstract principle.  It must hit people in their pocket books.  Although Saban is worth billions, even a small loss like this will have an out-sized impact on morale.

Saban, Adelson and Netanyahu may rail against BDS all they want, but they have no one to blame but themselves.  The farther rightward Israeli politics moves, the stronger BDS becomes.  And no, BDS will not topple Israel’s Occupation.  At least not by itself.  But it will be a lightning rod that concentrates the anger of the world against Israeli injustice.

On a related topic, a few days ago I published a Seattle Times op-ed warning Mayor Ed Murray not to pinkwash Israel when he gives a keynote address at a Tel Aviv conference celebrating Israel and gay rights there.  I’m pleased to say that KUOW devoted a segment (it’s roughly 27 minutes into this audio stream) in its weekly new review show to Murray’s trip and included a short clip of an interview with me.  Today, a public interest journalist published new information on the trip revealing that the city will pick up the tab for the Mayor’s security in Israel.  Seattle police officers will accompany him there and it will cost taxpayers $25,000!

When I informed my Times editor about these developments, he told me that my article vied for most popular article on the Times’ site today, and for a short time it even eclipsed Taylor Swift!  For a nanosecond, pinkwashing outshone musical celebrity!  I expect to publish an expanded version of the op-ed here tomorrow which will include some new research I’ve uncovered.

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