IMPORTANT: Please donate as generously as you can on behalf of an ad I plan to publish in the Seattle JTNews in protest of its distorted coverage of the Seattle City LGBT commission’s cancellation of a reception for an Israeli LGBT delegation that was part of an Israeli government pinkwashing tour coordinated with StandWithUs. Please spread this fundraising appeal as widely as you can through social networking and media. The ad will be an excerpted version of this blog post.
The Israeli government and its NGO collaborators like StandWithUs discovered, some years ago, the resonance of gay rights as a cudgel in its fight against the Palestinians. Because Islam and Arabs in general supposedly oppress homosexuals and Israel supposedly offers them full rights, the issue has been taken up by the hasbara brigades.
As part of such promotion, Israel sends LGBT delegations to the west to make the case for Israel as a bastion of civil rights compared to the Arab world. One claim commonly heard from such speakers and promoted by StandWithUs is that the Israeli government offers a safe haven to Palestinian gays afraid for their lives after “coming out.” The claim isn’t true as this Washington Note story confirms. In fact, Israel has rejected at least ten such claims for asylum and sent the applicants back to the very place from which they were most afraid of retaliation.
The claim that Israel is a gay Eden neglects several inconvenient facts: that a participant in a Jerusalem Gay Pride parade was stabbed and seriously injured by an ultra-Orthodox Jew several years ago; and that two gay teenagers were murdered at a Tel Aviv community center in a crime that has never been solved, though the police are said to believe that American-Jewish settler and convicted terrorist, Jack Teitel, played an instrumental role in the attack. The Israeli government’s promotion of gay rights in this fashion also ignores the fact that while gays may be celebrated in Tel Aviv, there are entire swaths of Israeli society which vehemently denounce everything that gay rights stand for, including the large Orthodox and settler populations.
The Israeli LGBT delegation that the Seattle LGBT commission planned to host for a reception came to this country under the auspices of A Wider Bridge, a San Francisco-based gay organization which closely coordinates its activities promoting Israel with both the political arm of the Jewish community (Jewish Community Relations Council) and with the Israeli government. Make no mistake, this far-right Israeli government cares very little about gays or gay rights. But it cares a great deal about exploiting wedge issues against the Palestinians and Arab world.
Another promoter of this tour is StandWithUs, one of the most prominent and virulent national pro-Israel advocacy groups. It coordinates its hasbara activities very closely with the Netanyahu-Lieberman government, as it did when it coordinated the anti-BDS lawsuit brought against the Olympia Food Coop, which a Olympia judge recently dismissed.
SWU claims it embraces the cause of Israeli gay rights. But facts tell a different story: SWU’s founder, Roz Rothstein has embraced Christian Zionist fundamentalists like John Hagee who fulminate against “Babylon” and “Sodom and Gomorrah” regularly in sermons to the faithful. Rothstein has spoken often with Hagee and to his group, Christians United for Israel. So one has to ask the question: if SWU favors gay rights why does it make common cause with Christians who believe that gays are “of the devil?”
SWU also carefully hid an element of its hasbara campaign regarding its pinkwashing efforts. Parallel to the touting of Israel’s supposed achievements in the field of gay rights, it demonizes the Arab and Muslim world for their so-called “primitive” and “backward” attitudes toward homosexuals. All of this is part of a general religious war that many in the pro-Israel community are fighting. In truth, every religion and every nation is fighting to advance more tolerant attitudes on these matters. The crimes I mentioned above, prove that Israel has a ways to go before it can declare itself a gay Eden. So Arab states do as well. They may have even farther to go. But attempting to demonize them for that is part of a propaganda war and not part of any attempt at promoting gay rights.
Jewish and Palestinian gay peace activists with the support of Jewish Voice for Peace converged on a Seattle LGBT commission meeting and testified against the planned reception claiming it would involve “pinkwashing,” allowing the Israel to use gay rights as a way of diverting the world’s attention from the evils of the Occupation. While this was a controversial message, a majority of the commissioners agreed that the plans for the reception had been too hastily arranged and that further interaction on this subject should be deliberated and planned more carefully so all the issues could be placed in proper context.
The Israeli government, SWU and local community leaders have falsely painted the issue as one of anti-Israel racism or denial of free speech. None of the activists who convinced the Commission to cancel the reception did so because they didn’t want to hear from Israeli gays. They didn’t want the Seattle city government to officially honor representatives of the Israeli government (indeed, one member of the delegation is an employee of the Israeli consulate in San Francisco and the government paid for the costs of the tour) as part of a propaganda campaign on behalf of a State has maintained 4-million Palestinians under Occupation for decades.
Their message was, if Israeli gays want to meet with Seattle’s gay community let them do so without the political backing of the Israeli government and its local political advocates. Don’t turn gay rights into a political football, was what organizers said. Keep the Occupation and Israel’s wars against its neighbors separate from gay issues. By sending an official delegation as part of a hasbara mission, Israel was doing just the opposite. The official Jewish community response confirmed that pro-Israel politics played a role in all of this. Here the community leadership explains that it hosted a meeting of interested parties at the federation office. Note the politicized language they use:
We welcomed the chance to host a meeting of LGBT, Jewish, and pro-Israel leaders at our offices…
The issue of gay rights shouldn’t be pro-Israel or anti-Israel. When it becomes one or the other, it becomes debased as a human rights concern.
Note the irony of this statement by the director of the Jewish Community Relations Council:
“The unfortunate thing is that there are groups on all sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict who want to fight that war right here in Seattle, Washington,” Carstensen said.
Indeed, the Israeli LGBT tour was a deliberate attempt to advance Israel’s political interests. That’s why SWU was involved. That’s why the JCRC got involved. Their agenda as they conceded is to promote not just gay rights in Israel, but promote Israel and its policies. Their fight is against what the Israeli government and its supporters here call a “delegitimization” campaign by Palestinian supporters. So JVP didn’t introduce politics into this incident. The Israeli government did.
The JTNews issue last week published an official community position in the form of a specially-highlighted letter by Zach Carstensen and Ron Leibsohn of the Jewish Community Relations Council, along with a news article. Both contained serious errors, distortions and exaggerations. Both refused to interview, acknowledge or report accurately the views of JVP and its supporters. My attempt this week to get the paper to publish a more fair and balanced news story was rebuffed, as was my attempt to submit an op-ed that would be published by JTNews. The op-ed was rejected even before I submitted it. I refused an offer to write a letter to the editor because this issue demands fairness and balance and a letter to the editor provided neither the prominence or visibility that an op-ed would. That is why I’ve been forced to publish this as an ad in protest against the unfair editorial judgment of the JTNews staff.
In its official community statement, Carstensen and Leibsohn falsely claimed the issue had been advanced by:
…A small group of vocal anti-Israel activists
In fact, Jewish Voice for Peace is a national organization with chapters in several NW cities including Seattle and Olympia. It has 100,000 members and supporters. JVP, despite attempts by those on the political right to label it “anti-Israel,” is not. In fact, it supports an equitable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It supports the BDS movement, but does not reject Israel. It only rejects the Occupation and the injustices that accompany it.
The JCRC statement in JTNews also claimed that the City LGBT commission “apologized” for cancelling the reception and admitted it erred in doing so. This too is inaccurate. The Commission apologized to both sides for the controversy and pain it caused and went on to say that at the time of the decision, the only way to fairly respond to the pain on both sides seemed to be to cancel the reception:
The Seattle LGBT Commission sincerely apologizes for the pain, offense and embarrassment that we caused by canceling our scheduled event with leaders from Israel’s LGBTQ community…We apologize both to those leaders who were invited as our guests and to the many members of the Israeli, Palestinian, and LGBTQ communities in Seattle and worldwide who were affected by our decision.
Returning to the Jewish communty’s official statement, here it continues to deliberately misrepresent the position of the JVP and its supporters in this debate:
We also must use this moment to help a crucial and important ally understand how language, which misrepresents Israelis and casts them in a negative light, can result in violence, anger, and hate against Jewish people here in Seattle.
The issue as JVP saw it was that gay rights were being used to “pinkwash” Israel. That Israel sought to divert attention from injustices it perpetrated on the Palestinians by trumpeting its supposed achievements in the field of gay rights. None of this “misrepresents Israelis.” If it casts them in a “negative light” it is only because the Occupation is maintained by the Israeli government and it casts Israel in a negative light. As for JVP’s actions “resulting in violence against Jewish people here in Seattle,” this again is more histrionic overstatement taking a page directly from the hasbara handbook.
The statement closes by claiming the Jewish community wishes to advance the cause of “civil rights everywhere.” This hypocrisy is once again why JVP took this issue on. Israel is a nation in which civil rights are debased. The Occupation debases Palestinian civil and national rights. Civil rights of Israeli Palestinian citizens are also subordinated to those of Israeli Jews. If the leadership were truly honest it wouldn’t use puffery to obfuscate regarding such serious issues. It would address them head-on and honestly.
SWU’s Rob Jacobs informed the JTNews in its news article that the Seattle LGBT Commission has been ordered by the City Council to host another reception for an Israeli LGBT contingent in October. This should set up an interesting confrontation in which the Jewish community gets sit in high moral dudgeon come October.