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).
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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