Seattle’s Mayor Ed Murray, one of the first “out” gay mayor’s of a major American city, has lent himself to the Israel Lobby pinkwashing project. I’ve written earlier about his address to a Tel Aviv conference celebrating 40 years of gay pride. But he’s gone much farther as an agent of the Israeli hasbara apparatus. I’ve already written about the Israeli foreign ministry funding all of his expenses for the trip (including subsidizing a pre-trip vacation for himself and his partner in Persian Gulf states and Jordan). Curiously, all the flattering profiles of Murray in the Israeli media neglected that fact. Local news reports here in Seattle also note that the City of Seattle funded a security detail consisting of Seattle Police officers that cost the taxpayer $36,000.
Murray never visited with Israeli Palestinian MKs as he’d promised he would. To fulfill his promise to meet with West Bank Palestinians he met with Saeb Erakat, better known in the Palestine Papers as the peace negotiator willing to give away the store during negotiations with PM Ehud Olmert. Erakat is a member of the corrupt, discredited PA élite, who no more represents Palestine than Ezra Pound did the U.S. when he denounced it on fascist Italian radio during WWII. The Seattle mayor also met with a group of Palestinian school children. That’s it. That’s the extent of his engagement with Palestine.
On the Israeli side, he met with Jerusalem mayor, Nir Barkat. While Barkat is a devout secularist, he’s also a flaming ultra-nationalist fanatic who presides over a city which offers virtually no municipal services to the 400,000 Palestinians (40% of the city’s total population) who fall within its jurisdiction (against their will). Barkat supports the forced expulsion of Palestinians from East Jerusalem neighborhoods where they’ve lived for generations. If Murray tried this in Seattle he’d be booted out of office in a heartbeat.
The U.S. mayor made some extraordinarily naïve statements along the way. They come across more like pablum than articulate, thoughtful statements about these issues. It goes to show that politicians should stay away from this issue unless they’re prepared to study it carefully before opening their mouths. No doubt, Murray’s strategy on this issue is being guided by wealthy local Jews affiliated with the Israel Lobby. If he wishes to seek higher office, he’ll need them far more than he needs the LGBT activists who protested against his trip at City Hall.
After his West Bank visit, his staff released this bit of puffery:
Murray said that the two [he and Erakat] spoke about “our mutual hopes for peace and a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and our shared commitment to promoting democracy and civil rights for all. We also discussed the possibility of identifying a civic project or exchange that might be pursued in cooperation with a municipality or business in the West Bank.”
“I had the chance to sit down with a group of Palestinian students. They impressed me with their commitment to higher education and their belief in the power of that education despite the adversity they face every day. I came away inspired by their hope for a better future and their desire to make a difference,” the statement said.
The Israeli press dutifully reported Murray’s visit in glowing terms. Ynet’s story maintained a semblance of balance by noting the Mayor was criticized locally in an op-ed published in The Stranger. Haaretz’s profile was sheer fawning fulsomeness. It was all-Murray, all the time. There were no interviews with critics, no mention of Stranger op-eds. It was really shameful journalism. I tweeted to the reporter and Aluf Benn, asking him why he didn’t include the views of any critics. Characteristically, they refused to reply.
Murray used Haaretz’s media pulpit to bash the BDS movement and those local activists who criticized his trip to Israel. He didn’t go as far as Netanyahu and the Lobby who accuse BDS supporters of being anti-Semitic, but he tiptoed right up to the edge:
“The boycott movement is made up of various people in the United States. A whole bunch of young people who just really care about justice, and others who I’m not sure what their motivation is. I worry that they’re not just anti-Israel but maybe more,” Murray said. “There were letters that were written to me by very mainstream people, who I know support the State of Israel, but believe that there should be a boycott. There were protests downtown and at my office. I believe that the situation is very complex. It’s one that I wanted to understand. I wish that people who are boycotting would actually come here, go to the West Bank like I went to the West Bank, talk to people here in Israel as well.”
The rally cry of the liberal Zionist is: “it’s very complex.” But you see, it’s not. It’s complex if you refuse to accept or acknowledge Israel’s offenses against the Palestinians. And anyone who uses this smokescreen of complexity to shield themselves from the truth will never “understand,” as Murray claims he wishes to.
He further displays abject ignorance of the issues by telling BDS activists they shouldn’t boycott the West Bank. In his error, he tacitly accepts Israeli claims that it is part of Israel and hence under boycott. It isn’t. The West Bank is Palestine, Ed. Palestine is not under boycott. People who support Palestinian rights don’t need to come to Israel to understand the issue. They can understand it perfectly well from Palestine.
He extends his criticism of BDS:
“I don’t think boycott is going to be the answer. I think engagement is going to be the answer. I think we should be figuring out what we can do to help the situation, on the ground, locally – as a local government to a local government. I was very impressed with the Palestinian students we met. They’re young, they’re idealistic, they’re educated, and they’re hopeful there could be a solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but they have no hope for a job. And I think that’s the areas we should be thinking about – how do we enable that economy to get started, how do we work with Israel and the future Palestinian state,” he said.
Here again, Murray misunderstand the nature of BDS, which does not discourage engagement with Palestine. But it is important to note Murray’s focus on economic empowerment of Palestinians, which mirrors the Israeli government’s limitation of progress on Palestinian rights to this single issue. Neither Bibi Netanyahu nor Ed Murray offer Palestinians any sense of gaining their full political rights through national sovereignty and ending the Occupation.
Murray even misunderstands the status of LGBT individuals in Israel itself:
“We initially made the decision almost a year ago to accept this invitation, to speak at the pride conference. Any country that is supportive of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is a country I want to keep encouraging them to do that.
…I feel more comfortable encouraging the State of Israel to offer the option of civil marriage [as an alternative to] religious marriage.”
Murray hasn’t a clue about the issue of civil marriage in Israel. He doesn’t understand that marriage and divorce are matters solely under control of the Orthodox rabbinate in Israel. The State would never take back the authority to recognize marriages from the religious establishment. In other words, there will never be gay marriage in Israel unless the Orthodox monopoly is broken. So Murray is endorsing a state which, in its present framework, will never allow gay marriage.
The most powerful political parties in the ruling coalition including the Likud and Bayit Yehudi, absolutely reject gay marriage. In fact, a minister in the new government once held “Beast Day” (as in “bestiality”) to coincide with the gay pride parade. Other issues Murray conveniently ignores in his paean to Israel as gay mecca: blatant discrimination in housing in which landlords routinely refuse to rent to gay couples. The Tel Aviv Bar Noar murders in which a gunman murdered two Israeli gay youth. This hate crime has never been prosecuted though Israeli police know who the killer is. The 2005 gay pride parade in Jerusalem was marred by a knife wielding Orthodox fanatic who seriously wounded on of the participants.
Murray was absolutely allergic to the concept of pinkwashing. It made him break out in hives here:
Murray rejected out of hand the accusation that he is cooperating with ‘pinkwashing.’
“There are still very few countries in the world, outside of Western Europe, and not even all the states in my country, where the government is willing to deal with LGBT people, support them, work with them,” Murray said.
“I think that’s a good thing. I don’t think that has anything to do with the situation in the West Bank and Gaza. I think that some on the far, far left are trying to use our community and tell us what we are being used for. I spent my entire adult life working for equality for LGBT people. I don’t need people to tell me when I’m being used and when I’m not being used.”
It’s disquieting to hear the mayor of my city call me a member of the “far, far left” simply because I call him out for his ignorance about Palestine. Clearly, he’s lost my vote in the next mayoral election. Nor do I accept his righteous indignation in response to criticism of his endorsement of Israeli pinkwashing. Murray has worked for LGBT equality in Washington State, not in Israel. This foray into Middle East politics takes him far outside his normal political field. And it shows in the emptiness of his rhetoric. If he thinks he can get away with this sort of response to criticism he’s sorely mistaken.
Not to mention, that members of the Seattle LGBT community, who themselves battle for civil rights locally, nationally, and internationally, were those who criticized his pinkwashing and asked him not to visit Israel. They have every right to call him out for his actions and this assault against them is unjustified and uncalled for.
Finally, Murray condescends to offer, after the first five days he ever spent there in his life, his evaluation of conditions for the LGBT community in Israel:
The Seattle mayor said he had the impression that the status of gay rights in Israel was very much the same as in the United States. “It’s very similar to the Unites States. There are many, many rights that people enjoy in this country that we’ve only started to enjoy recently, such as freedom from discrimination in the military,” Murray said.
“But, like in the Unites States, there are still things that have to be done. And like in the United States, there is a large conservative religious movement that is not happy about that. And like in the United States, there are parts of this country where it’s very easy to be out and gay. In other parts it’s not that easy.”
Murray noted that he felt at ease throughout his visit. “Obviously Tel Aviv is more comfortable than Jerusalem, but I didn’t feel inhibited in Jerusalem,” he said.
For the reasons I outlined above, Murray is clearly wrong in claiming gay rights in Israel and the U.S. are “very similar.” He claims Israeli gays have “many, many rights” Americans have only just earned. But then only names one regarding gay military service. Further, he equates the relative power of Orthodox Jewish establishment to control key elements of gay life with similar opposition from evangelical Christians. In this, he ignores the fact that Orthodox Judaism, unlike evangelicals here, controls key elements of state policy. John Hagee can’t tell Murray he can’t marry his partner. But the Chief Rabbi can in Israel. Israel is, at least in part, a theocracy. America isn’t. This is a major difference which the pinkwashing Mayor ellides.