Back in 2012, StandWithUs and another pinkwashing NGO, A Wider Bridge, brought a group of gay Israelis, one of whom was a settler, to Seattle. They persuaded the Seattle LGBT Commission to host a reception for the group. The tour, as with much of what SWU does, was meant to burnish the reputation of Brand Israel. An important aspect of this marketing campaign is to highlight purported achievements of Israeli society which would lend themselves of promotion in western societies. This includes the notion that Israel is a “gay paradise.” This bit of marketing fluff focusses solely on the cosmopolitan metropolis of Tel Aviv which resembles, at least outwardly, a typical European capital. It ignores the hostility toward gay rights in the rest of Israel, including among the Orthodox rabbinate and the governing coalition. It ignores that gay couples will never be permitted to marry in Israel until the rabbinic stranglehold on marriage, divorce and death is ended. It also ignores the violence directed against Israeli gays in recent years including an unsolved massacre at a gay community center and the murder of a Gay Pride marcher by an ultra-Orthodox Jew. It ignores the fact that the status of LGBT individuals in Israel is directly linked to the status of other oppressed minorities, including Palestinians and African refugees.
Back in 2012, the local Jewish LGBT community organized and protested the reception (my Seattle Times op-ed). The Commission thought better of the invitation and rescinded it. The Seattle Jewish federation protested and arranged for local politicians beholden to campaign funding of local Israel Lobby donors to criticize the Commission. There were promises from SWU that another delegation from Israel would be welcomed here imminently. That never happened…till next month. On April 5th, the Commission will welcome IDF officer, Lt. Shahar Erez, whom the army claims is the first transgender soldier to transition during active service.
Seattle University law professor Dean Spade (who himself is transgender) wrote a letter of protest to the Commission. It reads in part:
This event is part of a propaganda strategy that has been undertaken by Israel advocacy organizations like StandWithUs and the government of Israel itself to respond to worldwide opposition to the outrageous harm and violence toward Palestinian people perpetrated by the Israeli government. This campaign, called “Brand Israel,” aims to respond to the growing movement against apartheid in Israel by portraying Israel as “relevant and modern.” An important part of this effort has been to promote Israel as a LGBT-friendly country. Queer and trans activists around the world who oppose occupation and apartheid have called this strategy “pinkwashing” because it is a direct effort to conceal the violence and harm that Israel inflicts on Palestinians, including queer and trans Palestinians, by promoting Israel as “gay and trans friendly.”
…The purpose of movements for queer and trans liberation is to break free from systems of violence and harm and build a just world. Trans service in militaries that are enforcing colonial rule, and protecting the theft of life, land and water from indigenous people, is not liberatory. It is not liberation if trans people get to participate in arresting children, preventing people from reaching hospitals and schools, shooting tear gas and bullets at colonized people. Co-sponsoring an event designed to glorify the Israeli Defense Forces aligns the Commission with values that are directly at odds with the racial justice and social justice values claimed by the City of Seattle.
Prof. Spade made a documentary about the earlier protest, Pinkwashing Exposed.
Here is the invitation recently sent to City Council members and others in the community:
As a reminder, please see the invitation below to your event on Wednesday, April 5th. Capacity is about 30 individuals, so please limit who you invite. We have invited the Mayor’s office, Professor Brodoff from Seattle U Law, Manuel will invite a few Councilmembers and two of his professors, and Yani will invite Professor Dean Spade also from Seattle U Law.
The Sister City Association has invited their own folks and the Washington State LGBT Caucus. Please let me know of a few others you would like to send this invitation too. Given only about 5 Commissioners can attend we may have some additional space.
Please join the Seattle – Be’er Sheva Sister City Association and the Seattle LGBTQ Commission for a roundtable discussion with the first openly transgender officer to serve in the Israel Defense Forces, Lt. Shachar Erez.
Wednesday, April 5, 2017
Doors open 6 pm
Program will begin at 6:30 pm.
1st Floor Large Conference Room
810 Third Ave.
Seattle, WA 98104
If you wish to protest this event, send your messages to Erika Pablo at Erika.Pablo@seattle.gov.
Can you imagine any other western country sending its first transgender soldier on a tour of foreign countries to promote the national image or brand? Why would they even think of such a thing or need to do so? Only Israel, desperate to exploit any angle or advantage in order to rebut its own bleak image, would spend millions of dollars every year in such feeble efforts.
I’m both ashamed and embarrassed that Seattle will participate in this pinkwashing effort. Though I’m not surprised since our politically-ambitious Mayor Ed Murray, seeking to cultivate Israel Lobby donors, traveled to Israel on the foreign ministry’s dime, and addressed an international conference there on gay rights. I criticized him in this Seattle Time op-ed. It’s not surprising that Murray would endorse pinkwashing of Brand Israel, when it promises him financial support for his next bid for higher office.
My own synagogue, Congregation Beth Shalom, is hosting another local event for Standwithus’ Israeli guest. The title is Acceptance as Policy. This follows the pinkwashing meme that the IDF is a beacon of tolerance for LGBT individuals. It ignores, as I wrote above, that gays are not accepted in Israel as a whole and that the supposed tolerance found in the army has not translated into greater acceptance in society at large.