A delegation of gay pride groups from Israel had an unpleasant surprise when leaders of the gay community in Seattle canceled a meeting and City Hall reception with them at the last minute over Middle East politics.
The Seattle LGBT Commission caved to pressure from pro-Palestinian activists who accuse Israel of “pinkwashing” their country’s treatment of Palestinians. Never heard of pinkwashing? That’s the latest libel affixed to Israel for having the apparent gall to tout the equal rights and freedoms it affords its gay and lesbian citizens.
The Seattle Times reports a small but vocal group spoke out against the Jewish state at a “heated commission meeting” just one day before the planned event:
…members — who represent Seattle's gay population to city government — bowed to pressure and canceled the session, saying they were not prepared to facilitate an event surrounding "such complex topics."
The Israeli delegation had other scheduled stops in Seattle that went uninterrupted, but one in Tacoma was also canceled, and one in Olympia was moved because of opposition.
"We wanted to talk about LGBTQ issues," said Mac McGregor, co-chair of the commission, referring to issues important to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning people. He voted to keep the reception. "We weren't prepared to handle the Palestinian question.
"We are not experts, and we don't pretend to be. None of us wants to choose sides."
The Israeli group expressed dismay at the snub:
"We expected from the Seattle LGBTQ Commission a strong declaration of its intent to support all LGBTQ activists, regardless of their color, sex or national origin," the group said in a statement.
"Sadly, it appears that the commission, representing a minority that continues to face discrimination, also practices that same discrimination."
Avner Dafne, the CEO of Igy – the Youth Pride Organization (Irgun HaNoar HaGe’e) one of the Israeli gay pride groups set to attend the Friday meeting – told the news site Mako (Hebrew link):
“It’s an unpleasant feeling that a small group succeeds in creating such pressure and people with whom we are supposed to meet actually choose not to take responsibility and don’t stand up to the pressure.”
The cancellation is all the more unusual considering gay Palestinians frequently flee to Tel Aviv from the Palestinian-ruled territories fearing violence. The pro-Israel gay group A Wider Bridge told the Seattle Times:
"The truth is that Israel is a good place to be LGBT, and it is so because there are countless people within Israel doing amazing, courageous work every day ... saving lives, including the lives of young LGBTQ Palestinians who often have nowhere else to turn."
The LGBT news website Queerty provides behind-the-scenes detail on the cancellation:
It looks like the Commission made its decision to pull the plug after Dean Spade, a trans advocate and law professor at Seattle University, encouraged people protest the event, which he sees as a pinkwashing cover-up for Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
Spade posted on Facebook a call to fellow gay activists to consider “speaking your opposition to apartheid and occupation even when its [sic] wrapped in a rainbow flag.”
Queerty is criticizing the Seattle LGBT Commission’s decision to dis-invite the Israeli group:
Are anti-pinkwashers like Spade now saying that all gays from Israel should be silenced in the public arena, lest they accidentally encourage someone to visit their homeland?
Are we calling for the end of civil discourse and kicking Israel’s LGBT off the bus?
It’s a double standard: When Mariela Castro, the heterosexual daughter of Cuba’s president, Raoul Castro, boasts about how progressive her country is on gay issues—despite a proven track record of oppressing LGBTs and political dissidents—she’s embraced with open arms by gay activists.
The “pinkwashing” slur gained wide attention in November when a pro-Palestinian lesbian activist wrote an op-ed in the New York Times accusing Israel of cynically employing its positive treatment of gays in its public relations efforts. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later declined an invitation from the Times to pen an op-ed, with his senior adviser Ron Dermer writing this dig to the paper’s editorial board: “We wouldn’t want to be seen as ‘Bibiwashing’ the op-ed page of The New York Times.”
American Airlines recently chose Tel Aviv as the “Best Gay City” for vacationers. This while Israel’s Arab neighbors routinely persecute gays, the most recent example being the apparent witch-hunt in Iraq where “emo” and gay teenagers are being methodically targeted and killed by religious radicals in Baghdad. Homosexuality continues to be illegal in many Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Syria, and others.
One commenter on Queerty’s story summed up the argument this way:
So basically Isreal [sic] allows gays to serve in the military, recognizes foreign marriage of gays, allow gays to adopt and raise children AND grants asylum for PAlestinian gays fleeig Palestine.
Palestine on the other hand arrest gays, many are beaten in prison and many have been killed, all with the govt. either being a part of it or ignoring it.
How DARE Mr. Spade try to co-opt the gay rights movement in support of a country that would have us arrested or killed simply for being over there?
(H/T: Seattle Times)