This is a response to “Is Israel ‘gay heaven?’ It’s complicated,” published Nov. 15 by editor Kevin Naff recounting his visit to Israel along with eight other American LGBT advocates last month.
Kevin Naff’s well-meaning report on his visit to Israel is just what the Israeli propagandists who paid for his trip hoped for — a focus on Israel’s record of LGBT support and downplaying the horrors of occupation.
I write as a gay Jewish American who has visited Israel 10 times. I, too, have visited the Jerusalem Open House and interacted with the LGBT community in Israel. Yes, Israel does have a good record on LGBT rights, but why is that news?
Israel spends millions propagating the idea that it is the only western style democracy in the Middle East – ignoring Turkey – and LGBT rights are an expectation for any western democracy. Canada, Great Britain and the Scandinavian countries all have excellent records on LGBT rights, but they don’t spend money raised for charitable purposes to brag about it. Canada is going all out to persuade the United States to allow construction of the XL Pipeline but it doesn’t invite LGBT journalists and opinion leaders to tour the nation and meet local LGBT citizens. Have you heard anyone say, “Canada has LGBT marriage so the U.S. should approve the pipeline?”
The Israeli occupation would not be possible without more than $3 billion a year in U.S. aid. At the same time, supported by a strong American Jewish lobby, Israel tries to control American negotiations with Iran and continues to build settlements declared illegal by the U.S. government, the U.N. and every other democratic country in the world. How do they get away with it?
Israel and its U.S. surrogates spend millions on propaganda every year. They perpetuate the myth of Israel as the innocent victim of Arab hegemony. It is true that in 1948 Israel was attacked and deserved U.S. assistance. Jews were one of many groups killed in the Holocaust, but that was 65 years ago. Yes, Israelis were victims of terror and there are groups out to destroy it, but it is also true that today Israel is the strongest country in the Middle East, it is a wonderful democracy for Israeli Jews but the 20 percent of Israeli citizens who are Palestinian or Bedouin live lives comparable to African Americans in the U.S. South in the 1950s. Discrimination, limited education, limited health care, subject to forced relocation whenever those in power want their homes.
Israel wants us to ignore the tremendous power imbalance between Palestinians and Israelis. The next time the Israelis build a new settlement, evict Bedouins from their land or demand that the U.S. follow their lead in foreign policy the propagandists hope that we will say, “it’s complicated.” They want us to remember Israel’s good record on LGBT rights and ignore the facts on the ground.
Pinkwashing is not complicated. A self-proclaimed western democracy fulfilling its obligations to Jewish LGBT citizens is not news. Illegal occupation, settlements, discrimination are news. The American people must stop being distracted by Israeli propaganda and demand that Israel obey international law and live up to all of its obligations.
Seth Morrison is an Arlington resident active in Jewish Voices for Peace and other organizations committed to peace and co-existence between Israel and Palestine.