May 3, 2016 at 8:37 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
LGBT Ethiopian Israeli activists visit U.S.

Kala, gay news, Washington Blade

Members of Kala, an LGBT Ethiopian Israeli group, speak at a reception for A Wider Bridge in D.C. on April 28, 2016. (Photo courtesy of A Wider Bridge)

Three members of an LGBT Ethiopian Israeli advocacy group visited the nation’s capital last week as part of their trip to the U.S.

Yaniv, Liel and Sarah of Kala (Kehila Lahatavit Ethiopit in Hebrew) arrived in D.C. on April 28. They attended a reception near the U.S. Capitol shortly after their arrival in Washington that A Wider Bridge, which describes itself as an “LGBTQ advocacy group building connections between the Israeli and North American LGBTQ communities,” organized.

Yaniv, Liel and Sarah — who did not provide their last names to the Washington Blade — arrived in San Francisco on April 17.

They met with members of the city’s Jewish and LGBT communities before traveling to Los Angeles.

Yaniv, Liel and Sarah celebrated Passover in Chicago. They also met with black LGBT rights advocates while in the city.

“We drew a lot of inspiration from their work and we drew a lot of inspiration from their work, especially as they are facing some of the challenges that we face as people of color.” Yaniv, who is gay, told the Blade during an interview at the D.C. reception. “That was a very inspirational meeting that we’ve had with people with whom we could share so much commonalities.”

‘We want to make a connection’

Kala formed in 2014 shortly after that year’s Tel Aviv Pride.

Liel, who is bisexual, and Sarah, who is a lesbian, opened a Facebook page and invited friends to join it. Kala now has 70 members from across Israel.

Sarah told the Blade that the group’s members visit schools and “talk about that we have an Ethiopian LGBT group in Israel.” Kala also marches in Tel Aviv Pride and organizes gatherings for holidays and other events.

Kala also works with Israeli Gay Youth, which works with LGBT young people in the country.

“We want to make a connection between the Ethiopian community and the LGBT community because they don’t understand each other,” Sarah told the Blade. “The Ethiopian community doesn’t know the LGBT community.”

“One of the things that Kala does is to be a bridge,” she said.

Ethiopians ‘a minority in Israeli society’

Roughly 130,000 Ethiopians currently live in Israel.

The Israeli Defense Forces, with the assistance of the U.S. government, in 1984 evacuated thousands of Ethiopian Jews who had fled to Sudan from their homeland in what became known as Operation Moses. The IDF brought several thousand more Ethiopian Jews from their homeland to Israel in 1991 during what became known as Operation Solomon.

Liel said her parents lived in a Sudanese refugee camp for a year before they arrived in Israel in 1984.

Sarah told the Blade that her family also arrived in Israel in 1984. She said that Sudanese authorities arrested her uncle several times for helping Ethiopian Jews leave their homeland.

“The government of Sudan took him,” Sarah told the Blade.

Yaniv’s family arrived in Israel in the 1970s.

He told the Blade that his father boarded a fishing boat that brought him to Israel. Yaniv said his mother was able to immigrate to the country in exchange for arms.

Liel and Sarah both noted that Ethiopian Israelis frequently face discrimination and racism in education and health care. They told the Blade that their community has not integrated well into Israeli society.

“The Ethiopian community is in the minority in Israeli society,” said Liel. “There’s a lot of racism in the system in our country.”

‘We’re not here to do pinkwashing’

Yaniv, Liel and Sarah arrived in the U.S. roughly three months after protesters forced the cancellation of A Wider Bridge reception at the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Creating Change Conference in Chicago.

More than 200 people opposed to “pinkwashing,” which they describe as the promotion of Israel’s LGBT rights record in an attempt to deflect attention away from its policies towards the Palestinians, protested the reception that was to have featured two staffers from Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, another Israeli advocacy group. The protesters also demanded the National LGBTQ Task Force publicly endorse a campaign in support of a boycott, economic divestment and sanctions against Israel over its policies towards the Palestinians and their right to return to property in the country, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip their families lost in the 1948 war that led to the creation of the Jewish state.

“We are not here to do pinkwashing,” Liel told the Blade.

“We said a lot of different and hard things that we have in Israel, but we choose in our lives to deal with this and to make a new reality in our lives in the Israeli society,” she added.

Yaniv stressed to the Blade that he, Liel and Sarah were not in the U.S. “doing foreign policy stuff.”

“It’s not us,” said Yaniv.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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