If Israel ever were a democracy, it is no longer. It is an ethnocracy that privileges Jews over non-Jews, writes guest columnist Richard Silverstein.
LAST month, local pro-Palestine activists protested at City Hall what they called Mayor Ed Murray’s upcoming “pinkwashing” visit to Israel, where he will be the keynote speaker at a conference celebrating 40 years of gay rights.
Pinkwashing is the exploitation of gay rights to promote Israel’s image at the expense of the plight of the Palestinians.
The Seattle Times recently published a guest column by Jon Bridge and Hemda Arad, the founder of an Israeli Jewish feminist nongovernmental organization. Both support the New Israel Fund (NIF), an organization that provides grants to human-rights groups in Israel. It voiced support for the mayor’s trip and attacked opponents as extremists.
Their presentation does a disservice to their cause. It shows them to be naive about the true nature of Israeli society and politics.
They claim the LGBTQ protesters come from “the extreme ends of the Israeli-Palestinian debate.” In truth, pinkwashing and the BDS (boycott, divestment sanctions) movement supporting boycotting Israel until it ends the occupation, are increasingly mainstream given the increasing radicalization of Israeli society. Exhibit No. 1 in this process is the new Israeli government, widely reported to be the most religiously intolerant, racist and hawkish in Israeli history.
Bridge and Arad claim that Israel has “world-class rights for LGBTQ individuals.” In fact, the Israel Orthodox Jewish establishment monopolizes issues of marriage and divorce. Since the Bible and Orthodox Judaism view homosexuality as a sin, Israel does not recognize gay marriage, nor will it ever do so as long as rabbis determine who may marry.
A candidate from the Jewish Home Party declared himself a “proud homophobe” during the recent election. He also organized “Beast Day” (as in bestiality) in protest against Israel’s gay-pride parade. He won a seat in the Knesset.
The Bridge-Arad opinion piece labels Israel a “democracy” that is a “truly laudable work in process.” If Israel ever were a democracy, it is no longer. It is an ethnocracy that privileges Jews over non-Jews. In almost all international rankings for transparency, press freedom and human rights, Israel ranks far lower than the Western democracies to which it likes to be compared.
In Israel, censorship and judicial gag orders conceal virtually any information generals or politicians don’t want the public to know. Fearing the rising prominence of BDS internationally, the Knesset has made it illegal to express public support for the movement in Israel. The new justice minister has called for the Supreme Court to be made subordinate to the Knesset.
Israeli media is dominated by Yisrael HaYom, a pro-Netanyahu publication subsidized annually with $40 million from its owner, Sheldon Adelson. The political diversity of Israel’s media has progressively narrowed as newspapers have folded under the onslaught.
Bridge and Arad further claim: “We know personally that those involved in this celebration have been loudly outspoken on the necessity of peace through two states and equality for all citizens.”
Both co-sponsors of the Israeli conference are dedicated to LGBTQ issues. A Wider Bridge, the American co-sponsor, is considered a major pinkwashing advocate. It has brought gay Israeli delegations on promotional tours. Among a delegation scheduled to visit Seattle was an entrepreneur whose business and residence is in a settlement. Neither the Israeli co-sponsor, the Aguda (Israeli National LGBT Task Force), nor A Wider Bridge advocates for a political settlement to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
The opinion piece highlights the work of several nongovernmental organizations working for gender equality: “(From) the Agudah to Israeli Arab lesbian groups such as Kayan … they are the beating democratic heart of Israeli society, both Jewish and Arab.”
Israel is on a collision course with a destiny offering war, occupation and increasing authoritarian rule.”
In fact, Kayan’s website is a feminist, not a lesbian, group. There are LGBTQ nongovernmental organizations in the Palestinian community. But the authors won’t reference these groups because they all support BDS. The New Israel Fund will not support groups favoring a one-state solution.
So much for supporting a diversity of political views in Israel.
Bridge and Arad repeat the mantra of the two-state solution as if it were essential to liberalism and justice in resolving the conflict. In fact, many Israelis, including President Reuven Rivlin, support a one-state solution. There is no prospect for a two-state solution under four-term Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He even promised during the last election he would never support two states.
Bridge and Arad and the New Israel Fund are divorced from the real Israel. It makes them politically out of touch, despite the good that they try to do.
Israel is on a collision course with a destiny offering war, occupation and increasing authoritarian rule. These are the hard, brutal issues Mayor Murray should address when he speaks in Israel — not the pablum offered by well-meaning liberals like Bridge, Arad and the New Israel Fund.