Rather than condemning the mayor’s trip to Israel, we should encourage him and others to go learn firsthand.
FORMER secretary-general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, once said, “Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.”
This is my response to local activists who oppose Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s upcoming trip to Israel and the emerging state of Palestine this June for an LGBTQ-related conference. The mayor will be leading a delegation there, as well as delivering the closing keynote address at the 40 Years of Pride Conference being held in Tel Aviv.
Activists claim that Murray is engaging in “pinkwashing” — in other words, painting over the real problems in Israel, specifically the treatment of Palestinians, by representing Israel as gay-friendly.
First of all, let’s celebrate the fact that Israel is indeed gay friendly. For 40 years, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer Jews have been able to march with pride in Tel Aviv, one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world — something that could not happen in many countries throughout the world, including some cities in the United States.
Second, let’s also appreciate that the mayor will not attempt to turn a blind eye to the strife and conflict that persists in Israel. Murray will visit with Arab members of the Knesset and he will travel to the West Bank. He will see and hear — with his own eyes and his own ears — that Palestinians would like to live in a land that both Palestinians and Jews have lived in for generations.
The visit will likely only further solidify Murray’s commitment to the importance, — indeed, the necessity — of a two-state solution: two people, living side-by-side, in a land that both call home. A savvy politician, he will certainly be attuned to the complexities of the current conflict. He will see the need to bring about greater civil equality for the Palestinians who live there. Surely, increased dialogue between American political representatives and the people who inhabit the land will bring value to everyone involved, including the people of Seattle.
There are many people — in Seattle, in the United States and throughout the world — who want a just and peaceful resolution to this immensely complex conflict. Many are now working to bring about a just and peaceful resolution — in ways that are constructive and do not economically punish average Israelis and Palestinians through boycotts and travel bans. Rather than attacking politicians and others who want to visit Israel, we should encourage them to go. Visiting will help them understand the complexities of the situation. It will help them become even more committed to a successful resolution for both kinds of people who live there.
Finding peace in the Middle East is a complex subject. Disagreements abound about how to achieve peace for all people living there. This summer, I am leading a group from my congregation, Kol HaNeshamah, to Israel and the emerging state of Palestine. Like the mayor, I hope we will deepen our understanding of the many sides and faces of the conflict, and the nuances that make this conflict a particularly challenging one — not only for those of us who care about peace, but also for those of us who care about the right of both Jews and Palestinians to live their lives without fear of discrimination, oppression or persecution.
I hope we will return to Seattle prepared to share stories of the people we have met — Palestinians and Israelis. Through understanding, study, engagement and heartfelt prayer, I hope and pray that we will live to see the creation of two states, existing side-by-side, in peaceful coexistence.
Knowledge is power and information is liberating — but only for those who are willing to learn.