A group of gays in Seattle pressured the Seattle LGBT Commission to cancel a Friday reception for a delegation of gay Israeli leaders, citing Israel's human-rights record with the Palestinians.

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Bowing to pressure from some gays outraged by Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, the city of Seattle commission that represents gays canceled a Friday reception at City Hall for a visiting delegation of Israeli gay leaders.

Commission members, some City Council members and local gay-community leaders had been invited.

The Seattle LGBT Commission had previously agreed to host the meeting, one of several the six-member Israeli delegation had scheduled on the West Coast — with stops in San Francisco and Los Angeles — to exchange ideas on advancing gay rights.

Only in Washington state, however, did the team encounter pushback from fellow gays.

At a heated commission meeting Thursday, a small, vocal group spoke out against the Jewish nation, saying Israel is masking what some call its poor treatment of Palestinians by promoting its positive record on gay rights — a phenomenon that has become known as “pinkwashing.”

To be sure, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a complicated, decades-long political and religious struggle that can hardly be sorted out during a few hours of a commission meeting.

Still, 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.”

Councilmembers Sally Bagshaw and Jean Godden and City Attorney Pete Holmes arranged a hurried, lunchtime meeting with the delegates and apologized for the snub. The Israeli Jews are part of the Alliance of Israeli LGBT Educational Organizations, a network of groups that support LGBT youth and families.

Members of the delegation said they were shocked by the cancellation.

“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.”

Criticized by professor

The first sign that the group would encounter trouble in Washington state began with a posting Monday on the Facebook page of Seattle University law professor Dean Spade, in which he called the delegation’s visit “apartheid and occupation” wrapped in the rainbow flag.

The concept of “pinkwashing” has been advanced among some gay-rights social-justice activists who believe Israel is using its progressive stance on gay rights to cover up a record on the mistreatment of Palestinians.

Spade, a transgender activist, explained that his feelings toward Israel followed a January visit to the West Bank. And in a letter to commission members, he wrote that they may be unaware that “the event is part of a broad campaign launched in recent years by the state of Israel to respond to worldwide opposition to its outrageous harm and violence to Palestinian people.”

Spade could not be reached for comment.

Some pro-Israel gay-rights organizations denounce the concept of pinkwashing. By saying that Israel has a positive record on gay rights does not deny anyone from criticizing its civil-rights record, say officials with the Wider Bridge, a California-based gay Jewish organization that helped to arrange the delegation’s visit.

“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,” Wider Bridge officials said.

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com.