New Israel Fund’s David Shmidt Chapman says that the movement for a just, democratic Israel and a free Palestine needs us: “By conflating every struggle into one struggle, by dismissing any sign of progress as a condemnation that we haven’t gone far enough, by calling any individual bravely working for change within hostile systems an accomplice to the enemy, we sell ourselves and our intelligence short”
Conflicted young Jews who feel caught between the progressive values we hold in our DNA and an increasingly radical “left” agenda that demonizes all things Israel may have come to another fork in the road. The silencing of activists from Jerusalem Open House at the Creating Change conference last week sent a signal to those of us at the intersection of an American Jewish community struggling with its relationship to Israel, and an LGBTQ movement trying to deepen its solidarity with other liberation movements around the world.
I work at the New Israel Fund, an organization that promotes social justice and human rights in Israel and the Occupied Territories, and I also serve on the board of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, an LGBTQ synagogue in New York. These affiliations put me right at the crosshairs of a growing schism.
What does it mean for us when we see, as we increasingly do, an “either/or” attitude that forces us to choose between being affiliated with Israel and being good progressives? And for those of us that identify as LGBTQ, what do we do when our desire to participate in that movement comes into conflict with a monolithic stance against Israel? How do we respond to events like Friday night’s scene at the Creating Change conference, when Israelis trying to make change in their own society are silenced, accused of “pinkwashing” (the charge that Israelis use the country’s gay-friendliness as a smoke screen for its West Bank policies) and shut out from a global Queer-led justice movement that they need to be part of and that needs them to take part?
In the face of these impossible questions, we must not allow ourselves to be co-opted either into tone-deaf “Israel advocacy” or equally one-sided “anti-Zionism.” We are smarter than that.
Our true movement — the movement for a just, democratic Israel and a free Palestine — needs us. It needs our voice calling for something a bit hard to capture in a tweet or on a protest sign: nuance. By conflating every struggle into one struggle, by dismissing any sign of progress as a condemnation that we haven’t gone far enough, by calling any individual bravely working for change within hostile systems an accomplice to the enemy, we sell ourselves and our intelligence short.
The pinkwashing argument denies our ability to understand nuance. It assumes that I cannot simultaneously hold in my head two realities: that Israel must do much more to protect the rights of Palestinians (including queer Palestinians), and that Israeli society has made great strides towards acceptance of LGBTQ people generally.