For five years, I have been proud to work as the editor of www.awiderbridge.org. In that time, we have published many opinion pieces representing a wide range of views, but never one written by me. Until now. As I step down from my role, I want to offer my views on some of the issues of controversy that have surrounded our work. As with all the opinion pieces on this site, the views below are those of the author (i.e. me) and not those of the organization.
Shortly after Benjamin Netanyahu was first elected as Prime Minister of Israel in the mid-1990s, Gladys, a hilarious Israeli drag queen went on TV and said in her ridiculous accent, “look, I don’t care who was elected Prime Minister–he just has to remember that half the country didn’t want him.”
Ever since Trump was elected as the U.S. President, I can’t stop thinking about this sentence. What was so true for Israelis back then couldn’t be more relevant for the Americans today. Nor is that feeling that everyone who didn’t vote for Netanyahu felt, which is exactly what those who didn’t vote for Trump, feel ever since November.
This month I’m stepping down after 5 years of working with A Wider Bridge, an organization that somehow became controversial among LGBTQ people in the U.S: on one hand, the number of our supporters is growing. We see it on social media, on the hundreds and hundreds of clicks on the website every day, and at our events. On the other hand, a significant group of people loathe the organization, and for that matter – the people of Israel in general, claiming, basically that every time we mention progress for the Israeli LGBTQ community, it’s because we have some sort of a secret agenda to “cover up” horrible things the current Israeli government is doing to the Palestinians. “Pinkwashing,” they call it. G-d, how much I hate this word. This word deeply hurts me as a gay man who up until 2009 lived in Israel.
In one sentence: As far as I’m concerned, A Wider Bridge was formed to give the LGBTQ community in Israel a hand in its struggle against the orthodox, homophobic state of the government. But very early on, Arthur Slepian and his colleagues found themselves defending their passion to help their friends in the LGBTQ community in Israel, because of the country’s political issues. The comments that I’ve seen throughout the years suggest that the LGBTQ community in Israel has no right to make any progress as long as the government is continuing to make the lives of the Palestinians miserable. Pro-Palestinian (and Israel haters) forcefully drag out the political issue every time we try to raise a social issue for a discussion, and some of these claims are ridiculous – especially if the people who comment stopped for a minute to ask who are they REALLY protesting? If they want to protest against people who are against the Palestinians having their own country, they should take their protests somewhere else. Why is it so hard for people to understand that so many of us support the progress of the LGBTQ community in Israel AND also support Palestinian independence?
As an Israeli, I have never voted for Netanyahu or any of his right-wing friends. I did everything I could (and succeeded) to avoid spending my mandatory army service in the West Bank area, and I think that the Palestinians deserve their own country and freedom and peace.
I belong to the generation right before the whole “gay revolution” in Israel actually started, somewhere in the mid 90s. It was before Tel Aviv was so accepting of gays. I was in the historic spontaneous rally that followed the forced closure of Tel Aviv Wigstock in 1996. We were shut down by the Israeli police, and we didn’t let them break us. “Nobody goes home,” singer Michal Amdursky, along with Gila Goldstein (Z”L) shouted to the audience from stage after the police closed the microphone. I went down Independence Park and set with many of the community on Hayarkon Street, blocking the road. People were arrested. It was not nice, but we didn’t give up the fight for our visibility in Tel Aviv.
I belong to a generation of LGBTQ people who weren’t seen on TV, who were considered freaks and were bullied. I used to go to the other side of the street in my home town of Beer Sheva every time a group of guys came towards me, in order to not get beaten up. But I didn’t miss celebrating in Rabin Square after Dana International won the Eurovision. She won it for us, for the LGBTQ community she came from. I was also a part of every demonstration against the inequality of LGBTQ people until I moved to the U.S. in 2009. We fought for every right granted to us. Nothing was granted by the government. Everything was a struggle.
BUT – I’m pretty sure that all those Wider Bridge haters are not reading these sentences. They stopped somewhere around the bold sentence above. Unfortunately, and just like Taylor Swift says, the haters “just want to hate, hate, hate.” Not to really try to sit down and discuss and maybe try to understand the other side.
For what it’s worth, I’m not saying that Pinkwashing doesn’t exist. It does. But it’s not the LGBTQ community, nor AWB who are doing it.
Look at what’s happening now in America: Trump became president, he’s trying to do awful things to certain minorities in the U.S. – including to the LGBTQ people – and none of us wanted him there. We’re against everything he does. We criticize him, demonstrate against his actions. Imagine that the world now would say “the LGBTQ advancement in the U.S. is all a coverup of the Trump administration for the horrible things that the minorities now suffer.” Imagine that no one would want to hear anything you say about your LGBTQ struggle, and that every time there is a little victory in court, people will comment, ‘yes, but what about what Trump is doing?’ Every attempt to make LGBTQ life better will be “Trumpwashed.” How frustrating and unfair that is. Especially when we, the LGBTQ people, are on the same side. We have the same struggle- all over the world.
So A Wider Bridge is being “Trumpwashed” even though it had never sided with the actions of the Israeli government. And the real Pinkwashers, to me, are only Netanyahu and his politician friends, who time after time vote against every law that makes the lives of LGBTQ people better in Israel. Who never come to any Pride event, let alone say the word “homosexual” in Hebrew, in the media, who make our lives in Israel miserable. But when he travels the world – he would never miss an opportunity to say how much the LGBTQ community thrives under his government.
“Pinkwashing” is when the government doesn’t approve 1 million shekels for the Israeli Gay Youth organization, but want to spend $12 million on coloring a plane with a rainbow flag to lure people to come to gay pride in Tel Aviv. And on the contrary, “Trumpwashing” is when a group of people doesn’t want to hear the Jerusalem Open House struggle to help LGBTQ people in Israel, and who shut down an A Wider Bridge event because of its connection to the Israeli people, no matter who they are.
Can you feel the difference? I’m not saying not to support the Palestinians, but you have to pick your enemies, because it’s never as simple as “all Israelis are horrible.” Demonizing all Israelis is simply unfair, and it certainly does not lead to peace and understanding.
My dream is for the LGBTQ community all over the world will come together and work for peace from a place of love, not of hate. We all want the same thing, we only assume that the other one doesn’t.
And one extra last word to the BDS people: Mother Teresa once said “I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. But as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.” NEVER in the history of humanity did it happen that violence towards an entire nation brings true peace. Real peace will be achieved in peace. What works with people one-on-one also works with countries: If you walk down the street and smile at a person, most likely he will smile back. But if you curse him, you’ll receive a negative reaction.
It’s all a matter of who smiles at whom first.