LGBT Interfaith Trip to Israel: Holy Pinkwash?

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Between November 6 and 13, 2011, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim French LGBT organizations Beit HaverimDavid and Jonathan, and HM2F are organizing a trip to Israel/Palestine under the guise of “interfaith dialogue” and “solidarity with local LGBT movements”. This trip not only constitutes a clear violation of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Campaign against Israel, but is also the complete antithesis of solidarity. As queer activists working for justice in the MENA region in general and Palestine in particular, we urge the organizations to reconsider this decision.

The organizations claim that the trip is “non-political”, but a brief look at their program clearly shows the political dimensions of the trip. Meeting with an Israeli MK, an official from the municipality of Tel Aviv, and French Cultural Attaché in Israel to discuss “cultural relations between Israel and France” are political by nature. Violations of BDS guidelines constitute a conscious political choice. Beit Haverim, David and Jonathan, and HM2F are clearly willing to engage only in certain forms of politics which they deem safe, while ignoring questions of their responsibility, as religious tourists, to refrain from legitimizing occupation and apartheid.

This denial is so powerful that none of the material produced by the organizations for the trip mentions the word “occupation” even once. The only West Bank city on their itinerary is Bethlehem, currently surround by the apartheid wall which segregates 15,000 dunums of agricultural land. Ironically, the wall around Bethlehem serves to isolate and annex the very same religious areas that the organizations plan to visit. Around Rachel’s Tomb and the Bilal Ibn Rabah Mosque, hundreds of Palestinians are isolated between two walls, further strengthening Israeli control of historic, religious, and deeply significant places and strangling the city economically.

Jerusalem, the other sacred city featured in the trip, is also the site of rapid ethnic cleansing of Palestinian residents, house demolitions, and settlement construction which are part of a larger policy of annexing Arab East Jerusalem to a future Israeli capital. By visiting these areas without any consideration to the realities of apartheid, by saying nothing about a decades-old occupation, Beit Haverim, David and Jonathan, and HM2F are helping to normalize Israeli colonization of Palestinian land.

As queer activists, we call into question the trip’s stated aim of solidarity with local LGBT communities. According to the program, they claim to be in touch with “Muslim LGBT” organization Al-Qaws, when in fact, HM2F only contacted them for a meeting on the 1st of November. This lack of concern is evident not only in their misidentification of alQaws as a Muslim group, but also in their decision to bypass any prior consultation with the Palestinian queer groups they claim to be in solidarity with. In particular, HM2F’s participation comes as a disappointing surprise to the organization’s partners as their involvement directly risks the safety of activists and groups located in Arab societies. HM2F is currently a member of several coalitions along with different Arab and Muslim queer groups, and is planning to join several anticipated coalitions along the same lines. By leading this initiative, HM2F is unfortunately neglecting calls for solidarity and further burning its bridges with these groups, several of whom have criticized them for similar actions in the past.

If “interfaith dialogue” was indeed one of the aims of the trip, then they needn’t have traveled to Israel to achieve this. The attempt to depoliticise this trip under the guise of spirituality represents a deliberate effort to ignore the realities of occupation, apartheid, land theft, housing demolitions, ethnic cleansing, and systematic discrimination. Turning a blind eye to injustice only serves to legitimize it. As queers in and from the region, of all religious backgrounds, we refuse to be complicit in the pinkwashing of Israeli crimes.

This statement was endorsed by the following organizations and initiatives:
Palestinian Queers for BDS (Palestine)
Abu Nawas (Algeria)
OMNIA (North Africa)
Engender (South Africa)
MidEast Youth (MENA)
alQaws for Sexual & Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society (Palestine)
Meem (Lebanon)
Nasawiya (Lebanon)
Decolonize Queer (International)
Muntada, The Arab Forum for Sexuality, Education, and Health (Palestine)
Bedayaa, Organization for LGBTQI of the Nile Vallye Area (Egypt & Sudan)
GAYa NUSANTARA (Indonesia)
Indonesian Legal Aid for Women Association (Indonesia)
Helem (Lebanon)
Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies

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