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StandWithUs Northwest Response to Seattle LGBTQ Commission's Refusal to Meet Israelis
STANDWTIHUS NORTHWEST RESPONSE
TO SEATTLE LGBTQ COMMISSION'S REFUSAL TO MEET ISRAELIS
 
Seattle City Commission Boycotts Israeli LGBT Civil Rights Leaders  
An Embarrassment for Seattle . . .

 

This past week, StandWithUs Northwest organized 17 meetings in Seattle, Tacoma, and Olympia for members of the Alliance of Israeli LGBT Education Organization (AILO).  These LGBT activists, including Irit Zviel- Efrat, Avner Dafni and Iris Sass-Kochavi are the leaders of three of Israel's largest LGBT organizations: Hoshen (Education and outreach), IGY (Israel Gay Youth) and Tehila (Israel's PFLAG). Also on the trip was Adir Steiner, a LGBT activist for nearly 20 years who currently is the Deputy Manager of Tel Aviv. The delegation was brought to the U.S. by the organization A Wider Bridge and the Israeli Consulate for the Pacific Northwest.
 
We were excited to share the fact that, in many ways, Israel is far more progressive than the United States in its legal protections for and its treatment of its LGBT community. And these LGBT leaders have committed many years successfully fighting for equal rights for members of that community.
 
The delegation's goal was to speak with similar organizations here in the U.S., to share their successes and failures, to discuss programs, to learn from one another, to build bridges. They looked forward to meeting with community leaders, to share the innovative work they are doing in Israel, to learn from their counterparts in the US, and to build relationships for future collaboration.
 
Last November, Irit, the CEO of the Israeli LGBT education organization, met with Mac McGregor, a co-chair of the Seattle LGBT Commission. The Commission reports to the Seattle Office of Civil Rights and to various councilmembers. Mr. McGregor invited Irit to return and promised that the Seattle LGBT commission would host a meeting/reception for the Israeli LGBT delegation at City Hall to meet with the Commission, members of the City Council, and leaders of Seattle's LGBT community.
 
That meeting was scheduled for Friday last week. The delegation was looking forward to the meeting, particularly the opportunity to discuss and share with the Commissioners and leaders of Seattle's LGBT movement their mutual struggles for LGBT civil rights.
 
The collaborative dialogue would have benefited both the Seattle LGBT Commission members and the Israeli leaders.
 
But it was not to be.
 
At a Commission meeting last Thursday, the room was filled with members of the same small group of anti-Israel activists who regularly misrepresent the situation in the Middle East around Seattle.  They accuse Israel of atrocities that are unverified, of horrors that have never taken place, using false and fabricated statistics. For example, they told the Commission that the Jewish National Fund owns 97 percent of the land in Israel and will not sell any of that land to Israeli Arabs. It was a lie. First of all, the Fund owns 12.5 percent of the land. Secondly, in Israel, public land and land held in trust is not purchased and sold; it's leased for 49 or 99 years like it is in England. So the Fund does not sell land to either Israeli Arabs or Israeli Jews. It leases it and Israeli Arabs have as much right to access and use of public land as anyone else. The Commission was deceived.
 
These anti-Israel activists represent the smallest percentage of our communities and their allegations are rarely accepted or given any credence by our elected officials or mainstream historians.
 
Their goal is to deny Israelis the right to speak here in the U.S. They don't want Israel treated just like any other country in the world. They are trying to turn Israeli into a pariah state. They don't believe in dialogue. Not here, not in the Middle East. They take pride and boast whenever they succeed in closing down an event or they are able to shout down an Israeli speaker. They celebrated (their words, not ours) the commission cancelled the long-planned meeting, discriminating against the Israeli LGBT leaders. They work to vilify Israel rather than participate in dialogue. Their goal is to quash communication and information that is different from their viewpoint.
 
And on Thursday, to the embarrassment of the City of Seattle, they succeeded.
 
The Seattle LGBT Commission, after earlier in the week assuring the Israeli delegation that their meeting would not be cancelled, let itself be used by this very vocal minority and voted to withdraw their invitation to these dedicated civil rights leaders and to cancel the planned meeting.
 
Why? Simply because they are Israeli.
 
As the leaders of the three Israeli LGBT organizations stated:
 
We are shocked that we are being denied the chance to have a professional discussion with the Seattle LGBT Commission solely because we are Israelis.
 
As we in the LGBT community are a minority, our primary goal is to create dialog. Eliminating the opportunity for dialog goes against the very tolerance and understanding that we in Israel's LGBT community, and the Seattle LGBT commission in Seattle's community, are all working to achieve.   
 
We expected from the Seattle LGBT Commission a strong declaration of its intent to support ALL LGBT activists, regardless of their color, sex or national origin. Sadly, it appears that the commission, representing a minority that continues to face discrimination, also practices that same discrimination . . .
 
The delegation visited cities across the United States. Only here in Washington State did the LGBT leaders from Israel experience and suffer from discrimination. Not discrimination based on sexual orientation. Not discrimination because they lead organizations for the gay and lesbian communities of Israel. No. They suffered discrimination simply because they are Israelis.
 
On Thursday, the Seattle LGBT Commission didn't just embarrass itself.  It embarrassed our city and insulted representatives of Israel, one of the most progressive countries in the world on issues that one would have thought were important to an LGBT commission and the city's Office of Civil Rights.
 
When something like this happens at a high school, the school brings in anti-bias sensitivity training meetings as a follow up. That needs to happen here. And the members of the Commission need to do some serious t'shuva - they need to do some serious self-reflection on their discrimination against others; provide Irit, Avner, Iris, Adir and our community with a real apology for their treatment of the delegation; and make a commitment not to discriminate in the future.  
 
StandWithUs Northwest will keep you up-to-date as we learn more about the City's response.
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