[/pullquote]The conversation around A Wider Bridge, the Creating Change conference, and “pinkwashing” has been disturbing for me to watch play out.
Most people active in the debate or protests seem to have no first-hand knowledge of A Wider Bridge, its staff, or its programs. I do and the accusations against them are flimsy and cherry picked. Ultimately, they do not hold up under scrutiny.
A Wider Bridge suffers from the misfortune of being both an LGBT and an Israel organization — at a time when many Israel and LGBT advocates are insisting one cannot be both. Many on the two sides insist there is only one way to be gay: either with Israel 100% or with the Palestinians 100%.
A Wider Bridge’s purpose is to give a home to Jews who believe that Israel has a right to exist, plain and simple, and engaging a diversity of views as to what that could mean. They are a diverse organization with staff and leaders who are both to the right, center, and left.
[pullquote align=left] A Wider Bridge hasn’t issued a single statement supporting the settlements
[/pullquote]I’ve looked at the various accusations against A Wider Bridge and had to roll my eyes. Critics have hung their hopes on a couple social media posts and one ill-fated partnership with StandWithUs half a decade ago. The Israelis they bring — The Agudah and Jerusalem Open House — are unabashedly anti-occupation and say so without qualms. A Wider Bridge hasn’t issued a single statement supporting the settlements…or any specific government policy for that matter. They do oppose BDS — as does NIF, J Street, and many other Jewish anti-occupation groups. Not exactly an Israeli Embassy-endorsed line up of pinkwashing allies.
The charge levied by some, including here at Jewschool, is that the accusations against A Wider Bridge are “all true.” At best, these are half-true. At worst, they are specious. A Wider Bridge has indeed partnered with StandWithUs, as have they partnered with StandWithUs’ mortal enemy the New Israel Fund. In Seattle alone, A Wider Bridge has co-sponsored the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and an NIF-funded queer lawyer fighting the government. In addition to news snippets by the likes of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, their website also published calls for American politicians to visit Palestinians and Israeli human rights groups. The fuller picture strains the thesis that A Wider Bridge is “in bed” with the Israeli government.
The cherrypicking of A Wider Bridge’s social media and website have left out important statements, such as this one (emphases mine):
— While our work is focused on building connections with, and support for, Israel’s LGBT communities, we are acutely aware that other human rights struggles exist, both within Israel and in the Palestinian territories. Our pride and celebration of Israel’s progress in LGBT rights does not mean that we endorse all the policies of its government. We hope for a time when Palestinians will live in dignity, free from occupation, and Israelis will no longer live with the daily threat of rocket fire or terrorist attack, or the fear of nuclear war.
A Wider Bridge isn’t a threat to Palestinians. In fact, it’s not insignificant to wonder how many people met their first Meretz or Chadash voter through them.
So why is this sleepy little organization attracting the attention of BDS activists? Because A Wider Bridge is a low-hanging, easy-to-bully punching bag. It has no mountains of Israeli government cash, no star-studded pantheon of pro-occupation queers marching across America, and no name recognition outside the Jewish community. It’s donors are a few yawn-worthy foundations. That means it can be painted however critics want, virtually uncontested, and take us all for a ride.
The #CancelPinkwashing statement doesn’t hide what it is — a BDS ultimatum. The authors demand that Creating Change, in effect, ban forever all Israel-sympathizing programs and endorse the full boycott, divestment, and sanctions platform. That is why the ultimatum needn’t accuse A Wider Bridge of support for Israeli settlements –Israel’s existence is the offense at heart. BDS means many things to many people but “uncontroversial” is not one of them. By taking a stance on a deeply divisive issue, #CC16 could very well split itself into smaller caucuses: the pro, the con, and the “you all are crazy!”
[pullquote align=right] Single-issue activists on the right and the left are instead cannibalizing our communities.
[/pullquote]And here’s where I feel the #CancelPinkwashing campaign has screwed all of us who care about ending the occupation. Several years ago, the much-ballyhooed Israel Brand Group study revealed a gem: Palestinian solidarity activists were undermining their cause in the broader public — as were pro-Israel advocates. The incessant, shrill, hyperbolic, pedantic pissing fights over small symbolic actions were having the opposite effect: the broader American public was growing convinced that both sides are fucking insane. Mutual distrust and frustration were on the rise.
Well-meaning but strategically foolish, single-issue activists on the right and the left are indeed cannibalizing our communities. Unable to succeed by winning friends, they opt for scorched earth approaches demeaning entire communities as 100% enemy if they’re only 99% friend. Instead of making a difference on the real halls of power — Congress, major Jewish organizations, secret right-wing funders, the Israeli electorate, Palestinian militants — we’re arguing over a candle lighting at a queer convention. These shrill actors are burning down the village in which we all live — not to mention the relationships we rely on for more issues than just Israel-Palestine.
But the Israel Brand Group, the largest study of public opinion on Israel-Palestine, did not ask Americans their support or lack thereof on specific Israeli policies or solutions. It examined whether Americans view Israelis and Palestinians as “good people at heart.” That is what was declining. Swaths of Americans are more certain that Israeli Jews and Palestinians are actually pretty repugnant peoples. Irreconcilable, incompetent, hateful, myopic, vengeful, petty, and dismissive of their opponent’s human dignity. In effect, a reflection of everything pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian advocates embodied themselves.
[pullquote align=left] What friends were won at #CC16? How many were lost?
[/pullquote]To most people, Creating Change is about more than just Israel-Palestine. But to a few, those issues are a side-show to Israel-Palestine. Every space, every community, every institution needs to be polarized, relationships shreded, and mini-Netanyahus (or Hitlers) identified. Some are willing to even tear down the very homes they live in. But most of us recognize that the best, most talented movement organizing is not won by shaming enemies, but by winning them as allies. What friends were won at #CC16? How many were lost?
Not only did the #CancelPinkwashing authors blow A Wider Bridge ridiculously out of proportion — and lose mightily! But now everyone at Creating Change is right to believe that pro-Palestinian (and many pro-Israel advocates) care more about their own obsessions than the good of the queer liberation or anti-occupation movements.