Washington — Anti-Israel groups were elated this past March when the City of Seattle’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Commission abruptly canceled a forum featuring six Israeli LGBT activists on an Israeli government supported tour sponsored by a gay and lesbian Jewish group promoting ties with their Israeli counterparts.
The Israel critics, who had protested the appearance as an exercise in “pink washing,” claimed success in frustrating what they described as Israel’s effort to use gay and lesbian rights to divert accusations that Israel violated Palestinian human rights in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
But upon hearing of the cancellation, the Israel Action Network, a group set up by Jewish federations, sprang into action in a manner that broke with the pro-Israel activist tradition. Not only did the group demand — and receive — an apology from the LGBT commission, it also used the crisis to establish a dialogue with the commissioners. During these discussions, IAN stressed the parallel struggles of the Jewish community and the LGBT community for equality and civil rights, and noted the similarities between the two communities’ experiences of discrimination.
“We didn’t want to just take the apology and go home,” said Zach Carstensen, director of public affairs and government relations at the Seattle Jewish federation. “What we’ve learned is that every case in which people try to challenge the legitimacy of Israel is an opportunity to engage.”
It is an advocacy strategy separate and distinct from that promoted by those who simply seek to shift discussion about Israel to other, apolitical issues, such as its innovative high-tech industry; cutting-edge science research; and glittering cultural output in music, film and other fields. That approach is aimed more towards those in the center who may not yet have clear political views on the Middle East. But IAN, a joint project of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, seeks to engage critics — especially liberals — who may be sympathetic to the Palestinians, by addressing their concerns in a broader context.
The Seattle event is among the success stories highlighted in a recently issued IAN handbook recommending tactics and strategies for countering what it considers delegitimization of the Jewish state. Founded two years ago, by the Jewish Federations of North America, which allocated initial funding of $6 million for the initiative’s first three years, IAN seeks to provide the community with the “best practices” for combating anti-Israel incidents.