A Wider Bridge: How A Smokescreen of Liberal Ideals is used to Camouflage Discrimination

As contestants from the around world prepare to descend on Tel Aviv for this year’s Eurovision, a number of Palestinian organizers and their allies are calling for boycotting the event. Established in 1953, artists from at least fifty countries are eligible to participate in the song contest, which provides a short-term boost to their careers.

Israel began participating in 1973, and first won the contest in 1998 with a performance by the Israeli trans woman, Dana International.

[From the Journal of Palestine Studies | Special Issue: Queering Palestine]

Given the nexus of notable LGBTQ presence and state representation at Eurovision, Israel has long marketed itself as a gay mecca through the widely watched contest. At the heart of this marketing effort is pinkwashing: a strategy designed to distract audiences from the Israeli military occupation by promoting Israel as a ‘gay haven’ amid an oppressive and homophobic Palestinian society.

This strategy often employs liberal and progressive language to advocate for LGBTQ rights and equality.

A Wider Bridge (AWB) is one of several U.S.-based organizations that commit pinkwashing, not only through their dismissal of Palestinian LGBTQ rights and views, but also through their financial ties with several donors who simultaneously fund far-right, Islamophobic, and pro-occupation organizations.

[The Real Oppressors of Gaza’s Gay Community: Hamas or Israel?]

Relying on public tax records, a new report by Stephanie Skora, a trans Jewish organizer with Jewish Voice for Peace-Chicago, identifies eight major institutional donors to AWB. The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, for instance, has donated $35,000 to AWB. The Tulsa-based foundation has also donated, inter alia, over $7.5 million to the American Israel Education Foundation, which provides members of Congress with trips to Israel in coordination with AIPAC, according to the report. The Foundation also donated to the Central Fund of Israel, which supports illegal settlements along with Honenu, a legal defense fund for Israeli-Jewish terrorists and vigilantes; and a host of right-wing pro-Israel organizations and think tanks, including Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Middle East Media and Research Institute (MEMRI), The Israel Project, and the Israel Emergency Alliance/StandWithUs.

The Jewish Community Foundation of San Francisco (JCF) has been one of AWB’s largest donors, donating $131,450 from 2014-2017. In 2018, the Forward reported that JCF, via its sister organization, the Helen Diller Foundation, was supporting Canary Mission, the secretive organization that maliciously tarnishes the record of pro-Palestinian campus activists with false accusations. JCF also donates to virulently anti-Muslim, far-right organizations including ACT for America, which promotes the McCarthyite smear that American Muslims are plotting to impose Sharia; far-right celebrity Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative, previously named Stop Islamization of America; the American Freedom Law Center, co-founded by avowed anti-Muslim and racist David Yerushalmi; the David Horowitz Freedom Center, sponsor of the “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” on college campuses; and the Clarion Project, which mails out anti-Islam DVDs to unsolicited homes. Add to that list, the pro-settlement Central Fund of Israel and Friends of the Chabad of Hebron. Moreover, JCF supports several organizations that target NGOs and UN agencies reporting on Israeli abuses (American Friends of NGO Monitor and UN Watch) and news coverage critical of Israel (CAMERA and HonestReporting).

[Tel Aviv Pride: A Reminder of Israeli and Palestinian Human Rights Failures]

The other six foundations – The Jewish Federation of Broward County ($30,000 to AWB), The Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago ($50,000), The Koret Foundation ($150,000), The Morningstar Foundation ($50,000), The Natan Fund (undisclosed sum), and The Paul E. Singer Foundation (undisclosed sum) – have similarly donated to far-right and right-wing groups, settlements and/or the Republican Party. 

AWB attempts to counter what it calls the “myths of pinkwashing” by arguing that Israel’s LGBTQ community and Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians are “two unrelated topics” and that “learning about and supporting the former” does not “dull people’s ability to think about and engage with the latter.”

What AWB fails to consider is that it is not Palestinians or their allies who are politicizing LGBTQ rights in Israel, rather it’s the Israeli government itself. Through Brand Israel, the Israeli government markets Israel as the region’s gay mecca, while opposing legal rights at home and denying them to those whom it has ruled over with a military regime for decades.

[Israel’s LGBTQ Strike: Morally Bankrupt and Self-Defeating]

Moreover, AWB collapses the binary of “two unrelated topics,” when it praises its efforts “advocating for more compassionate policies regarding gay Palestinians who flee the West Bank and seek refuge in Israel because their lives are in imminent danger either from their families or the Palestinian police.” AWB advocates for Palestinian freedom from homophobia but fails to recognize the Palestinian demand for freedom from occupation, checkpoints, home demolitions, land theft, night raids, imprisonment, injury and death by Israeli soldiers and illegal settlers.

AWB appears unwilling to reckon with these facts. It further demonstrates its obliviousness to the political context in the U.S. by arguing that its brand of pro-Israel advocacy faces censorship. AWB’s donors, who otherwise appear not to be enamored with LGBTQ organizations, do not suffer from the same blind spot. They clearly see supporting AWB as complementary to their support for illegal Israeli settlements, anti-Muslim hate speech, and the right-wing bloc in Israel. AWB might pretend that the occupation and LGBTQ rights are separate issues, but its donors understand how the smokescreen of liberal ideals can be used to camouflage discriminatory policies.

Meanwhile, a growing number of organizations across a wide-range of communities are recognizing and leading the intersectional struggles for human rights, LGBTQ and otherwise. And as bigoted forces against Palestinians continue to drift rightward — such as Netanyahu’s electoral alliance with the anti-Arab, anti-gay Jewish Power party — it’s only a matter of time before AWB is compelled to face its contradictions.