John Hagee (center) and Michael Oren (to the right of Hagee), 2010 CUFI Summit
What does the Equality Forum’s LGBT Summit and a conference hosted by a notorious homophobic pastor have in common?
The same headlining speaker.
Last Saturday, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren gave the keynote address at the Equality Forum’s “International Equality Dinner” in Philadelphia. The dinner was part of the Equality Forum’s annual Global LGBT Summit, which this year highlighted Israel as a “featured nation.” Queer activists protested the summit for being used in a “pinkwashing” campaign to cover Israel’s oppression of Palestinians by exploiting queer struggles.
Nevertheless, having used his keynote speech to misrepresent the advances in queer rights in Israel (as I explain below), Oren is now set to attend a banquet at the Christians United for Israel Summit in DC on July 17, where he will be sharing the stage with CUFI’s founder and chairman, the homophobic pastor John Hagee.
It will mark the fourth time that Oren has addressed the annual CUFI summit since becoming Israel’s ambassador to the US in 2009.
Michael Oren, Glenn Beck, and John Hagee, 2011 CUFI Summit banquet
A t-shirt spotted by Max Blumenthal and Thomas Shomaker at the second annual CUFI Summit, 2007.
In 2006, Hagee explained that Hurricane Katrina was God’s response to a planned pride parade in New Orleans:
New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God...There was to be a homosexual parade there on the Monday that the Katrina came. And the promise of that parade was that it was going to reach a level of sexuality never demonstrated before in any of the other gay pride parades...And I believe that the Hurricane Katrina was in fact the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans.
In 2003, Hagee stated that the Antichrist would materialize as a “a blasphemer and a homosexual,” as well as “be partially Jewish, as was Adolf Hitler.”
Hagee’s 2004 book, What Every Man Wants in a Woman, warns that
Homosexuality means the death of society because homosexuals can recruit, but they cannot reproduce. Once homosexuality gets out of the closet, it becomes aggressive...[Homosexuals] do not want mere acceptance; they want to be in charge.
Hagee then tells a story about how he supposedly healed a man of homosexuality. Furthermore,
The word abomination in Hebrew means “something disgusting, abhorrent,” the strongest Bible word for the denunciation of sin. It is impossible to call yourself a Christian and defend homosexuality. There is no justification or acceptance of homosexuality. How many ways can you say “abomination” in Hebrew?
Perhaps Oren can answer that when he sees Hagee.
Oren, pictured with John Hagee’s wife Diana, whose own books warn of “young men seduced into homosexuality” and those who are “ravaged by the sin of homosexuality,” 2009 CUFI Summit.
John Hagee has proven to be so controversial that during the 2008 presidential campaign, Republican candidate John McCain rejected Hagee’s endorsement of him after a 2005 recording was released of Hagee claiming that God sent Hitler to initiate the Holocaust in order to force Jews to move to Palestine.
At the time, McCain issued a statement:
Obviously, I find these remarks and others deeply offensive and indefensible, and I repudiate them. I did not know of them before Reverend Hagee’s endorsement, and I feel I must reject his endorsement as well.
Yet Hagee’s remarks, along with his claims that Jewish “disobedience” is responsible for “birth[ing] the seed of antisemitism,” culminating in the Holocaust under Hitler, who was a “half-breed Jew”—not to mention the homophobic statements that should alarm a gay-friendly Israel—have not prevented several Israeli officials including Michael Oren from embracing Hagee and his Christians United for Israel.
“There’s a first time for everything, Bob.”
Oren’s relationship with the homophobic and anti-Semitic pastor did not begin with his 2009 post as ambassador.
At the 2007 AIPAC conference, while still posing as an “impartial” historian, Oren appeared in a double bill with Hagee for a plenary session entitled “The United States and Israel: Tradition and Transcendence.”
The following year, on October 26, 2008, Oren spoke at Hagee’s Cornerstone mega-church in Texas, where he again shared the stage with Hagee, both delivering keynote addresses.
Oren later recounted this event at the 2009 CUFI summit, stating that he was
delighted to be hosted by Pastor John Hagee and his remarkable wife and family...for an evening of a “Salute to Israel”—6,000 people standing and waving the Israeli flag and singing “Hatikva.” I had never seen anything like it in my life.
To be fair to Oren, it’s not every day that you see 6,000 Christians—most of whom presumably believe that the Jews will soon be immolated in a “lake of fire burning with brimstone”—waving Israeli flags and singing “Hatikva” in San Antonio, Texas.
6,000 Israel groupies salute impartial historian Michael Oren at John Hagee’s Cornerstone megachurch, San Antonio, Texas, 2008.
Saved by evangelicals
On Jan 17, 2007, two months before first sharing a stage with John Hagee at the AIPAC conference, Oren addressed an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, where he was promoting his book, Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East. During the Q&A, Oren was asked to speak about the phenomenon of apocalyptic Christian evangelicals. His response:
I understand...that the apocalyptic brand of evangelical Christianity today in America is a minority school. I have never met personally anybody who subscribes to it, including the numerous evangelical Christians that I meet in Israel periodically. But I know it’s out there, and I share your fear and repulsion.
Oren both downplayed the breadth of the movement and was either being disingenuous or quickly learned to temper his “repulsion” toward such ideas, as he would soon develop a relationship with Hagee, one of the world’s most prominent and influential voices of the apocalyptic strand of evangelicalism. (And just a month after his CFR talk, Oren appeared on the 700 Club to discuss his book with Pat Robertson, who has his own record of odious views.)
A day after his CFR talk, Oren gave an interview to the Jewish Daily Forward, where he explained his debt to the evangelical Christian right in the US:
If it hadn’t been for George Bush between 2001 and 2005, I’m not sure the Jewish state would have survived...A year into the Bush administration, after 9/11, Bush started giving an unqualified green light to the IDF to go in and smash terror. By doing that, they created a situation where the tourists came back, foreign investment came back. The fact that you could walk down the street as a tourist in Jerusalem today owes a lot to the Bush administration. But the Bush administration owes a lot, in turn, to evangelical backing. So how am I to gainsay that this particular community helped save the lives of my family?
For those who have trouble following Oren’s logical sequence, it goes like this:
- Evangelicals helped get George Bush into office.
- George Bush gave Israel the green light to attack Palestinians.
- This caused a resurgence of tourism and foreign investment in Israel.
- Tourists can now walk down a Jerusalem street.
- Michael Oren’s family is saved.
And though Oren has spoken at every single CUFI DC Summit since becoming ambassador, one should not assume that he goes simply because he has been invited. In 2009, he sparked controversy by rejecting an invitation to attend the first J Street conference. Oren later explained that the liberal Zionist organization posed a “unique problem” to Israel and was “significantly out of the mainstream”—clearly not a problem he has with CUFI.
Michael Oren’s pinkwashing demonstration
As should be clear, Oren’s willingness to brag about queer rights at an LGBT summit and then later pander for support from homophobes indicates that his commitment is neither to the queer struggle nor to the evangelical mission. His agenda is to garner support for the one remaining government that he declares loyalty to—from wherever support can be garnered using whatever means are necessary.
We can look at some comments leading up to and during his Equality Forum talk to see how he exploits the queer rights issue.
For instance, in an interview given just before the LGBT Summit, Oren claimed that
Israel has always had a commitment to gay rights. The Israeli Declaration of Independence guaranteed equality for everyone irrespective of sex...Israel was fighting for gay rights before the 1967 war...
...which must have been an interesting fight, considering that Israel did not repeal its anti-sodomy law until 1988. Moreover, the repeal was accomplished not by the good will of the Israeli government, but rather by the hard work of Israeli queer activists. As Lee Walzer explains in Between Sodom and Eden: A Gay Journey Through Today’s Changing Israel,
[D]oing things quietly, even sub rosa—defined a period of Israeli lesbian and gay activism that dates from the 1980s through the early 1990s. During that period, fearful of the power of religious parties in the Knesset, gay rights supporters would call votes late at night, with only supporters present. That is how they ensured repeal of the country’s sodomy law in 1988. Former Aguda chair Avi Sofer once remarked to me, “We live in a crazy system. We’ve never gotten a majority of 61 votes (out of 120) in the Knesset on any issue. Our victories are always 8–5, 16–9, 31–17. We sometimes hide Knesset members, or wait until it’s a day of fasting. Then we rush our supporters into the room, call a vote, and disappear.”
As with every other struggle by oppressed peoples, it is only after victories are achieved by activists that the government takes credit for the struggle and claims that the freedoms won fulfilled its original intentions.
By making similar comments that directly tie Israel’s advances in gay rights to its conflict with the Palestinians—thus exploiting queer struggles in order to portray Israel as morally superior to the people that it oppresses—Oren gives a textbook demonstration of pinkwashing.
(A deeper exploration of the logic of pinkwashing is forthcoming.)
One should be wary of claims made by any government, especially in the absence of its most oppressed, that its commitment to equality is unequivocal. Take a pronouncement made by Oren at the LGBT Summit:
We must never cease our efforts to remove the remaining obstacles to total equal rights in Israel. We must ensure that these rights are guaranteed in law, and we must ensure that abuse at school, intolerance by certain religious circles, and public prejudice become unacceptable. Period.
Couple it with a comment made by Israeli Consul General Daniel Kutner just prior to the summit:
Israel serves as a lesson to others about respecting individual freedom and liberties in a land steeped in tradition.
We in Israel have to strike a balance between our respect for pluralism and our respect for tradition.
Let’s ignore for now the marginalized statuses of the Palestinians, the Mizrachim, the Ethiopian Jews, the non-Jewish African refugees, and the exploited foreign workers. Even if one were to agree with Oren’s last statement, the fact that it contradicts the previous two statements demonstrates the need to question any government that dares praise itself for its commitment to the people it oversees, at the expense of the voices of those it oppresses.
We can be sure that the invitation that Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren made to the LGBT Summit attendees, as cited in Haaretz:
A protester interrupted Oren’s speech, but the ambassador went on and finally called the participants to come to Israel on June 8th, to take part in the next Gay Pride Parade.
is not one that Oren will repeat to the attendees of the upcoming CUFI Summit.