Today (Friday, March 13th) was the first day of the Jewish Voice for Peace meeting, in Baltimore, Maryland. The “National Members Meeting” happens once every two years. This year, it is being held at The Hyatt Regency, in the harbor area of downtown Baltimore. I am here, staying at the hotel, and participating. I started going to monthly JVP meetings in New York City, after the Gaza crisis last summer. Attending this conference is the next step in my development… I am not Jewish, but joining JVP seemed like the best way for me to develop politically in this area. When I heard about the National Meeting, I talked it over with my mother and then I signed up. The fee was on a sliding scale. I paid the full cost, which seemed appropriate, since I’d only been participating with JVP for about 6 months, and was therefore somewhat of a guest…
The Hyatt Regency is pretty nice. I arrived by train (the Acela) a day early, so that I could go to the Walters Art Museum before the conference. I also wanted to get situated and be comfortable in my hotel room, before the conference began… When I checked in on Thursday night, I ran into some JVP organizers who had arrived early so that they could set up. Alana, one of the leaders, told me that The Hyatt is the only hotel in Baltimore where the hotel staff is unionized. Later, I heard that it was the largest unionized hotel, so maybe it is not the only one.
I went to the art gallery this morning. I also went into The Basilica of the Assumption (“the first Catholic cathedral in North America”) and bought some religious knicknacks in the gift shop. Then I walked back to the hotel, so that I could formally check into the JVP meeting, at 4 p.m. We were given totes which included nice postcards with political slogans on them, and I plan to send those to friends. There was complimentary coffee, and brownies and lemon squares. The lobby was crowded with people.
First I went to a movie screening. The movie was, “Pinkwashing Exposed: Seattle Fights Back.” It was a short documentary about a political struggle in Seattle in 2012. The Israeli government, in collusion with “Stand With Us,” which is a pro-Israel propaganda organization, attempted to sponsor a series of talks about gay life in Israel. Speakers from Israel were scheduled to share personal “LBGT experiences.” A small group of LGBT activists recognized immediately that these would be “pink-washing events” designed to sell Israel to the LGBT community.
The activists initially were successful. They spoke to the “Seattle LGBT Commission.” It seemed like the members of the Seattle LGBT Commission were pretty unfamiliar with Middle East politics… They were fairly receptive to the complaints of the activists, some of whom were gays from the Middle East… The Seattle LGBT Commission agreed to cancel most of the events. It seemed like a triumph.
But then, Zionist extremists swung into action. The activists began receiving terrifying, threatening emails… Then, the Seattle LGBT Commission was bullied into writing a letter, actually apologizing for having cancelled the pink-washing events (because, by not hosting the events, the Commission had supposedly failed to create a neutral space to discuss LGBT issues.) The Zionist extremists successfully made it seem like the pink-washing events would have been innocent, neutral exchanges of ideas. It took a lot of work for the activists to successfully reframe the issue.
Two activists spoke at the conclusion of the movie, Selma Al-Aswad and Wendy Elisheva Somerson. They felt that, in spite of all the twists and turns, and all the setbacks, in the end, they won. Now there is a Seattle chapter of “Queers against Israeli Apartheid.” Today, in the northwest coast states, it simply isn’t possible for the Israeli government to push this type of propaganda. The larger LGBT community has become moderately educated about Israel-Palestine, and they know about the phenomenon of “pink-washing” and they take it seriously. If a proposed cultural or political event seems suspicious, they’ll call up the activists and ask, “is this pink-washing?”
Al-Aswad and Somerson pointed out that their watershed 2012 experience was made possible by their long history of working together and doing coalition work. They’d been organizing together since 2007. That history made the 2012 successes possible.
After the movie and talk, I went back to my room and ordered room service — delicious, fresh crab cakes, mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus, a salad with ranch dressing, and a glass of white wine.
7p.m. was the official welcoming ceremony, in one of the very large gathering rooms. It was exciting to see the giant audience. We were told that Rachel Corrie’s parents were in the room with us. Then Rebecca Vilkomerson introduced four, dramatic, 10-minute speeches. The speakers were Amer Shurrab, Eran Efrati, Rev. Dr. Heber Brown III, and Donna Nevel. Amer Shurrab spoke first. He is a Palestinian who has had several family members killed. He spoke about the terrible situation in Gaza. He mentioned one thing that I wasn’t familiar with — the fact that the IDF had used toxic chemicals in their bombardment last summer. Many women in Gaza have been having miscarriages since then, possibly due to exposure to those chemicals.
Then, Eran Efrati spoke. He is an Israeli leftist. He was extremely encouraging of the JVP movement, and expressed his joy at being here. He talked about being shocked by what has been happening in Israel — tortures in prisons, lynch mobs in Jerusalem going after Palestinians, Israelis beating Palestinians unconscious, and, in general, a racist mentality which made people think it was O.K. to actually say, last summer, “we are going to collectively punish the Palestinians.”
Rev. Dr. Heber Brown III is a black pastor from Baltimore. He spoke about the need to really make a consistent, sustained effort in our politics and in our organizing. He told us we needed to listen to the black community, not just blab our thoughts to the black community (my word choice.) He also said, “bend your privilege, in the direction of justice.”
Donna Nevel, JVP board member, spoke about Islamophobia. She said we are all guilty of Islamophobia to some extent. For example, after watching T.V., do we sometimes secretly wonder if Islam really is the most violent religion? She reminded us that these thoughts are wrong. When people who are Christians commit acts of violence, we don’t think it’s “Christian violence.” It’s not framed that way in our media. She also said that the worst global violence is perpetrated by the U.S. Government and its allies.
At this point, I began to feel very tired and cold. There was more programming scheduled — a few movies were being shown. I decided to come back to my room instead, and write this entry, in privacy. I am very much looking forward to the activities of Day #2.