Israel and the LGBT panel: Shunning dialogue insults democracy
Silencing people with whom you disagree is a path that should not be taken in a democracy, says guest columnist Rob Jacobs, regional director of StandWithUs.
Special to The Times
SILENCING people "in the name of peace" is an insult to democratic values. But that's what Stefanie Fox, a leader of Jewish Voice for Peace, promulgated when she argued in support of the Seattle LGBT Commission's abrupt and impolitic decision to cancel a planned meeting with leaders of Israel's three largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations. ["Sponsors weren't here for open dialogue," Opinion, March 27.]
It was a decision many city leaders immediately and publicly regretted and repudiated.
Fox argued the cancellation was appropriate because my organization, StandWithUs, helped organize the Israeli delegation's visit.
In the obvious hope that if she threw enough mud some of it would stick, Fox made numerous, false allegations about my organization that, as regional director of StandWithUs, I cannot let stand. For example, she accused us of being homophobic right-wing extremists. We are nothing of the sort. Her "evidence"? An ad hominem guilt-by-association claim that we've spoken to a very conservative group.
StandWithUs is an inclusive organization for which the politics of left and right are immaterial. We have spoken to anyone who is interested in learning about Israel — groups across the political and religious spectrum.
Fox wrote that StandWithUs brought the Israeli delegation to Seattle "to cynically co-opt LGBT identity and issues in order to shift perception of Israel." We did not. In fact, it's Fox's group that foisted a political agenda on the LGBT Commission that has nothing at all to do with LGBT rights.
Our mission is to educate our communities about Israel. We support a free, democratic and Jewish state of Israel and a hopefully free, democratic, peaceful state for the Palestinians. We also believe education and dialogue are the road to peace.
The fact that we speak to anyone who wants to learn about Israel doesn't mean we support the views of those who listen to us. In fact, we seek out opportunities to talk with those with whom we disagree. We'd even speak to Jewish Voice for Peace, but it would rather censor us than hear from us.
And that is the point.
The group's desire to boycott all Israeli speakers demonstrates a dangerous behavior that we increasingly see among anti-Israel groups that self-identify as "progressive." It's an Orwellian self-righteous belief that, in the name of "real, inclusive dialogue," they have the right to deny everyone the chance to hear any views with which they disagree.
Increasingly, they do this by proudly and repeatedly shouting to disrupt meetings and drown out the speakers (including the prime minister of Israel), and by working behind the scenes to get meetings like the Israeli LGBT delegation's meeting with the Seattle commission canceled.
Again making Orwellian arguments, they say they have a First Amendment right to deny others their First Amendment rights. This demonstrates their fear that hearing positive things about Israel would undercut their anti-Israel political agenda.
Fox states that she "truly believes social change is built in the relationships between people" and that she has a "lifelong commitment to peace between Israelis and Palestinians." But you cannot build relationships if you refuse to come to the table. And how can you work toward peace between Israelis and Palestinians if you discriminate against Israelis and won't even sit down and talk with them?
More important, when did it become "progressive" to deny others the right to hear that with which you disagree? The hallmark of the repressive governments that surround Israel has been their refusal to allow views with which they disagree. The hallmark of democracies, including Israel's, has been the free exchange of ideas.
True progressives encourage dialogue. Those who hold positions that are unsupportable do not.
Rob Jacobs is the Northwest regional director of StandWithUs. Formerly, he was the director of the Anti-Defamation League's Pacific Northwest regional office.