Mr. Seemann goes to Tel Aviv

A young immigrant, formerly the head of Israel's Haiti aid project and a PMO employee who found himself at the center of a 'pink-washing' scandal, says he's starting a movement for olim, and has an eye on running for city council.

By
June 2, 2013 10:41
4 minute read.
Guy Seemann

Guy Seemann 370. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)

A young immigrant new to Tel Aviv – a former head of Israeli aid in Haiti and a former employee of the Prime Minister’s Office who found himself at the middle of a “pinkwashing” scandal – is starting a movement for olim, with his eye on running for city council.

Guy Seemann has lived in Tel Aviv for just a few months, and speaks pretty good Hebrew.

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Sitting at a cafe on Rothschild Boulevard on Thursday, the 27-yearold New Jersey native (who was born in Israel and moved to the States at when he was 10 months old) described his goal of starting a movement of English-speaking immigrants, who will use their talents and experience to help integrate them better into Israeli society, while finding ways in which they can contribute.

“The over-arching message is that it’s a two-way street; what can we do for olim, and to get olim to inject themselves into society and public life. There are so many people who have so much potential and perspective and they’re outside the system and they’re leaving.”

Seemann cited figures from the Jewish Agency indicating that 53 percent of young immigrants living in Tel Aviv leave the country within three years, and said he was driven to find ways to organize the thousands of olim in the city, to help them find their way in Israel.

“The immigrants who come here with a professional degree and a few years’ experience have amazing perspective and innovation, so we’re forming a movement that will get olim together and working for a specific agenda and getting them involved,” he said.

Seemann said he had held a dozen open-house discussions with local immigrants, discussing issues facing them and how they can organize and better integrate themselves. He hopes to in the coming months form this grassroots effort into a movement, which he plans to call “Kol Oleh” (“Voice of the immigrant”).

Eventually, he wants to find his way into city hall, and represent the oleh community as part of the city council.

He added that he doesn’t know if he’ll be ready by the time the next municipal election come around in October.

Seemann (“the name is easier to understand in English,” he said with a knowing shrug), worked as a legislative correspondent in congress, worked for the 2008 Obama campaign and studied at American University in Washington.

He began living in Tel Aviv in February, not long after he finished a 10-month stint working for the IsraAID/Tevel bTzedek mission  in Haiti and living in the city of Leogane, which was at the epicenter of the January 2010 earthquake that killed an estimated 316,000 Haitians.

After college he came to Israel on a Begin Fellowship and worked for the Government Press Office for six months. In November 2008, he was back in Israel and decided to stay, making aliya as a returning citizen and then serving a short IDF stint in the Defense Ministry’s Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.

After he finished his service, he was offered a job in the Prime Minister’s Office, where he found himself accidentally at the eye of a short-lived blogosphere “pinkwashing” scandal.

In June 2011, a YouTube video circulated of a man (later determined to be Israeli actor Omer Gershon) claiming to be a gay rights activist, telling about how he wanted to join a protest flotilla headed to Gaza, but was told that gays were not welcome.

Seemann linked the video to his Twitter page, which had been set up earlier that month, as his first post.

The video was quickly determined to be a hoax. It was widely picked up in the Internet, and Seemann was portrayed as a young employee of the Prime Minister’s Office used to distribute a faked hasbara (public diplomacy) video, an accusation he denies.

The video was eventually the subject of a short online documentary by filmmaker and journalist Jon Ronson, and while the controversy blew over a long time ago, it appears to still be something of a sore spot.

“I knew that would come up... It was all a fake story, and I was used by Ali Abunimah [editor of the Electronic Intifada website] as a pawn to get to the Prime Minister’s Office, that’s all,” Seemann said.

Seemann said articles about the controversy are still one of the first things that come up when you google his name (though a friend and media adviser present cautioned to be careful about what else you can turn up when googling “Guy Seemann”), saying that it pushed down other articles online, including ones about his work as director of Tribe 13, which he described as a hip hop crew for new immigrants launched by the Jewish Agency.

It appears that for Seemann, Tribe 13 was a model of sorts for what he’d like to do: Bring olim together according to their interests and talents, an effort that should increase the chances they stay in Israel. He added that his goal was to bring English- speaking and non-English-speaking young immigrants in Tel Aviv together, where they can maximize their impact on society.

“People don’t think we are organized or have a coalesced voice. We have our own ideas to contribute and lift Israel up, and this is a way for the olim perspective to really have a positive effect on the city and the country,” Seemann said.


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