The Palestinians and human rights

The time has finally come to change the discourse on the Left.

Ofer Erez, the CEO of the Jerusalem Open House (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ofer Erez, the CEO of the Jerusalem Open House
(photo credit: Courtesy)
An event honoring a country’s first openly transgender military officer is one of the last places you would expect to encounter a protest by self-proclaimed “progressive” activists. To the contrary, it’s reasonable to assume that anyone championing human rights and equality would celebrate a society with a positive record on LGBTQ rights while also condemning one that persecutes gays and lesbians.
Reasonable, that is, unless the activists are supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and the transgender officer is an Israeli. And so, true to form, an early October event in Portland featuring Captain Ofer Erez, now the CEO of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, was marred by several anti-Israel protesters for whom any favorable portrayal of Israel is simply too much to bear.
The protesters claimed that Erez’s appearance was “pinkwashing,” a ploy by Israel to cover up its alleged violations of Palestinian human rights by touting its acceptance of LGBTQ people (you can’t make this stuff up).
The sad irony is that those accusing Israel of pinkwashing are, in fact, whitewashing Palestinian oppression of gays. In Arab society, homosexuality is denounced and stigmatized, forcing many gay Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza to flee to Israel out of fear of persecution and harassment. But that’s of no interest to BDS activists whose only objective is to delegitimize the Jewish state even as it serves as a haven for these marginalized Palestinians.
Of course, this is hardly the only example of the routine hypocrisy and deception practiced by the BDS movement in its effort to demonize Israel and gain followers among progressive-minded people of goodwill, who support Palestinian statehood. During the month of October, local BDS groups in Portland sponsored a Palestinian film festival entitled, “Human Rights in the Holy Land: The Rest of the Story.” Predictably, the common theme of the films was a depiction of Israel as an oppressive, racist state.
Yet, it’s precisely the rest of the story – a true account of the abysmal human rights records of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority – that the pro-BDS festival organizers didn’t want filmgoers to see.
In a blistering 149-page report issued on October 23, the NGO Human Rights Watch accused both the PA and Hamas of creating “parallel police states” in the West Bank and Gaza in which arbitrary arrests and torture of suspected dissidents and political opponents are “systematic.” Even the most benign criticism of the Palestinian leadership, the report states, can result in a lengthy jail sentence.
Anyone genuinely standing up for human rights should find this report deeply troubling, to say nothing of the likelihood that a future Palestinian state would be similarly autocratic.
Still another BDS misinformation campaign makes unsubstantiated claims of mistreatment of Palestinian minors in Israeli prisons. Earlier this year, BDS groups lobbied unsuccessfully for legislation in Congress called the “Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act.” Naturally, the bill’s proponents never bothered to explain why Palestinian minors end up in Israeli custody in the first place.
The real problem is that Palestinian children are continuously incited by political and religious leaders, teachers and social media to commit violent acts against Israelis. Starting at a very young age, they are indoctrinated with a hateful ideology (transmitted through PA textbooks, mosque sermons and TV programs) that bestows social status, praise and rewards on those heeding the call for martyrdom. In Palestinian cities, posters of shahids (martyrs) who have murdered Jews appear on the walls of schools; streets and public squares are named in their honor.
Shouldn’t the recruitment of children to carry out acts of violence and terrorism, which is itself a war crime, elicit an outcry from all who seek a better future for both the Palestinians and Israelis?
There are many moderates on the left who don’t believe Israel is doing enough to advance the chances for peace and are therefore susceptible to BDS propaganda. To be sure, the pro-Israel establishment should be open to honest debate about and legitimate criticism of Israeli settlement policy.
At the same time, we must devote more resources to educating young progressive Jews and liberal Christian leaders about the hypocrisy of BDS. We need to show that not only do baseless accusations of pinkwashing, apartheid, genocide and torture malign Israel unfairly, they’re also meant to conceal the fact that the perpetrators of the most egregious violations of Palestinian human rights are the Palestinians themselves.
The time has finally come to change the discourse on the left from one that holds Israel mostly to blame for the conflict to one that holds the Palestinian leadership accountable for the suffering of its own people.
The writer is director of community relations in the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland.