OP-ED: I’ve been watching


Senator Cory Booker (D – N.J.) has been touted as a possible Democratic Party standard-bearer, a man who might follow in the steps of Barack Obama as a progressive, charismatic leader capable of taking back the White House from the Republicans.

Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) with pro-Palestinian advocates in New Orleans. (Photo via USCPR Twitter account)

But when Booker, the former mayor of Newark, posed this past week here in New Orleans with what he thought was a sign that pushed back against President Trump’s immigration policies, he apparently didn’t read between the lines and proved one thing more. He’s no Barack Obama.

The sign in block letters he held read: “From Palestine to Mexico All the Walls Have Got To Go,” essentially, likening Trump’s Mexican border wall with that of Israel’s Security Fence with the Palestinians.

Even before he was President, Obama was a poised senator who connected to others with empathy and spoke eloquently on a number of issues. He knew better than to be duped into holding up a sign and being photographed so that very image might be used by pro-Palestinians to advocate against Israel.

Booker, who has courted Jews in New Jersey for support, has since feigned ignorance as to his misstep. It’s a sure bet, though, he won’t be holding signs up for any photographer that say anything about Palestinians anytime soon.

But look to the left of the photo and you will see a deeper, more troubling statement than the sign Booker ignorantly held aloft.

There sporting a black T-shirt is a smiling “girl next door” type with spectacles, who could very well be a math whiz, an English scholar or a sociologist. The young lady, identified as Leah Muskin-Pierret, is a recent Tufts University graduate, who went from procuring backpacks for needy kids as a high school senior to being named government affairs associate of the United States Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR) – formerly known as the U.S. Campaign To End the Israeli Occupation  – while she was at Tufts.

Muskin-Pierret and her T-shirt statement. (Image from Twitter Account

In similar block lettering as Booker’s sign, Muskin-Pierret’s T-shirt identifies herself as both a feminist and a member or supporter of the disenfranchised LGBTQ community. Her T-shirt reads: “Palestine Is A Feminist/Queer/Racial Justice Issue.”

To which, I must ask out aloud “Why is that?” How did the plight of Palestinians become identified as a feminist or LGBTQ issue? Hasn’t it always been a political issue related to the occupation of land by peoples of differing faiths?

In January, when the New Orleans City Council chose to rescind a controversial resolution perceived as pro-Palestinian, many of the protesting Palestinian supporters were Jews who identified as members of “the queer community.” Others, who said they were of Palestinian extraction, also identified as LGBTQ members. In Chicago last summer, several Jewish LGBTQ advocates who carried rainbow flags with the Star of David were removed from the Chicago Dyke March as well as the SlutWalk a few weeks later. They were not allowed to participate again this year. 

Their only crime seems to be seen as being supportive of Israel or not automatically allying themselves with the Palestinians.

To be Jewish and to support LGBTQ causes seems to now come with a mandate to support Palestinians over Israelis in some sections of the country. I note this is prevalent in areas where BDS has become more acceptable, but I see this movement gaining popularity, even within the so-called cysgender or binary communities.

Jewish protestors hold signs and sing songs at the January City Council session at which a controversial pro-Palestinian resolution was rescinded. (Photo by Alan Smason)

What governing body of public opinion has now decided to conflate a  Middle East political struggle with domestic civil rights causes, while conveniently painting Israel as an enemy? The answer seems pretty clear that it is the forces behind the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS movement. Anywhere they can get a foothold in popular opinion to give Israel a black eye, raises the stakes for BDS adherents.

Just this past week, there were 30,000 people who attended the Pride Day March in Jerusalem. For many years Israel has been a bastion of LGBTQ support in the Middle East, a region whose nation states are largely bereft of gay rights support. Somehow, in their exuberance to vilify Israel, USCPR and others have conveniently forgotten that fact. 

Of course, many of the LGBTQ activists claim that Israel’s embrace of the LGBTQ community is nothing less than a smokescreen or “pinkwashing” in which it obtains support while carrying out an agenda against the Palestinian people. If Israel is pretending to reach out to the LGBTQ community as a ploy, I must admit it is a brilliant ruse. 

Showing empathy for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members of its society and guaranteeing rights for them under its democratic form of government while opposing the segments of its powerful religiously observant community who, in general, oppose gay marriage and equal protection under the law is hardly the kind of struggle I can imagine any country would deliberately choose. 

This is clearly a case of the tail wagging the dog. The forces behind BDS are not interested in furthering LGBTQ rights in this or any other country. Their agenda is the systematic dismantling of the State of Israel and its eventual destruction with a return to the chaos that preceded its declaration of independence.

Why can’t responsible advocates for LGBTQ rights see that? I, for one don’t want to live in a world where human and civil rights are ignored, but the facts remain that the leaders of the Palestinian people – from Fatah to Hamas –  have deliberately walked away from meaningfully participating in the peace process since the Oslo Accords.

In the tradition of the best of Jewish social activism, I don’t want to live in a world where rights are regularly trampled and ignored. But in the tradition of those who remember the lessons of the past, I won’t stand idly by and see a world where Israel does not exist or where Israeli lives are somehow put at risk.

In the last two years, several Jewish Birthright participants have elected to do the unthinkable. They have taken themselves off the sanctioned tour and gone on their own spiritual journey to meet with Palestinians. The last such incident was only a few weeks ago. The fact they have received trips to visit Israel through the Jewish community (via Birthright or Taglit) does not give them a franchise to become investigators or to protest present Israeli policies. By doing so, they are playing right into the hands of those sinister BDS forces, who look at criticism of Israel as a means of advancing their cause.

These well-intentioned protestors are troubling to me and others like me who have been watching this disturbing trend. Where it leads and who else becomes embroiled in this struggle remains to be seen, but we must be aware that there are many out there with hidden agendas who are all too ready to take advantage of the uninformed or the gullible.

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