On Thursday, May 24th, I co-sponsored the screening of the film “Pinkwashing Exposed: Seattle Fights Back” with the City of Seattle LGBTQ Commission and the Commission for People with Disabilities. In response, Mayor Durkan, the Seattle Times editorial board, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle expressed concern about the film. The Federation argued that the screening should be canceled. Below is my open letter to Mayor Durkan and the City Council clarifying why we felt that it was important to screen this film, responding to the concerns about it, and urging the City to stand strong in its support for the screening.
Dear Mayor Durkan and City Council,
I am writing to you about the screening scheduled for this evening of the film, Pinkwashing Exposed: Seattle Fights Back.
I encourage you to take the time to watch the film yourselves. I have personally watched it and found it to be in no way prejudiced against, unfair to, or factually inaccurate about any section of our community. It is a moving portrayal of events that transpired in 2012 in relation to the City of Seattle LGBTQ Commission and the City Council.
The film recounts the efforts of activists, and the courageous decision made by the LGBTQ Commission at the time to cancel an event that would have legitimized Stand With Us, a right-wing anti-Palestinian group, and the policies of the Israeli Government in carrying out the brutal repression of Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank. The film then goes on to show the subsequent campaign to make the Commission publicly apologize for cancelling the event. In my view, as an elected representative of Seattle’s working people, the most unfortunate aspect of the 2012 events was that the Mayor and City Councilmembers at that time also joined in the chorus of voices demanding an apology from the LGBTQ Commissioners for what was in fact a principled act on their part.
I congratulate the LGBTQ commissioners in stating clearly that there is no genuine way for us to stand with one oppressed group of people without also actively standing up against other oppressions and injustices. As members of our community advocating for the rights of LGBTQ and disabled community members, we have an obligation to also stand up for the rights of the Palestinian people.
As socialists, we stand in solidarity with Jewish, Muslim, and Christian working people in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank, and with all immigrant working people in Seattle, regardless of national origin, ethnicity, or religion. We believe that the only way to address the situation in Israel and Palestine is for Israeli and Palestinian working people to organize united movements against the brutal occupation and repression of Palestinian people by the Israeli ruling class, openly abetted by the US ruling class. These united movements should also build the fight for unionized living wage jobs, affordable housing for all, and women’s and LGBTQ rights in the region.
The City of Seattle’s support for this evening’s screening is also extremely timely in light of the massacre of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on May 14, as an attack on peaceful protests against the Trump-ordered embassy transfer to Jerusalem. It was the deadliest day for Palestinians since the Gaza war in 2014. The attack came on top of the ongoing brutal siege imposed on them for over a decade, and has drawn broad worldwide condemnation, including from the United Nations. Sixty-two people were shot dead in one day, adding to the dozens slain previously in demonstrations in recent weeks. Among those killed were Palestinian teenaged youths, medics, journalists, and an eight-month-old baby girl who died after massive exposure to tear gas. Over 1,500 Palestinians were injured by Israeli live fire, rubber-coated steel bullets, and tear gas.
Supporting the screening is also entirely consistent with Seattle’s declaration to being a sanctuary city. Cancelling the event, if that is what the city establishment decided to do, would be a slap in the face to all those fighting for Palestinian rights in the face of the massacre in Gaza.
I invite you to watch the film online (it is available for free), and I urge you to join us this evening at the event. As the letter from the LGBTQ Commission released yesterday says, “Seattle community members with diverse and intersecting backgrounds including individuals who are LGBTQ, Jewish, Palestinian, Christian, immigrants, people born and raised in Seattle and others, attended Seattle LGBTQ Commission meetings to provide public comment and request we host this film screening at City Hall.”
I understand the calls by some that “both sides” should be heard. My office would be happy to help organize an event where the issues involved are discussed and debated in depth. I believe, though, that we should also recognize that the just and accurate critique of Israel’s illegal policy of brutal repression of the Palestinian people is far too often excluded from American political discourse, and that it is correct to support the screening and discussion organized for this evening. Everyone is cordially invited to listen and participate in a peaceful and respectful discussion and help organize future discussions.
Finally, let me address the matter of anti-Semitism. The Jewish Federation leadership, in calling for cancellation of the event, claims that showing this film will “stir up increased anti-Semitism.”
Anyone who gives the film a balanced viewing will reject that the film in any way bolsters or provokes anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitism is a pervasive and virulent disease that we must fight everywhere it shows up. I stand with all Jewish working people in opposing anti-Semitism. Most recently, we saw two prominent anti-Semitic pastors deliver prayers at the provocative opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem: John Hagee, who has claimed that Hitler was a “hunter” sent by God, and Robert Jeffress, who has preached that “you can’t be saved by being a Jew.” Surprisingly, I have yet to hear the people who claim Pinkwashing Exposed provokes anti-Semitism denounce these hateful preachers, who were invited by the Israeli government with the blessing of the Trump administration.
As the US State Department’s own definition of anti-Semitism notes (a definition cited by the Jewish Federation in denouncing the Pinkwashing Exposed film), “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.”
I have been consistent, as have the activists who are supporting this film, in opposing ruling classes everywhere as they act to subjugate others to pursue their own interests against those of working and oppressed people, flout UN resolutions to pursue peaceful settlements of land issues, and create different sets of laws for people of different ethnicities and nationalities.
Lastly, the film’s central point must be taken on board: the fact that the Israeli government has policies (at least for some of its inhabitants) that are more LGBTQ-friendly than those in neighboring states does not diminish or negate the inhumanity of its killing of and oppressing the Palestinian people.
Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant