- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 13, 2012

It may appear odd, but the left slammed Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren after he promoted Israeli laws that protect gays from discrimination.

Addressing a gay forum in Philadelphia earlier this month, Mr. Oren noted that homosexuality is legal in Israel and that the coastal city of Tel Aviv is promoting itself as a gay vacation destination.

He said even Jerusalem had a gay pride parade, against fierce opposition from some conservative Christians, Muslims and Jews.

He invited the audience at the Equality Forum to travel to Israel for Tel Aviv’s gay parade June 8.

Mr. Oren also informed the audience that gays face widespread discrimination and imprisonment in Arab nations.

His statements were too much for some leftists who accused Mr. Oren and the Israeli government of promoting gay rights to distract from alleged Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians. They call the ploy “pinkwashing” - kind of like whitewashing, supposedly.

Rabbi Rebecca Alpert, an associate professor at Temple University, and Katherine Franke, a Columbia Law School professor, said they canceled their scheduled appearance at the Equality Forum to protest Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.

They accused the organizers of the forum of becoming “cheerleaders for Israel.”

“It’s one thing to express our solidarity with gays and lesbians in another country such as Israel, but it’s quite another to become pawns in that country’s foreign policy strategy,” they wrote in the Huffington Post.

“To uncritically celebrate Israel … and have Michael Oren serve as the keynote speaker at the ‘international equality dinner’ is taken as a slap in the face by our queer brothers and sisters in Palestine.”

The website Queerty noted that Mr. Oren “ruffled the feathers of anti-pinkwashing advocates” at the forum but added its own outrage that the ambassador is listed as a speaker at a “homophobic summit” in July.

Mr. Oren is scheduled to address the Christians United for Israel Summit, which runs from July 16 to 18 in the District.

Queerty called summit organizer the Rev. John Hagee a “nutjob minister” with a “long history of attacking gays, Jews, women [and] Muslims.”

The website noted that Mr. Hagee famously blamed gays in New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina. Mr. Hagee later retracted those comments.

In the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz, gay rights lawyer Yehoshua Gurtler accused Mr. Oren of “flaunting” Israel’s good record on gay rights and claimed that most of the progress has come through the courts instead of parliament.

He urged gay critics, however, to recognize Israeli progress on gay issues and press Israeli officials to treat Palestinians as well as gays.

Mr. Gurtler, who also referred to pinkwashing, recalled an old joke about a professor who asks his students to write an essay about an elephant. An Israeli student titles his paper, “The Elephant and the Jewish Question.”

“Maybe,” Mr. Gurtler concluded, “we should actually talk about the pink elephant for a change.”

DIPLOMATIC TRAFFIC

Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:

Tuesday

• Wolfgang Gerhardt, a member of the German parliament and chairman of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation who addresses the foundation’s Washington office.

• Nigel Inkster, a former member of the British secret service now with the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. He addresses the institute’s local office on international threats.

Thursday

• Foreign Minister Hamrokhon Zarifi of Tajikistan, who speaks at the School for Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

• South Korean Trade Minister Taeho Bark, who addresses the Washington International Trade Association.

Friday

• Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada, President Francois Hollande of France, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of Russia, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Mario Monti of Italy, and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of Japan. They attend the G-8 Summit at Camp David.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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