Waving Israel’s Rainbow Flag Abroad
By Nathan Jeffay Published June 17, 2009, issue of June 26, 2009.
Tel Aviv - In stark contrast to the U.S. Army’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on homosexuality, the latest edition of the official Israel Defense Force’s magazine B’Machane has a center spread on gay and lesbian officers. A picture shows a new officer getting his stripes, his commander’s hand on one shoulder and his life partner’s hand on the other.
This liberal side of Israeli society is starting to arouse the interest of the hasbarah - Hebrew for public relations - lobby. For what is believed to be the first time, an Israel advocacy group has run a major campaign showcasing the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community to non-Jewish opinion-shapers worldwide in a bid to improve Israel’s image and distract from more contentious geopolitical issues.
In mid-June, the StandWithUs organization, with the support of the foreign ministry, brought 30 GLBT leaders, activists and journalists to Israel from across the world to find out about the country, and specifically its GLBT community.
“GLBT rights are part of human rights, and when you see Israel, you see a country that has come so far in this area,” program organizer Noa Meir said. “When people see that Israel is so progressive on this issue, they realize that it can’t just be on this issue, and realize this must apply to Israel as a whole.”
StandWithUs, an international not-for-profit organization headquartered in the United States, offers scholarships to students to run Israel advocacy schemes. Earlier this year, a group of 20 Tel Aviv University students and scholarship recipients - all of them straight - decided that GLBT rights were the perfect wedge issue to promote Israel to a generally anti-Zionist constituency.