YES on BDS! No Pinkwashing! Support Rasmea!

We are feminist and queer student workers at the University of California in solidarity with the struggle for justice in Palestine. Our support for the Palestinian struggle is based on the principle that justice is indivisible.[1] As union members of UAW 2865, we welcome that our elected leaders in the Joint Council passed a resolution in support of Palestine. Our union will have a membership vote about joining the movement for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) on December 4, 2014.[2] We call on our colleagues:

Vote YES on BDS! Don’t buy into Pinkwashing! Support Rasmea Odeh!

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is a set of strategies that Palestinian civil society has asked its allies to use in order to pressure Israel to end the occupation of 1967, dismantle the apartheid wall, recognize the full equality of Palestinian citizens of Israel, and respect the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.[3] It is supported by queer and feminist organizations such as Palestinian Queers for BDS (PQBDS) and the Institute of Women’s Studies at Birzeit University.[4] Inspired by the use of international solidarity in the Black freedom movement against apartheid in South Africa, a global solidarity movement for Palestine is growing. Several North American queer and feminist organizations have already joined, including Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism (QUIT), Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QAIA), INCITE!, and a coalition of Palestinian, indigenous, women of color, anti-racist, and Jewish feminists.[5]

Israel’s colonization, occupation, and apartheid rule incorporate systematic reproductive injustice and racist sexual and gender violence. Israel considers Palestinian women a “demographic threat,” imposes restrictions that resulted in a single year’s 58% increase in miscarriages among Palestinians in the West Bank, and celebrates the declining Palestinian birth rate while encouraging Jewish women to have more children.[6] Such instances of racist gender and reproductive violence complement direct attacks on Palestinian lives and are inextricable from the Zionist project to build a Jewish “democracy” on a land with a majority indigenous Palestinian population.

Enthusiasm for “Operation Protective Edge,” Israel’s military assault on Gaza of July and August 2014, was repeatedly framed in sexually violent terms.[7] An image of a partially naked and seductively posed woman representing “Gaza” went viral on Israeli social media, with a caption calling on Israeli prime minister Netanyahu to rape the woman and invade Gaza.[8] Meanwhile, Bar-Ilan University Professor Mordechai Kedar publicly fantasized about using rape as a weapon of war, and even though Israeli officials deny any correspondence to reality, several Palestinian men captured during “Protective Edge” were “intimidated with threats that Israel would demolish their houses, kill their families and rape their wives.”[9] Israel furthermore uses torture and sexual violence in its military courts against Palestinians.[10]

Despite relying on systematic sexual, gender and reproductive violence, Israel and its allies have made “gays” and “women” a strategic token in a pro-Israel marketing campaign. In 2005, the Israeli government launched “Brand Israel” to promote Israel’s image as “relevant and modern.”[11] The campaign has many different components, such as free trips to Israel for architecture, food, and wine writers.[12] Since at least 2009, pro-Israel and Zionist organizations such as U.S.-based StandWithUs and A Wider Bridge have sought to create a special relationship between Israel and U.S. gays. They promote Israel (especially Tel Aviv) as a gay tourism destination and fund LGBT events such as film festivals.[13] Gay culture is placed alongside good wine and modern architecture to create a brand that is appealing enough to blot out news about the violence of Israel’s apartheid regime. This cynical use of “gays” to distract from the systematic violence against Palestinians is called pinkwashing.[14]

The flip side of the pinkwashed fantasy of a gay-friendly Israel is the fantasy of an exceptionally homophobic Palestinian society. In a telling example of how this fantasy is used to distract from Israeli violence against Palestinians, consider the Israeli police response to the murder of sixteen-year-old Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir. After the teen was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered on July 2 2014, Israeli police (as well as Israeli and pro-Israeli social media users) spread misinformation that he was the victim of a “family feud” or an “honor crime” because he was gay.[15] Confirming Palestinian Diaspora feminist Nada Elia’s observation that pinkwashing is “the twenty-first century manifestation of the Zionist colonialist narrative of bringing civilisation to an otherwise backwards land,” the implied perpetrators were uncivilized, violently homophobic Palestinians. [16] In reality, it is believed that Khdeir’s murder was a revenge attack by young Israelis for the kidnap-murder of three Israeli teens. We call upon other feminists, queers, LGBT people, and allies: Do not buy into pinkwashing! It is a cover-up for Israel’s colonization, occupation, and apartheid rule.

The U.S. provides billions of military aid dollars to Israel and is as such co-responsible for Israel’s systematic violations.[17] The University of California (UC) has investment holdings in companies that actively assist Israel’s illegal occupation, such as Hewlett-Packard, which provides the ID system at checkpoints in the West Bank and administers the IT system for the Navel Blockade of Gaza.[18] Even though Israeli academic institutions are an integral part of Israel’s apartheid rule, the UC maintains exchange programs with Israeli universities.[19] The U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundation, furthermore, funds UC research, aiming to “[strengthen] the U.S.-Israel partnership through science.”[20] As members of the UC and the UAW, we have BDS as a set of tools with which to push back against the complicity of these institutions.

We therefore urge our fellow union members: Join us to vote yes in the BDS membership vote on December 4, and pledge to boycott Israeli academic institutions that are complicit in apartheid and occupation. In solidarity with Palestinians who have issued the call for boycotts, divestment and sanctions, we demand that the UAW International and the University of California divest their pension funds and other investments from Israeli companies that assist in and profit from apartheid and occupation. We will personally boycott Israeli academic institutions, for instance by not participating in conferences or applying for jobs and fellowship. We call on our colleagues to do the same.

Arab American feminist Nadine Naber reminds us that “when we work to support an end to the occupation, when we work to end Israeli colonization and apartheid, we need to work to end those things in Palestine, but also right here in the United States,” where Palestinian and Arab activists and their allies face attacks.[21] We stand in solidarity with Rasmea Odeh, a revered Palestinian American community organizer with Arab immigrant women in the Chicago area. Rasmea survived torture and sexual abuse in Israel’s military court, was imprisoned by Israel on the basis of a forced confession, and is now persecuted again in the United States under trumped-up immigration charges.[22] We join her many supporters, including over a hundred feminist scholars,[23] and demand: End the persecution of Rasmea Odeh! We call on all fellow union members and all feminist activists to fight for justice for Rasmea.[24]

To borrow from the words of Haneen Maikey, the director of Al-Qaws for Sexual and Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society, and the American anthropologist Jason Ritchie, we the undersigned are ready to “listen to each other and stand together against violence and repression, even when some among us try to justify it in our name.”[25]

Vote for BDS on December 4! Pledge to observe the academic boycott!
Resist racism! Do not buy into pinkwashing!
Support Rasmea Odeh!

[Note: All footnotes are at the end of the document.]

SIGNATORIES

If you would like join the signatories, please e-mail your name, campus, and member/officer status (if applicable/desired) to feministqueerforpalestine@gmail.com.

Kevan Antonio Aguilar, UC San Diego

Nicholas Ammar, UC Davis

Troy Araiza Kokinis, UC San Diego

Amanda Armstrong, UC Berkeley

Trisha Barua, UC Davis

Gillian Bogart, UC Santa Cruz

Anuja Bose, Recording Secretary, UCLA

Joshua Brahinsky, UC Santa Cruz

Brandon Buchanan, Head Steward, UC Davis

Sayil Camacho, IOC Representative, UCLA

William Di Fede, UC Davis

Margaret Mary Downey, Head Steward, UC Berkeley

Erin Rose Ellison, UC Santa Cruz

Pascal Emmer, UC Santa Cruz

Katy Fox-Hodess, Guide, UC Berkeley

Camila Gavin Bravo, UC San Diego

Alborz Ghandehari, Recording Secretary, UC San Diego

Erik Green, Financial Secretary, UC Santa Cruz

Sandra Harvey, UC Santa Cruz

Chris Hanssmann, Former Member, UCSF

Tommi D. Hayes, UC Santa Cruz

Lily Hodges, UC Davis

Ren-yo Hwang, Southern Vice President, UC Riverside

Malathi Iyengar, Campus Chair, UC San Diego

Suraiya Jetha, UC Santa Cruz

Caroline Kao, UC Santa Cruz

Sarah Kessler, UC Irvine

Mei-chun Lee, UC Davis

Seth Leibson, Head Steward, UC Berkeley

Sunny Lim, UC Santa Barbara

Munira Lokhandwala, UC Berkeley

Robert Majzler, UC Santa Cruz

Beezer de Martelly, Trustee, UC Berkeley

Marie McDonald, UC Davis

Laura Meek, UC Davis

Irene Morrison, Recording Secretary, UC Riverside

Trung Nguyen, UC Santa Cruz

Elisa Oceguera, UC Davis

Ianna Hawkins Owen, UC Berkeley

Raquel Pacheco, Head Steward, UC San Diego

Agatha Palma, UCLA

Maryani Palupy Rasidjan, UC San Francisco – UC Berkeley

Leslie Quintanilla, UC San Diego

Amanda Reyes, Head Steward, UC Santa Cruz

Aída Sofía Rivera Sotelo, UC Davis

Judith Rodriguez, UC Irvine

Johanna Rothe, Alumna/Former Member, UC Santa Cruz

Amrah Salomon J., UC San Diego

Bern Samko, UC Santa Cruz

Mai Sartawi, UC Davis

Lauren Schaeffer, Head Steward, UCLA

SA Smythe, UC Santa Cruz

Sara Maria Sorentino, UC Irvine

Clare Stinchcombe, UC Berkeley

Joanne Tien, Head Steward, UC Berkeley

Michelle Ty, UC Berkeley

Claire Urbanski, UC Santa Cruz

Mar Velez, Northern Vice President, UC Berkeley

Tory Webster, Head Steward, UC Davis

Claire White, UC Davis, National Lawyers Guild, SNVP

Sa Whitley, Head Steward, UCLA

Alexandria Wright, UC Berkeley

Duane Wright, Head Steward, UC Davis

NOTES

[1] : As the “Open Letter from Jewish Officers and Members” of our union local underlines, one group’s justice cannot be achieved on the back of another’s injustice. http://www.uaw2865.org/?p=12197

[2] “Student Workers at the University of California Support Palestine. UAW 2865 Joint Council Prepares for Membership Vote on BDS,” http://www.uaw2865.org/?p=12137

[3] Specifically the call is for Israel to end the occupation of 1967, dismantle the apartheid wall, recognize full equality of Palestinian citizens of Israel, and recognize the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. http://www.bdsmovement.net/

[4] Institute of Women’s Studies, Birzeit University, “Urgent Call.” http://www.birzeit.edu/news/institute-womens-studies-urgent-call; http://www.pqbds.com/,

[5] INCITE!, “Free Palestine is a Feminist Issue,” http://inciteblog.wordpress.com/2014/07/18/free-palestine-is-a-feminist-issue/; “Statement in Solidarity with the Palestinian people of Gaza and with seekers of freedom and justice world-wide” https://inciteblog.wordpress.com/2014/08/07/statement-in-solidarity-with-the-palestinian-people-of-gaza-and-with-seekers-of-freedom-and-justice-world-wide/; http://www.quitpalestine.org/; http://queersagainstapartheid.org/

[6] http://inciteblog.wordpress.com/2014/07/18/free-palestine-is-a-feminist-issue/

[7] http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=717908

[8] The caption reads (in Hebrew): “Bibi [Israeli prime minister Netanyahu], finish inside this time! Signed, citizens in favor of a ground assault. ”Since the Hebrew word for “finish” also means “ejaculate,” this slogan plays on a double entendre to encourage military and sexual assault.  David Sheen, “Israel’s War against Gaza’s Women and their Bodies,” http://muftah.org/israels-war-gazas-women-bodies/#.VDm4pfmSw1g.

[9] http://electronicintifada.net/content/israel-tortures-prisoners-captured-gaza-invasion/13861, http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/rania-khalek/israeli-government-promotes-rape-advocate-expert-palestinians

[10] http://www.stoptorture.org.il/en, http://www.btselem.org/torture/201308_etzion, http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/why-obama-administration-prosecuting-sexual-torture-victim-rasmea-odeh

[11] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/23/opinion/pinkwashing-and-israels-use-of-gays-as-a-messaging-tool.html?_r=0

[12] http://mondoweiss.net/2011/11/a-documentary-guide-to-brand-israel-and-the-art-of-pinkwashing

[13] http://mondoweiss.net/2011/11/a-documentary-guide-to-brand-israel-and-the-art-of-pinkwashing

[14] http://www.pinkwatchingisrael.com/

[15] http://www.richardsilverstein.com/2014/07/02/israeli-police-plant-false-story-murdered-palestinian-boy-was-gay-flood-social-media-with-disinformation/, http://electronicintifada.net/content/why-advocate-afraid-talk-about-palestine/13929

[16] Nada Elia, “Gay Rights with a Side of Apartheid.” Settler Colonial Studies 2,2 (2012): 49-68.

[17] http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/18620/video_us-aid-to-israel_-the-real-deal

[18] The UC has also has investments in Caterpillar, whose bulldozers are regularly used in the demolition of Palestinian homes and farms. For a list of UC Retirement Plan investment holdings, see http://www.ucop.edu/investment-office/_files/invpol/UCRP_Holdings.pdf. For information on Hewlett Packard and Caterpillar, see http://www.bdsmovement.net/2014/freedom-and-justice-for-gaza-boycott-action-against-7-complicit-companies-12386.

[19] On the role of Israeli academic institutions in colonization, occupation, and apartheid, and for the call to boycott them, see http://www.birzeit.edu/news/institute-womens-studies-urgent-call, https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B4qLGWPPC3fIcDhVQjNmYXZhZTg/edithttp://www.pacbi.org/ , http://www.usacbi.org/, http://www.bricup.org.uk/.

[20] http://www.bsf.org.il/BSFPublic/DefaultPage1.aspx?PageId=11&innerTextID=11

[21] http://www.kpfa.org/archive/id/106185

[22] http://inciteblog.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/justice-for-rasmea-odeh/, http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/why-obama-administration-prosecuting-sexual-torture-victim-rasmea-odeh

[23] http://mondoweiss.net/2014/10/feminist-scholars-against

[24] http://www.stopfbi.net/sign-petition-rasmea-odeh

[25] Haneen Maikey and Jason Ritchie “Israel, Palestine, and Queers” http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2009/mr280409.html