Five Things I Learned at my First Anti-Zionist Conference

Last month, after surviving what seemed to be an unending stretch of Jewish holidays, I found myself needing to detox. With that in mind, I attended the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, a mock-trial complete organized by a “large group of citizens involved in the promotion of peace and justice in the Middle East.” The Tribunal, which had previously convened in London, Barcelona, and Cape Town had the intended goal of finding Israel guilty of apartheid, war crimes and genocide and is supported by Ken Coates, Chairman of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, Nurit Peled-Elhanan, an Israeli professor of language and education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Leila Shahid, the General Delegate of Palestine to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg. Complete with witnesses, jurors and an audience, The Tribunal disallowed any applause so thankfully I didn’t have to pretend to hide my antipathy!  After two days of testimonies here are five things I’ve learned:

1) Anti-Zionists Have Jewish Friends:  The Tribunal’s expert witness Noam Chomsky was just one of “many Jewish friends” noted throughout the conference  (Alan Dershowitz was, presumably, unavailable). Many Tribunal attendees insisted on prefacing their conversations with anecdotes about their Jewish friends – Real ones, not just Jews who added them on Facebook!

2) Aging Celebrities Care (when they’re awake):  In attendance: Harry Belafonte, most famous for singing “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)”, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, and (inconceivablyWallace Shawn, who currently plays Blair Waldorf’s dad on Gossip Girl. Waters was an easy favorite, having passed out in the jury box. Think Israel gets a fair shake if the jurors are sleeping?  Whoops.

Roger Waters, clearly riveted.

3) The True Meaning of “Pinkwashing”:  Most liberal causes have some gay-flair to it, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no exception.  “Pinkwashing” asserts that Israel promotes itself as a gay-friendly nation to distract from its record of alleged human rights violations.  However, the Russell Tribunal Local Dining Guide noted local dessert option the “Big Gay Ice Cream Shop.” Does calling an ice cream shop “gay” distract patrons from the true caloric intake of soft-serve ice cream?  Can a “Gay Ice Cream Shop” be fattening? Have you seen the gays in New York City?? The Big Gay Ice Cream Shop implies you can be fit (ie, gay) and eat ice cream. That’s pinkwashing.

I did meet a heterosexual man with a t-shirt that read “Flaming Fundamentalist for Peace”, but he insisted that “flaming” in this instance had nothing to do with homonormative behavior. I explained that “flaming” can be an offensive term to the LGBT community adding that it was a term that had early historical roots in gay people actually being set afire (Hence “flaming”) but he felt he needed some flair to an otherwise non-statement of a t-shirt. Oh well.

4) Clinton and Peres Don’t RSVP to Stuff:  After an attendee posed a question regarding the lack of balance at the conference, a Tribunal organizer responded by stating reps from the USA (Hillary Clinton) and Israel (Shimon Peres) were invited, but they “just didn’t respond”.  Was the Tribunal using Evite?  Maybe Paperless Post would have been more effective.

5) One-State, Two-State, Fifty-State (Solution):  There was plenty of confusion as to how many states people wanted in Israel/Palestine.  One girl, new to the cause, asked me “What’s a two-state solution?”  A self-described media analyst offered his expert opinion: “Well, the US has a 50-state solution, and that’s not working out very well.”  Hmmm. I left confused and afraid that, if I asked, he might actually explain.

*BONUS* A few choice quotes from the weekend:

  • “Israel needs to do some soul-searching.” New-to-the-Cause Girl
  • JStreet is a pro-Zionist organization.” Ben, a noted British anti-Israel activist.
  • “Hamas is NOT a terrorist organization, it’s a governing body.  Hezbollah is NOT a terrorist organization, it’s a state within a non-state.”  Debbie (has Jewish friends)
  • “So you’re gay….and support Israel?  Odd.”  Sharon, who lives in Park Slope and invited me to protest the Israel Philharmonic on October 30 in NYC, because I “must love the arts”.
  • “The Jews should really know better.” Sarah, referencing the Holocaust, the Spanish Inquisition, all pogroms against the Jewish people in history.  Oh, and our Egyptian enslavement.  

Israel was – shocker – found guilty of war crimes, but we loved the conversations we had, and are keeping our fingers Jew-starred for a re-trial.

Maybe this time Roger Waters will stay awake.

What do you think?

About The Author

Jayson Littman

Jayson Littman is the founder of He’bro. He’bro produces and promotes events for secular and cultural gay Jews in New York City. For more information, please go to or contact Jayson at Jayson @ myhebro [dot] com. Follow him @jaysonlittman

13 Responses

  1. The Zombie Mohammed

    Very very funny.

    A part of me actually wishes that the Mohammedan would take over San Francisco or The Village for a few days. LOL! All these gay and other liberal folks who support Shari’ah and the far-, far-right Ummah are going to be in for a BIG surprise! :-)

    Or how about they try acting as a “flaming” homosexual in Deerborn, Michigan LOL!

    Liberals are the funniest!

  2. bobeeboo

    “Flaming” didn’t come from gay people being set afire. “flaming (adj.)
    intensifying adjective, late 19c., from prp. of flame (v.). Meaning “glaringly homosexual” is homosexual slang, 1970s (along with flamer (n.) “conspicuously homosexual man”); but flamer “glaringly conspicuous person or thing” (1809) and flaming “glaringly conspicuous” (1781) are much earlier in the general sense, both originally with reference to “wenches.”

  3. Dr. E.S.Lombard

    I suspect that many of the ultimate values of Mohamedanism deserve enormoous respect, but the actual mechanisms by which these are to be achieved seem to me barbaric and inhumane by Western and Jewish standards of this era. We might all get on far better by discarding the barbarism and perhaps religions themselves and follow simple tenets such as do NOT do unto others what you would not have them do unto you. The rest could well be discaarded.

  4. Rachel Golem

    Just tell them, “Laughing when Syrian people kill each other is NOT Antisemitism!!!!!”

  5. Elliot Ratzman

    While I agree that events like the Russell Tribunal attract their share of hot-heads, ignorant cause-niks and wing-nuts, Littman’s piece is insultingly ignorant itself. Harry Belafonte, for example, has been a stalwart activist for progressive causes for many decades; Belafonte was one of the key fundraisers for the Civil Rights Movement. Chomsky himself identifies as a cultural Zionist, a binationalist–a now-rare, but proud tradition. As a Zionist, I disagree on many things with my non/anti-Zionist friends, but anti-Zionism is not a symptom of anti-Semitism. Such conferences are the result of the ongoing Israeli Occupation, its violent colonization of Palestinian areas, the Right’s refusal to negotiate in good face with the Palestinians, and the Likkud’s capitulation to the most racist elements in the Israeli polity, contrary to the liberal values American Jews hold sacred. The real, empirical unwarranted suffering by many Palestinians, their lack of rights and their frustrating attempt to create their own homeland–all in the shadow of a “Jewish democracy” is what motivates us to critique the State’s actions. Those critiques can be loving and dignified, or they can emerge in intemperate and sometimes buffonish ways. Israel got the nasty tribunal its policies deserve. And contrary to Littman’s implication, J Street is indeed pro-Zionist, if by Zionism you mean believing in a Jewish (majority) state that abides by democratic values. It is populated by American supporters of the Labor Zionist movements; this is, of course, a good thing. From a Palestinian perspective, any voice for Zionism is a voice for dispossession. I can understand the sentiment, but I must disagree. Shame on Littman for his contempt and his ignorance.

  6. Adam

    I agree that the swipe at Belafonte is ignorant, petty, and insulting. Belafonte, one of MLK’s advisers, has actually been a vital part of the Civil Rights Movement in America.

  7. David Faktor

    Here in Sydney, our favourite ice cream is the Golden Gaytime. Pretty weird for the world’s second largest gay city. How self loathing is that?

  8. Marc

    You can be gay and support Israel- simply shocking! Odd that Peace Fundamentalists seem bent on ensuring destruction of a people’s home.

    Great piece!

  9. Ben

    “While I agree that events like the Russell Tribunal attract their share of hot-heads, ignorant cause-niks and wing-nuts…”
    Their SHARE? 100% of everything isn’t a share of anything.
    For the rest: Harry Belafonte’s civil rights activism doesn’t really match with the vile anti-human rights forces that the 100% share of the Tribunal fall over to (bumblingly) support, his genuine achievements don’t make him a flawless saint of humanity; Noam Chomsky is useful to these folks as a classic Azajew, not a Zionist strawman; it’s nice to read a historical perspective that simply winds back in time to whatever year/event is most anti-Israel and just as simply ignores anything that happened before or after that if it’s factually damaging to Palestinians (including the real reasons Left-leaning parties in Israel have melted down so completely); and, well, I actually agree that J Street is Zionist as they’re still trying to find a way to balance their anti-Zionist/anti-Semitic friends (two groups with a huge amount of overlap) with more rational perspectives so they can be a genuine alternative to AIPAC instead of a brushed-off irritant. Oh, and while Mr. Littman justly showed contempt for the Tribunal, he didn’t show ignorance just because you didn’t like what he was writing.


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