‘Pinkwashing’ Conference Head Claims Dissenters are ‘Israeli Operatives’
Bizarre clash of ideals at CUNY, where Israel is accused of using its gay-rights record to conceal its oppression of Palestinians
In a November 2012 interview with the British lesbian magazine Diva, Schulman said that “the more I work in this arena, the more aware I become of the involvement of the Israeli government in the US LGBT community.” She named Littman, among others, as “Israeli government operatives … who work for the Foreign Ministry, whose job it is to work our community along pinkwashing lines.” Among their tasks, she said, are to “plant stories in newspapers, co-opt our events … and flood websites with propaganda.”
Scary stuff—except Littman’s involvement in the nexus of things gay, Jewish, and Israel isn’t nearly so scandalous. A former student from Yeshiva Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, in Washington Heights, Littman came out of the closet in his late 20s after spending five years in a Jewish “ex-gay” reparative therapy program. Soon thereafter, he began organizing small gatherings for gay Jewish men under the aegis of “He’bro” after finding a dearth of such events in New York City, eventually earning the moniker of “King of New York’s gay Jewish nightlife.”
Because Littman had developed a “very strong mailing list,” his friends encouraged him to publicize and promote the gay-themed Birthright trip to boost its attendance, eventually leading his own for the first time in 2011. “What’s so funny is that it was the gay community that requested the Birthright trip all along,” Littman told me, disputing the claim of Schulman and other anti-pinkwashing advocates that the impetus for involving gay people more visibly in the cause of Zionism was part of a conspiracy run out of Jerusalem. “Honestly, Birthright at the time had a conservative vibe to it, and it took time and convincing and education to tell them why this trip is important. Birthright didn’t come to us and say we want to show the world that Israel is gay friendly. It was actually the gay community that pushed Birthright.” Littman also helped organize a fundraiser that provided scholarships for gay students to attend the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, “a world-class teaching and research center in southern Israel that prepares Muslim, Christian, and Jewish students to cooperatively address the shared environmental challenges of the Middle East.”
Littman took issue with Schulman’s description of him as an “Israeli government operative,” telling me that, “the only contact I’ve had with the Israeli consulate here in New York was when they wanted to march in the New York City gay pride parade” and asked him for help in organizing people to participate. And even then, it was the “cultural department of the consulate,” and not the Foreign Ministry, that contacted him. “I’ve never met anyone from the Foreign Ministry,” he said. So, he wrote a letter to the editor of Diva, asking them to issue a correction regarding Schulman’s accusation.
When the editor of Diva forwarded Littman’s complaint to Schulman, she responded with an 8-point email attempting to prove her claim that Littman is indeed an “operative” who has been “trained, promoted and financially supported by the Israeli government.” One of the points cited an “anonymous source” who relayed to Schulman how Littman once introduced himself as “the person who coordinates AIPAC’s LGBT organizing efforts. He works for Birthright and for The Jewish National Fund.” As a matter of record, Littman’s involvement with AIPAC has been limited to organizing a wine-and-cheese reception in New York for members of the gay community; he has never received compensation from either Birthright or JNF.
In the same email, Schulman cited a “Benjamin Doughterty,” who told Schulman that he found an article Littman had written for the Jerusalem Post about an encounter with a homophobic Palestinian tour guide “particularly sketchy.” From this, Schulman concluded that Littman had written “a fake report” and “planted false pinkwashing information in the Jerusalem Post.” (Presumably Schulman is citing Benjamin Doherty, a blogger for electronicintifada.net.)
Needless to say, Schulman was unable to prove her contention that Littman is an “operative” of the Israeli government—because he isn’t one. A forthcoming issue of Diva will include the following correction issued by editor Jane Czyzselska: “In our November 2012 issue we mistakenly referred to Jayson Littman and Scott Piro as ‘Israeli government operatives.’ We understand that Mr. Littman and Mr Piro have never been Israeli government operatives and have never been employed either directly or indirectly by the Israeli foreign ministry. We apologise to Mr. Littman and Mr Piro for this incorrect statement.”
Schulman’s behavior—accusing someone (by all accounts falsely) of being a spy for a foreign government and then compiling a dossier full of inaccurate “evidence” when challenged on the veracity of her claim—is the work of an activist, or of a secret policeman in the old Soviet-bloc states, not a scholar. Indeed, despite having the title of “Distinguished Professor” at CUNY, Schulman has no degree higher than a Bachelor’s from Empire State College. And Schulman’s attempt to shut out any critical voices that might challenge her loony theories appears to have extended to a political screening of the audience, in a deliberate attempt to prevent anyone who might disagree with her from attending an event that was advertised as being open to the public. Hertz says that he checked the conference website daily for a period of six weeks in hopes of reserving a ticket, only to be told they were not yet on offer. Then, one day, the website announced that tickets had been sold out (this writer had the same experience). Hertz, who managed to get a ticket from a colleague after emailing Schulman personally and being told that none were available, was surprised to see that the opening and closing plenary sessions, held in a large auditorium, were only half full. This would contradict the claim on the conference website to have “sold out six months before its date.” (Schulman, in an email, wrote: “We sold out 400 tickets, and turned away over a hundred people who wanted to buy tickets—however, what we didn’t take into account is that many people only came for one day—since the conference was during the week. We could not sell more than 400 because that was the seating limit for the auditorium.”)
In her opening speech, Schulman dropped any pretense of being anything other than an ideologue. Noting that some critics of her conference had suggested she invite “a keynote speaker from the other side,” she responded, “Like there’s two sides!” By offering a veneer of academic respectability to Sarah Schulman and her acolytes, CUNY has provided legitimacy to agitprop posing as scholarship. What’s worse, it has also trampled on the lived experience of the countless gay men, lesbians, and transgendered people who, for whatever reasons—personal, or familial, or ideological, or simply because they like the food, the weather or the beaches—have chosen, of their own accord, to embrace the Jewish state.
Like this article? Sign up for our Daily Digest to get Tablet Magazine’s new content in your inbox each morning.
Agents of Influence: Assad’s bloody grip on power in Syria shows how hard it is to dislodge a determined despot