On Thursday, February 9, a crowd of activists and artists gathered at the Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM) in San Francisco carrying protest signs reading “Unmask Israeli Apartheid” and “Palestinian Liberation Is Self-Determination.” On the front of the institution, they projected phrases like “Show Palestine As it Wants to be Seen” and “Unmask Zionism.” Their protest came just two days after the opening of CJM’s exhibition Show Me as I Want to Be Seen.
In an email to Hyperallergic, Jordan Reznick, one of the organizers of the protest, said their collective aim was to call out the museum’s relationship to Israel, believing its exhibition programming pinkwashes this relationship. Reznick explained pinkwashing, saying:
In 2007 Israel launched Brand Israel, pouring millions of dollars into a PR campaign designed to combat Israel’s global unpopularity due to its extreme human rights abuses. A big part of that campaign was portraying Israel as a safe-haven for queer and transgender people, while stereotyping muslim Palestinians as homophobic threats to such modern freedoms. Another big part of that campaign is funneling money into arts institutions that show Israel in a positive light and shut down all conversation about Palestine.
CJM’s website writes that Show Me as I Want to Be Seen examines the “empowered representation of fluid and complex identity” and the “unfixed self,” inspired by French Jewish artist and writer Claude Cahun.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, another activist involved in organizing the protest, wrote in an email to Hyperallergic: “This is pinkwashing, when institutions funded by oppressive regimes use LGBT-related issues to protect themselves from the obvious fact that they are funded by a government that actively participates in human rights abuses.”
“[W]e want a Jewish museum that’s not funded by Israel and far-right, racist foundations like the Helen Diller Family Fund and the Koret Foundation,” Micah Bazant, another organizer, wrote in an email to Hyperallergic. They explained:
The Helen Diller Family Foundation has been a major funder of Canary Mission, a website that intimidates and threatens pro-Palestinian student activists. Both the Dillers and the Koret Foundation — another major CMJ funder — support anti-Muslim organizations in the US, and settlement organizations in Palestine.
The root of the activists’ collective cause is the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a call to boycott Israel until the nation withdraws from occupied Palestinian territories; removes the separation wall in the West Bank; grants equal rights for ethnically Palestinian citizens of Israel; and aids the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes, as requested by UN Resolution 194 in 1948. The movement cites the South African anti-apartheid movement, which successfully employed financial boycotts to incite political reform, as its inspiration.
“As queer artists, not only do we stand in solidarity with other oppressed people, but we also reject the use of our artwork to legitimize oppression and murder. Many marginalized artists or even curators may not realize that their artwork is being mobilized in this way,” Reznick explained. Participants proudly bore signs reading “Lesbian Jewish Anti-Zionist/This is how I want to be seen!” and “Gaysians for Gaza.”
Their hope for the museum moving forward? “A museum without hypocrisy at its core,” Bazant said. They explained:
As trans Jewish artists, we dream of a Jewish museum that embodies the Jewish values of justice and solidarity. A place where we could imagine anti-racist Jewish culture, centering Jewish people of color, Mizrahim, and Sephardim. A space that actively supports liberation struggles, that could be a cultural accomplice to the Palestinian liberation movement and the Movement for Black Lives. A place where we can begin the long task of examining and repairing the damage Zionism has done to Judaism over just the last century. We dream of a museum committed to reparations from Palestine to the Indigenous Ohlone land it occupies in San Francisco.
“We want that the Contemporary Jewish Museum, alongside other arts organizations (because there are many) [to] refuse their Israeli funding,” Bhutto wrote. “It is only then that we will be able to truly open discourses around queer liberation, Interfaith solidarity and an end to the conflict. We are not truly free until all of us are free.”
The Contemporary Jewish Museum has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s repeated requests for comment.