Israel uses Latino HIV activist to pinkwash apartheid
|Nora Barrows-Friedman 18 October 2019|
Dozens of Latino scholars are urging a major HIV/AIDS justice organization to stop helping Israel whitewash its abuses of Palestinians.
In July, Guillermo Chacón, executive director of the Latino Commission on AIDS, traveled to Israel on a propaganda tour.
It was hosted by Project Interchange, a program of the American Jewish Committee, a prominent Israel lobby group.
It was marketed as providing a “robust, nuanced and up-to-date understanding of Israel’s political, religious, historical, social, cultural and technological issues.”
In an open letter, published below, the 71 academics and advocates – including many Latino LGBTQ activists – say the commission should refuse to participate in Israeli propaganda.
The Latino Commission on AIDS was founded in 1990 “precisely because those who held power, including US and global leaders in the fight against HIV/AIDS, left the plight of Latinx peoples and HIV/AIDS unaddressed,” the letter states.
It notes how Palestinians, like many people of color in the United States, “are systematically denied rights and targeted with state violence.”
This violence “has an ongoing and indelible impact not only on Palestinian self-determination, but also on the effective prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS.”
As an example, the letter says that those Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank who can access Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem experience later diagnoses and higher mortality rates from HIV/AIDS than Jewish Israelis.
Even though the junket already happened, scholars are worried it could herald a larger collaboration with Israel lobby institutions.
This was not the first time that the commission has partnered with AJC.
In April 2018, Chacón co-chaired an event with an AJC official about how the Puerto Rican and Jewish communities can “work together to aid Puerto Rico’s recovery” after Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Through Project Interchange, the American Jewish Committee organizes regular propaganda junkets to Israel.
In 2005, the AJC launched the Latino and Latin American Institute, which has taken politicians, journalists, business executives, religious leaders and artists on such trips.
The tours are part of the Brand Israel strategy to market a liberal image of Israel.
“Israel is very conscious that they have a pretty poor image throughout the world, and that communities of color in the US see it as a type of Jim Crow state,” said Edgar Rivera Colón, a medical anthropologist at Columbia University.
He told The Electronic Intifada that “Israel’s attempt to show itself as a progressive place is a farce – it’s cynical and it’s politically offensive to those who have been in the HIV prevention justice struggle for a long time.”
Israel has been using LGBTQ rights and HIV/AIDS issues “to pinkwash their activities, and I recognized that that’s what it was as soon as I saw that [Chacón was going on the tour],” said Adriana Garriga-López, chair of the anthropology department at Kalamazoo College in Michigan.
Pinkwashing is a propaganda strategy that uses Israel’s supposedly positive record on LGBTQ rights to deflect criticism of its abuses of Palestinians.
“I was just enraged that it was infiltrating into even the most hard-fought, radical queers of color spaces,” she told The Electronic Intifada.
Garriga-López and Rivera Colón helped write the open letter, which urges the commission to honor the 2005 Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions.
Both said that as Puerto Ricans they are part of a struggle against settler-colonialism from Puerto Rico to Palestine.
“I understand what it is to have our land taken away from us, and so does Guillermo Chacón and the [commission],” Rivera Colón explained.
“We know something about institutional racism when it comes to healthcare,” Garriga-López said, “and that’s why I couldn’t believe that [the commission] wouldn’t make those connections.”
Israel has a long history of weapons sales to, and political alliances with, Central American governments that have suppressed popular and Indigenous movements.
And Israeli companies have secured massive contracts with the US government to militarize the US-Mexico border while the Trump administration detains Latino migrants, including those seeking medical treatment, Rivera Colón noted.
He said he was shocked to see the Latino Commission on AIDS choosing to “take on the mantle of the Israeli apartheid state.”
“I think it’s time that Latinx leaders in the LGBTQ community and the border community say no, we don’t want any part of this any more than we wanted any part of South Africa during its period of apartheid,” Rivera Colón said.
“A small taste”
The open letter asserts that the commission’s work to address discrimination in healthcare directly contradicts any alignment with Israel.
Latino people denied adequate medical care and left to die in US detention camps, Garriga-López said, is a “taste of what it’s like for people in Palestine who don’t have access to healthcare because they’re living under occupation.”
She said she hopes the outcry will encourage the commission to reconsider who they choose as partners in the struggle for medical justice.
“As an AIDS activist, as a queer activist, as a Puerto Rican feminist, as a Latina, the Latino Commission on AIDS is like home,” Garriga-López said.
“It’s about queer liberation, it’s about health equity, it’s about Latino solidarity, it’s about organizing ourselves and responding to our own needs and making demands from the medical establishment and the healthcare industry.”
“Those things mean life or death for people,” she added.