Seattle University Law Professor Dean Spade versus LGBT Israeli Activists

A delegation of Israeli Jews representing the “Alliance of Israeli LGBT Educational Organizations, a network of groups that support LGBT youth and families,” was visiting the West Coast last week.  The Israeli delegation’s visit was sponsored by A Wider Bridge, which describes itself as “a San Francisco–based national organization that seeks to educate people about Israeli LGBTQ society, politics, and culture, and to build connections between the North American LGBTQ and Jewish communities and the LGBTQ communities of Israel.”  But in response to pressure from some left-wing activists, Seattle’s LGBT commission canceled a scheduled reception for the visitors.

Several aspects of this story deserve attention: the cravenness of the commission in bowing to a few vocal activists, the absurdity of a transgender activist leading the charge against Israel, a liberal nation on such issues, after a visit to the West Bank, where his life expectancy if he were an “out” local would be calculated in months, if not days.

But there is also a law professor angle to the story.  According to the Seattle Times, “the first sign that the [Israeli] group would encounter trouble in Washington state began with a posting Monday on the Facebook page of Seattle University law professor [and the transgender activist noted above] Dean Spade, in which he called the delegation’s visit ‘apartheid and occupation’ wrapped in the rainbow flag.” The text of Spade’s letter to the Commission, in which he urges the commission to cancel the event, can be found here.

So Professor Spade is an advocate of  shunning and boycotting on political grounds Israeli LGBT activists who came to talk about LGBT issues because of his opposition to Israeli government policy.  I wonder how Professor Spade would like it if those in the legal community who find his views on Israel and Israelis as morally repugnant as he finds Israeli policies–conference organizers, law review editors, and so on–turned his own tactics against him and similarly shunned him? If anything, such a boycott would be better-grounded, as it would be based on his personal political views, rather than guilt-by-association based on his nationality.

I’d oppose such a reaction on practical grounds: once members of the legal academy got into the business of boycotts, it’s unlikely that the limits would be drawn sensibly [and indeed, there are already plenty of legal academics who in a non-sensible and haphazard way engage in various levels of boycott against people they disagree with].  But I have to admit not being able to think of any moral reasons against hoisting such individuals on their own petards.

UPDATE: A pretty good indication of where Spade is coming from politically can be found in this short essay, in which he criticizes the movement for same-sex marriage as “part of a conservative gay politics that de-prioritizes people of color, poor people, trans people, women, immigrants, prisoners and   people with disabilities.” Gay marriage is a distraction from spending one’s time, as one should, “opposing the War on Terror and all forms of endless war; supporting queer prisoners and building a movement to end imprisonment; organizing against police profiling and brutality in our communities; fighting attacks on welfare, public housing and Medicaid; fighting for universal health care that is trans and reproductive healthcare inclusive; fighting to tax wealth not workers; [and] fighting for a world in which no one is illegal.”

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