Out in the World: Breed meets with LGBTQ leaders in Israel

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Wednesday June 14, 2023
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San Francisco gay Jewish leader Dan Garon, left, Haifa Communities House for Pride and Tolerance Executive Director Daria Hershko, Haifa Mayor Einat Kalisch-Rotem, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, Jewish Community Relations Council Bay Area CEO Tye Gregory, and Lebanese-Israeli activist Jonathan Elkhoury attended the 50th anniversary celebration of the San Francisco-Haifa sister city relationship last month in Haifa. Photo: Courtesy the Jewish Community Relations Council
San Francisco gay Jewish leader Dan Garon, left, Haifa Communities House for Pride and Tolerance Executive Director Daria Hershko, Haifa Mayor Einat Kalisch-Rotem, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, Jewish Community Relations Council Bay Area CEO Tye Gregory, and Lebanese-Israeli activist Jonathan Elkhoury attended the 50th anniversary celebration of the San Francisco-Haifa sister city relationship last month in Haifa. Photo: Courtesy the Jewish Community Relations Council

San Francisco Mayor London Breed met with Israeli LGBTQ community leaders during her recent trip to Israel.

The trip was to celebrate San Francisco's 50-year relationship with Haifa, its sister city, and renew the cities' commitment to each other. This was Breed's first dedicated sister city trip since she became mayor. Breed conducted sister city activities during her trip to Paris last year as part of her European tourism tour.

Breed led a delegation of about 30 Bay Area travelers to Israel on a "San Francisco-Haifa Sister City Mission" May 9-14, according to a May 5 news release from the mayor's office.

"It's an opportunity to strengthen ties between our cities and for Mayor Breed to deepen her relationship with the Jewish community in Israel," Jewish Community Relations Council CEO Tyler "Tye" Gregory, 34, a gay man, told the Bay Area Reporter.

The trip wasn't "politically focused," said Gregory, who organized and went on the trip. He described the visit as "more of a cultural exchange."

The trip was a collaboration between the San Francisco-Haifa Sister City Committee and JCRC.

"We didn't go too deeply into the political situation in Israel," Gregory said, noting that similar to the U.S., Israel's LGBTQ community is struggling with an anti-queer backlash and a fight for democracy as the country has been engulfed in mass demonstrations for more than 22 weeks and rocket attacks from Palestine, even during Breed's trip.

"I think she was very interested in understanding how different minority communities were engaging with LGBTQ rights and the intersection between different minority communities and the LGBTQ community in Israel," he said.

Gregory also noted that the tour guide at Yad V'Shem, Israel's national Holocaust memorial, touched on what happened to LGBTQ Jews during the Holocaust. The delegation stopped at the section at the museum that had photos of LGBTQ Jews wearing the pink triangle and the Star of David patches on their jackets.

Breed requested to meet with activists and leaders of two communities — the LGBTQ community and Israeli Ethiopians — in Haifa and Tel Aviv during the trip, he said.

Breed told the B.A.R. that it was key for her to meet with LGBTQ Israelis because the community in Israel is experiencing a similar backlash as the community in the U.S.

"It was really important to me because of just a lot of what I had heard about some of the anti-LGBT, and trans specifically, sentiment and the concerns about certain policies similar, sadly, to what we see happening to trans community all over the [United States]," Breed said. She wanted "to just have that discussion with some advocates and some people who were involved in the advocacy world as well as an elected leader to understand from them directly what is going on and how we can continue to be partners in this fight."

"It was very much understanding the climate, the environment, and the experiences of the people," especially for LGBTQ Ethiopian-Israelis, she added. Breed also met with non-LGBTQ Ethiopian-Israelis.

Specific policies and strategies weren't discussed during this trip, said Breed, but "we made a commitment to really share and talk about our various policies."

Breed believes that the U.S. is a "little bit ahead" in fighting back against the anti-LGBTQ backlash than Israel is.

"I think that we're probably a little bit ahead," she said. "I think we have a lot of great organizations here in San Francisco [and] in California.

"We did touch upon some of the transformative policies that we have implemented in San Francisco," she said, talking about the universal basic income and the city's plan to end transgender homelessness by 2027. "The basis of our conversation was sharing information, sharing ideas, and really talking about ways in which we should consider collaboration."

The Guaranteed Income for Trans People, or GIFT, accepted applications late last year, as the B.A.R. previously reported. It provides $1,200 per month, for up to 18 months, to recipients.

Lesbian Tel Aviv Deputy Mayor Chen Arieli expressed to Breed that Israel's LGBTQ community looks to San Francisco and the U.S. queer and transgender community to model their organizations and programs, pointing to the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund, which works to elect LGBTQ people to public office.

"They established a victory fund so that financial resources could be available to LGBTQ candidates to get them elected," Breed said. She added that Arieli mentioned during their conversation her plans for reelection as vice mayor of Tel Aviv in 2024, but that her eyes are also set higher on Israel's Knesset, the country's parliament.

Breed did not meet with members of the Knesset in Jerusalem, the capital, due to the Israeli legislative body's conservative, anti-Democracy, and anti-LGBTQ stances, reported J. the Jewish News of Northern California. She did meet with Israeli President Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem. Herzog's son, Noam Herzog, is gay and lives with his partner, David, and their three children, reported Ynet News.

In Palestine, Breed met with Bethlehem Mayor Anton Salman.

Pleased with trip

Jewish LGBTQ and ally leaders are pleased with Breed's trip.

Arieli is "a native daughter of Haifa," Gregory said, and an LGBTQ activist, feminist leader, and former leader of Tel Aviv's Welfare Ministry.

She's "leading the charge for equality in Israel in Tel Aviv now," he continued, adding that the week before the trip, Arieli became chair of Israel Gay Youth, the country's leading LGBTQ youth organization. The B.A.R. previously reported on the group when IGY leaders visited San Francisco in 2021.

Sam Lauter, a San Francisco resident who was chair of the 2023 sister city Israel mission, observed the conversation between Breed and Arieli, stating that "it was so clear that the two of them connected."

Lauter is a public relations professional, who is a principal at BMWL and Partners, a boutique public affairs and consulting firm based in the Bay Area. He is also an ally and serves on the boards of A Wider Bridge and Democratic Majority for Israel. Democratic Majority for Israel is an American organization that supports pro-Israeli policies within the U.S.

A Wider Bridge connects North American and Israeli LGBTQ communities, according to the organization's website. The organization was founded in San Francisco by gay Jewish community leader Arthur Slepian in 2012. As the B.A.R. previously reported in 2018, Gregory is a former executive director. He took the helm when Slepian stepped down from the organization and moved the A Wider Bridge's headquarters to New York.

In 2020, as the B.A.R. previously reported, Gregory was tapped as JCRC's executive director and Slepian became chair of the board of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund of San Francisco, the Peninsula, and Marin and Sonoma Counties.

Strengthening SF's Israel ties

Last month's trip was Breed's second visit to Israel, Gregory said. Breed first went to Israel, also as a guest of JCRC, in 2012 when she was executive director of the African American Art and Culture Complex.

It also wasn't the first time Breed was in Israel during a turbulent time. During her 2012 trip tensions were high between Israel and Palestine when there were rocket attacks from both sides. Breed told the J. that she likened the rocket attacks in Israel to growing up in San Francisco's Western Addition projects where gunfire was the norm.

"We're talking about rockets vs. guns," she told the J. "I think that choosing to be afraid and walk away from a situation is the easy thing to do. And I think the hard thing to do is to open your eyes and go and explore and learn and be unafraid."

Lauter marveled at how Breed made the connection between the gunfire in her childhood to the rockets in Israel during the trip. "It's incredible how Mayor Breed internalized that into the world she grew up in where gunshots were not an unusual sound to hear," he said.

The delegation started its five-day journey in Haifa, where Breed celebrated the 50th anniversary of its sister city partnership with Israel's northern port city and to renew the two cities' partnership. Haifa has been a sister city of San Francisco since 1973.

Breed and Haifa Mayor Einat Kalisch-Rotem signed a memorandum of understanding that continues the bond and commerce relationship between the two cities. She also signed an agreement for a collaborative partnership between Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center and Rambam Medical Center, Haifa's primary level 1 trauma hospital, reported J.

During the trip, the delegation also met with environmental and academic experts and business and technology leaders in clean tech and biosciences in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem, according to the mayor's release. The meetings were an effort to learn about innovative technologies and to entice businesses to make San Francisco their base in the U.S. They also visited the Western Wall, the holy site in Judaism, as well as toured other cultural and historical sites.

In addition to Gregory and Lauter, the delegation included Jewish Community Federation CEO Joy Sisisky; former American Israel Public Affairs Committee leaders and Bay Area Jewish philanthropists Amy and Morton Friedkin; Rabbis Beth and Jonathan Singer from SF Congregation Emanu-El; Koret Foundation chief program officer Danielle Foreman; Lynn Altshuler and David Kaufman from the sister-city committee; three members of Breed's staff, including chief of staff Sean Elsbernd; and a handful of her close associates.

According to the release, the San Francisco-Haifa Sister City Committee is chaired by Bob Tandler. The committee previously led similar mayoral delegations in 2008 with then-mayor Gavin Newsom (now California's governor) and with the late Mayor Ed Lee in 2016 prior to his sudden death in 2017.

The J. reported the trip was also co-sponsored by The Koret Foundation and the federation.

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

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