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LGBTQ rights group names longtime Israel advocate as director amid movement’s growing criticism of government

WASHINGTON (JTA) — An LGBTQ rights group has named a longtime Israel advocate as its leader amid increasing criticism of the Jewish state from the left.

A Wider Bridge announced the appointment of Ethan Felson, formerly executive director of the Israel Action Network, on Monday. The network is  the Israel advocacy arm of the Jewish Federations of North America. Felson is a longtime leading pro-Israel professional with roots in Jewish community outreach to other minorities.

The announcement by the 10-year-old New York-based group, which advocates for LGBTQ rights in Israel and for Israel in the international LGBTQ community, comes as the pro-Israel movement faces twin challenges: Defending Israel as it appears set upon annexing part of the West Bank, and grappling with the role of Jewish groups in advocating for civil rights reforms in the wake of unrest triggered by police violence against African-Americans.

Felson, with his long experience advocating for Israel and in community outreach, is in a position to raise the group’s game at a critical juncture.

Prior to joining the Israel Action Network in 2016, Felson worked for 15 years for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs building coalitions within churches to head off anti-Israel activity.

A Wider Bridge’s quest to build coalitions with progressives in the United States has been frustrated by the growing Israeli criticism among leftists, including within the LGBTQ community, and a reluctance by A Wider Bridge to criticize Israel outside the bounds of its advocacy for LGBTQ rights in that country.

Felson, 54, in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency said he would draw on his experience building coalitions with groups that have been critical of Israel.

“I enjoy the complex conversations and helping people find constructive paths forward and stepping back from zero-sum formulas,” he said.

In the same interview, A Wider Bridge’s chairman, Alan Schwartz, said the group had not yet pronounced on the prospect of annexation.

“We have not commented on annexation publicly until we see what the annexation looks like,” he said.