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Responses to gay Israel slur

Dec 1, 2011 | Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz

Responses to gay Israel slur
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Following on from this post concerning an accusation of Israel supposedly “pinkwashing” its public image by spruiking its record on gay rights to hide alleged injustices, a number of gay writers have penned scathing responses in the Jewish and international media.

Writing in the Forward, Jay Michaelson gives a critique of the piece by Sarah Schulman in the New York Times that began the whole kerfuffle. Michaelson — who sees eye-to-eye with Schulman on many issues — points out the flawed reasoning and skewed facts that her arguments were premised on, then exposes the intolerance in the single-minded assumptions that underlie her reasoning.

First, Israeli Gay PR exists for many reasons … Schulman views all of Israel through the single lens of the Israel/Palestine conflict. In fact, there are many perfectly ordinary and perfectly defensible reasons why Israel would want to tout its pro-gay civic life.

Second, Palestine is hell for queer people…

… Finally, I know many gay and lesbian supporters of Israel, including some whose politics are quite right-wing … Some queer Jews emphasize their solidarity with all victims of oppression, while others feel more solidarity with the Jewish state. Some of us feel pulls in both directions. LGBT people hold these views not because we are deluded or traumatized, but because people hold views. To suggest that queers should all have a certain view (i.e., the author’s) is the kind of essentialism one usually finds among homophobes.

… it is also possible, coherent, and defensible to at once appreciate Israel’s LGBT rights record, criticize Israel’s policies in the occupied territories, oppose BDS, condemn Palestinian oppression of LGBT people, and highlight the nuances and complexities of the Israel/Palestine issue that do not reduce to simplistic oppressor/victim dichotomies. Maybe that’s too complicated a position to pitch to the Times editorial page. But Israel, and Palestine, are complicated places.

Taking a more sophisticated approach, James Kirchick writes in Tablet drawing on his own experiences in advocating for gay rights in Israel to explain how the “pinkwashing” accusation undermines and threatens the tolerance in Israel that has resulted from a hard-fought struggle by its gay community; and more importantly, how the moral equivalency Schulman employs harms the very real victims of violent homophobia throughout the Middle East, including the Palestinian territories.

Though Schulman claims that, “pinkwashing … manipulates the hard-won gains of Israel’s gay community” it is Schulman who renders these gains meaningless. According to her, the victories of gay-rights advocates in Israel do not exist in and of themselves, but are cogs in a grand propaganda machine to legitimize occupation and oppression. The effort to create a more open and inclusive Israeli society is merely part of a broader PR campaign-undertaken, ironically enough, by the same right-wing forces who recommended I see a psychiatrist to cure me of my homosexuality-to fool credulous Western liberals into believing that Israel is something it’s not.

While accusing the government of Israel and pro-Israel activists of deceiving well-intentioned progressives, Schulman and her ilk are in fact using the issue of gay rights to forward an ulterior agenda. So consumed are they by hatred of Israel that they are willing to distort the truth about the horrible repression of homosexuals in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. If there’s any cleaning of dirty laundry going on here, it is Schulman’s whitewashing the plight of Palestinian gays.

Schulman’s assertion that homosexuality has been effectively “decriminalized” in the Palestinian territories since the 1950s when Jordan revoked colonial-era sodomy laws, will come as cold comfort to the countless gay Palestinians who have fled to Israel after being tortured or receiving death threats by Hamas or Fatah agents. Schulman’s claim would certainly come as news to Maen Rashid Areikat, the PLO’s ambassador to Washington. When asked earlier this year if homosexuality would be tolerated in a future Palestinian state, Areikat replied, “This is an issue that’s beyond my [authority].” … By making the absurd claim that the issue of gay rights is being “manipulated” by the Israeli government, Schulman ends up making excuses for people who kill homosexuals.

To illustrate the kind of behaviour that Schulman and those who follow her school of thought are overlooking in the Middle East, compare the situation in Israel to Iran, which has just been condemned by the UN for its treatment of homosexuals. In fact, as pointed out by Hossein Alizadeh and Cary Johnson, the Iranians attempt to justify their human rights abuses by employing the very cultural relativism that Schulman engages in.

Iranian authorities have long tried to justify the mistreatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals under the ruse of cultural relativism. Under the Islamic Penal Code of Iran, sexual activity between people of the same gender is a crime punishable by death. The method of enforcing these laws is equally grotesque. According to documentation gathered by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, individuals are forced to confess to same-sex relations under conditions that amount to torture. Those targeted may be members of the political opposition falsely accused by the government, or they may be individuals who are assumed to be guilty simply by virtue of their sexual identity or self-expression.

Iranians suspected of being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender are targets of systematic discrimination by the government. Iranian authorities — including the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, the Office of Book Licensing, and the Monitoring Board of the Press — have banned publication of material related to homosexuality. The ban extends to facts about sexual orientation and gender identity, safe sex and the history of homosexuality in Iran. Websites containing such information are summarily shut down; individuals who produce the website or simply visit are threatened with arrest. Public demonstration for LGBT rights is an impossible fantasy, and even private social events like birthday parties can be raided by the morality police, who arrest and charge attendees with criminal acts. Some Iranians are left with no choice but to leave their native country and embark on the arduous and often futile task of seeking asylum abroad.

Schulman’s bizarre diatribe against Israel clearly emerges from a blind ideological approach premised on the Israel’s evil is so all-encompassing that Israel is wrong even when it is right and must therefore be criticised for absolutely anything it may ever do. This has always been, and indeed deserves to be, on the fringe of any school of thought on the Middle East. That she was given such a prominent platform to express herself seems rather strange. Fortunately, it is unlikely that any educated readers would fail to see the gaping holes in her argument.

Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz

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