Palestine and gay rights

Is it racist to say that the Palestinian Authority is light-years behind Israel in terms of LGBT equality? And why is the highest-profile international gay rights organization boycotting WorldPride in Jerusalem in August?

BY James Kirchick

July 10 2006 11:00 PM ET

When I began
reading The Advocate’s May 23 interview with the
lesbian Palestinian activist Rauda Morcos, I was
expecting to hear a nuanced take on the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Certainly a Palestinian woman
(and Israeli citizen) would be able to recount the
suffering of her people under Israeli occupation, but
would also appreciate the marked difference in
treatment that gays experience in Israel in comparison with
the territories controlled by the Palestinian
Authority.

Unfortunately,
Morcos appears to be a woman so blinded by her ethnic
nationalism that she is unable to appreciate the advantages
of Israel’s liberal society.

In her Advocate
interview Morcos recalls her response to a woman who said
that Palestinians are “backward” when it comes
to gay rights. Morcos replied, “What is
backward? Backward to whom? Are we comparing the Middle
East, the Arab community, to the Western world? This is not
a fair comparison.”

Why is the
comparison not a fair one, she says? “Because
you’re comparing our scale to your scale
without really taking into consideration if we have
our own scale.” This sort of culturally relativistic
posturing—talk of “our own scale”
in regards to basic human rights that all people
deserve, regardless of where they live—is a tool used
by individuals like Marcos to take advantage of the
guilt complexes of Western liberals. The argument
allows her to escape the otherwise obvious point that Israel
is light-years ahead of the Palestinians when it comes
to gay rights.

To say that the
Arab world is behind the West in terms of gay and
women’s rights is not racist; it is simply the
truth.

Morcos’s
cognitive failure is immediate from the first sentence of
the article, which describes her as a
“Palestinian citizen of Israel.” She,
along with 20% of Israeli citizens (who, unlike most Arabs
in the world, can vote), is not Jewish but Arab. It is
the freedom that Israel grants not just to gays but to
all of its minority citizens--especially Arab Muslims
and Christians--that allows Morcos to so heedlessly
denigrate the free society that she inhabits. If
Morcos lived under the auspices of the Palestinian
Authority and tried to be the outspoken gay rights advocate
that she is in Israel, she could well have ended up with a
bullet in her head a very long time ago.

The abusive
treatment of gays by the Palestinian Authority--which does
not differ much from the abusive treatment of gays in most
other Arab and Muslim societies--is conclusively
documented. Take just one story—in the May 2003
issue of Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide by Charity
Crouse (who is described in the story as a
“Jewish lesbian anti-occupation
activist”). Tarek, a young Palestinian gay man
suspected of homosexuality, was sentenced to a
“reeducation” camp run by Muslim clerics
under Palestinian Authority jurisdiction. He said that for a
period of two months he was “subjected to beatings
with belts, clubs, and was forced to sit on bottles
which were inserted into my rectum. I was hanged by
the hands, I was deprived of sleep, and when I finally did
sleep, my limbs were tied to the floor.”

Tarek was
lucky—he wasn’t executed. Stories like
Tarek’s are not unusual, and help explain why a
gay Palestinian underground—unfortunately,
composed mostly of prostitution and other illicit
activity—thrives in Israel, where so many gay
Palestinians have fled. By contrast, Tel Aviv has a
flourishing gay culture and Jerusalem will host the 2006
WorldPride festival in August.

Morcos’s
anti-Israel politics extend beyond her attempts to distort
the relative human rights records of Israel and the
Palestinian Authority. In October 2004 she attended
the notoriously anti-Semitic Palestinian Solidarity
Movement Conference—sponsored by organizations
alleged to be sympathetic to terrorists—which
was held that year at Duke University. At the
conference the call for Israel’s violent destruction
was repeatedly invoked; at a panel discussion Morcos
herself declared, “I would vote for a
revolution. When is our revolution going to happen?”
as if the second intifada, launched in September 2000,
had not caused enough suffering on both sides.

At the Duke
conference Morcos called upon the international gay
community to “boycott” the WorldPride
festival. No wonder, then, that the International Gay
and Lesbian Human Rights Commission honored her with
its human rights award in May. IGLHRC, ostensibly founded to
protect the rights of gays around the world, has also
decided to sit out from the event, in a disgraceful
move reminiscent of the decades-long Arab boycott of
Israel. IGLHRC’s supposed commitment to human rights,
however, has not stopped it from sending
representatives to conferences held in such bastions
of liberty as China and Cuba.

Contrary to what
Morcos might have us believe, gays around the world
should be hoping that a future Palestinian state looks more
like Israel, and not the other way around.

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