Op-ed: If You Take Down Israel, What Else Goes With It?
have every reason to envy Israel's enlightened policies toward its LGBT citizens.
So it puzzles me deeply when I hear of LGBT groups lending their sympathy to
opponents of Israel.
rights we have been fighting for and still have not fully achieved in the
United States, LGBT Israelis already enjoy. I came out in the middle of the
last century and witnessed firsthand the persecution and oppression of LGBT
people. It was because of those early experiences that I devoted the last 40
years of my life to writing books and articles about our community’s history
America, as late as 2003 there were still 14 states that punished gay men under
sodomy laws. Israel abolished all sodomy laws in 1988. In America, we’ve been
fighting for decades for a law that would end employment discrimination against
LGBT people. A few states have passed such laws, but the federal government has
not. Israel passed a law in 1992 that protects any citizen (Jewish, Christian,
or Arab) from employment discrimination for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or
In America at mid-century, lesbians and gays in the military had to be
absolutely closeted; they were witch-hunted and given dishonorable discharges
if found out. The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that was passed during the
Clinton administration was actually considered “progressive” — a big improvement over
the old policy — because lesbians and gays were to be booted out of the military
only if they drew attention to their
homosexuality. Finally now, 11 years into the 21st century, America is getting
around to permitting lesbians and gays to serve openly in the military. Our
Israeli brothers and sisters have been able to serve openly since 1993, and
since 1997 a same-sex partner is recognized by the Israeli Defense Department
as a member of the soldier’s family.
When I was doing research for my 2006 book, Gay L.A.: A History of
Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians, I interviewed an 83-year-old lesbian who had just
lost her partner of almost 50 years. Their house had been in her partner’s name,
and because the partner died without a will, the law granted the house to the
deceased woman’s distant cousin, with whom she’d had no contact for decades. My
83-year-old interviewee was left without a place to live. If she’d been an
Israeli citizen — whether Jewish, Christian, or Arab — she would be living in her
home until her death because lesbian and gay couples have full inheritance
rights under Israeli law.
My partner and I have been together for 40 years. Like 18,000 other
same-sex couples in California, we got married in 2008. Though all 36,000 of us
are still married as far as the state of California is concerned, Proposition 8
banned same-sex marriage for all others. Because federal laws don’t recognize
our marriage, our legal bond doesn’t do us much good anyway. If we should
decide to move next door to Arizona or Las Vegas or Oregon — or almost anywhere
else in America — we wouldn’t be considered legally married. We both pay federal
income tax, of course, but under the law we get none of the federal benefits
that opposite-sex couples receive. In fact, the only result of our marriage
with regard to taxes is that we have to pay our accountant triple: once for
doing our state income tax as a married couple, a second and third time for
doing our federal income tax as two single payers. And if one of us should die,
that’s the end of her Social Security benefits for which she’d paid in for more
than half a century; the surviving spouse gets absolutely nothing of those
If we’d lived in Israel, we’d be much better off. In 1994 the Israeli
Supreme Court ruled in favor of granting spousal benefits to same-sex couples.
In 2004 the court ruled that LGBT couples could qualify for common-law
marriage status. In 2005 legislation was passed in Israel recognizing all
same-sex marriages that are performed abroad.
So there can be no explanation for LGBT groups participating in
wrong-headed actions such as the BDS movement that seeks boycott, divestment,
and sanctions against Israel. Outside of Israel, everywhere in the Middle East,
LGBT people are utterly despised under the law. Indeed, official treatment of
LGBT people in other Middle East countries makes the bar raids and job losses
and police entrapments that we experienced in the 1950s and ’60s seem like
coddling. If a family wishes to rid itself of the embarrassment of a lesbian,
gay, bisexual, or transgender member by “honor killing” there would be no legal
consequences in the area governed by the Palestinian Authority or Hamas, or in
Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, or Syria.
to say, and as even the Amnesty International LGBT website shows, there’s no
Middle Eastern country other than Israel in which lesbian or gay couples can
receive spousal benefits, none other than Israel in which lesbians and gays can
serve openly in the military, none other than Israel that protects lesbians and
gays from discrimination or hate crimes. In Iran and Saudi Arabia we’re put to
death. In Syria we’re thrown in prison for three years. In Egypt we’re
prosecuted under lewd conduct laws, and we’re illegal in Lebanon and Libya
After long years of struggle, American LGBT people have finally won a
modicum of freedom and justice. Only insane logic or misinformation could
justify withholding our sympathies from a country that grants our LGBT brothers
and sisters not only the benefits that we enjoy but even more. Why would we
work against such a country?
Lillian Faderman has published nine books on LGBT history and
literature. She is the recipient of several LGBT lifetime achievement awards,
including Yale University’s James Brudner Award, the Monette/Horwitz Award,
Publishing Triangle’s Bill Whitehead Award, and the ONE National Archives
Culture Hero Award.