Op-ed: What’s So Gay About Apartheid?

BY Advocate Contributors

August 11 2011 4:00 AM ET

When a serious
scholar like Lillian Faderman argues that LGBT people must stand with Israel in
an op-ed for The Advocate
where she attacks the growing number of pro-Palestine LGBT activists for our
supposed “insane logic or misinformation,”
activists must respond.

Faderman
argues that because Israel has more progressive legislation regarding LGBT
people than other Middle Eastern countries, as well as the United States, we
ought to support Israel. What an aggressively narrow vision Faderman advocates
for our movement. Just because LGBT Jewish Israelis enjoy some basic reforms is
no reason to ignore the racist, colonialist and inhumane policies of that
nation.

“Why
would we work against such a country?” Faderman asks. How about the facts that
Israel has brazenly occupied Palestinian land for decades, in defiance of
international law, and denies equal rights to its Arab citizens, 20 percent of
the population? Or that Israel periodically bombs the imprisoned 1.5 million
people of Gaza, including its LGBT population, and jails, tortures and kills
people who try and peacefully challenge Israel’s brutality and apartheid.

If
white LGBT people in the United States were to apply Faderman’s logic regarding
Israel to our own country, then white queers would never stand alongside our
Black and Brown brothers and sisters to advance their civil rights. Hers is not
only an argument against solidarity to fight all oppressions, but also for LGBT
people to accept racism as a palatable necessity in the extension of our
rights. Progressives must reject this reactionary proposition.

Israel
is on a campaign to whitewash its crimes against Palestinians with a marketing
blitz to promote its pro-LGBT policies, which Palestinian queers call
“pinkwashing.” At a San Francisco forum earlier this year, Palestinian LGBT
activist Haneen Maikey explained, “It doesn’t matter what the sexual
orientation of the soldier at a checkpoint is, whether he can serve openly or
not. What matters is that he’s there at all.” Sami Shamali, also a member of
the Palestinian LGBT group, Al Qaws, agreed,
“the apartheid wall was not created to keep Palestinian homophobes out of Gay
Israel, and there is no magic door for gay Palestinians to pass through.”

The
institutional racism of the Israeli state is not only in gross violation of
international law, but also defies any sense of human decency. B’Tselem, the
Israeli human rights organization, recently reported
that 93 percent of Palestinian children caught throwing stones at heavily armed
Israeli soldiers are jailed, including those under the age of 14.  

Longtime
Israeli adviser Dov Weisglass justifies the blockade of Gaza that has led to
widespread malnutrition as a means to “put the Palestinians on a diet, but not
to make them die of hunger.”

It’s
not only Palestinians and solidarity activists who view Israel as an apartheid
state, but many of its own Jewish politicians and supporters describe it that
way. For example, Roman Bronfman, a former member of Israel’s Knesset, argues,
“The policy of apartheid has also infiltrated sovereign Israel, and
discriminates daily against Israeli Arabs and other minorities.”

The
former head of the American Jewish Congress, Henry Siegman, challenges
that oft-repeated lie that “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East”:
“A political arrangement that limits democracy to a privileged class and keeps
others behind military checkpoints, barbed wire fences and separation walls
does not define democracy. It defines its absence.”

In
her op-ed, Faderman repeats familiar tropes about the Arab world and
homophobia, so often attributed to Islam, without any reference to the legacy
of Western colonialism. Virtually all Western societies until recently were
antigay, which they spread to their territories; and the three major religions
originating in the Middle East—Christianity, Islam and Judaism—have all been
interpreted as homophobic throughout the centuries.

In
the colonizer countries of the West, industrialism gave rise to a growth of
secularism and the explosion of social movements that demanded LGBT equality.
In much of the Arab world, these developments were stymied—and continue to be
in most countries—by brutal dictatorships in cahoots with the West.

In
the case of Egypt, which Faderman explicitly cites for its LGBT repression, the
now-deposed dictator, Hosni Mubarak, was a close ally of both the U.S. and
Israel. In fact, Israel defended Mubarak to the bitter end.

In
Palestine, a largely secular and leftist tradition was smashed, and most of its
left leaders were exiled, jailed or killed by Israel. Pointing an accusatory
finger at Palestinian leaders’ illiberal stance toward LGBT people today is
obscene. To ignore Israel’s dispossession, occupation and immiseration of 10.6
million Palestinians in the world and then expect sexually liberatory ideals to
flourish under such a condition is absurd. No population anywhere on Earth has
risen to such expectations.

As
a result of pressure from a global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS)
movement against Israel, the general assembly meeting of the International Gay
and Lesbian Youth Organization was canceled a few weeks ago from its original
Israeli site. This is great news and a sign that more and more LGBT activists
are rejecting Israel’s pinkwashing in favor of the politics of solidarity. I
hope Faderman comes to reject her position and joins us. Either way, the BDS
struggle continues.

 

 Sherry Wolf is the
author
Sexuality and
Socialism: History, Politics and Theory of LGBT Liberation and blogs at
SherryTalksBack.com. She is an active member of the Palestine solidarity group,
Siege Busters.
 

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