Queers for Palestine?

By James Kirchick

Originally published on Advocate.com January 28 2009 1:00 AM ET

Of all the
slogans chanted and displayed at anti-Israel rallies over
the past month, surely “Queers for Palestine” ranks
as the most oxymoronic. It is the motto of the San
Francisco–based Queers Undermining Israeli
Terrorism (QUIT), a group advocating financial
divestment from the Jewish State. QUIT contends that Zionism
is racism, regularly demonstrates at gay pride
marches, organizes with far-right Muslim
organizations, and successfully lobbied the International
Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission to boycott the
2006 World Pride Conference due to its location that
year in Jerusalem.

What makes QUIT
oxymoronic is that their affinity for Palestine isn’t
reciprocated. There may be queers for Palestine, but
Palestine certainly isn’t for queers, either in
the livable or empathetic sense. Like all Islamic
polities, the Palestinian Authority systematically harasses
gay people. Under the cloak of rooting out Israeli
“collaborators,” P.A. officials extort,
imprison, and torture gays. But Palestinian oppression
of homosexuality isn’t merely a matter of state
policy, it’s one firmly rooted in Palestinian
society, where hatred of gays surpasses even that of
Jews. Last October, a gay Palestinian man with an Israeli
lover petitioned Israel’s high court of justice
for asylum, claiming that his family threatened to
kill him if he did not “reform.” He’s
one of the few lucky Palestinians to be able to
challenge his plight.

And that’s
only in the relatively benign West Bank. The Gaza Strip,
which has stagnated under the heel of Hamas’s
Islamofascist rule since 2007, is an even more
dangerous place for gays, “a minority of perverts and
the mentally and morally sick,” in the words of
a senior Hamas leader. As in Iran, Hamas’s
patron and the chief sponsor of international terrorism,
even the mere suspicion of homosexuality will get one killed
in Gaza, being hurled from the roof of a tall building
the method of choice.

It’s these
facts that make the notion of “Queers for
Palestine” so bizarre. Contrary to what some
gay activists might have you believe, there really are
not that many political subjects where one’s
sexuality ought influence an opinion. Aside from
the obvious issues related to civic equality
(recognition of partnerships, open service in the
military, etc.), how does homosexuality imply a particular
viewpoint on complicated matters like Social Security
Reform, health care policy, or the war in Iraq?

The answer, at
least for some of those on the left side of the spectrum,
is one found in the early rhetoric of the Gay Liberation
Front, the leading gay rights organization to emerge
after the Stonewall riots. The GLF was, in the words
of historian Paul Berman, the “gay wing of the
revolutionary alliance” that in the 1970s challenged
the liberal consensus and came to be known as the
“New Left.”

GLF leaders, for
instance, played an instrumental role in the creation of
the Venceremos Brigade, which dispatched starry-eyed
American radicals to pick sugar cane in Cuba as a show
of solidarity with the regime of Fidel Castro. (Like
the Palestinian Authority, Communist Cuba didn’t
exactly return the kindness of its gay sympathizers;
for decades it interned gays and HIV-positive
individuals
in prison labor camps). The GLF allied
itself with a whole host of radical organizations
(like the murderous Black Panthers) whose role in the
struggle for gay equality was tenuous at best. And the very
name of the GLF was adopted from the National
Liberation Front, the moniker of the Vietnamese
Communists.

Why does this
history matter now? Although you will find few out-and-out
Marxists in the leadership of gay organizations today, most
gay activists still view the world with the same sort
of “oppression” complex epitomized by
the early radicals who led the GLF. They believe gay people
to be “oppressed,” and hold that any other
group claiming the same victim status should earn the
support of gays.

It’s for
this reason that every major gay organization was so
hesitant to talk about the overwhelming support among
African-Americans to ban gay marriage in California,
and why the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force went
so far as to commission a bogus study ostensibly
refuting that disturbing statistic itself. In the
estimation of the gay rights establishment,
African-Americans, like gays, are
“oppressed,” and there is no room for enemies
on the left. 

But gays will
never get anywhere as long as they view the world in this
constrictive and counterproductive way. Indeed, if one
wanted to construe a “gay” position on
the Arab-Israeli conflict -- that is, examine the
issue purely through the prism of the welfare of gay people
-- the inescapable stance is nothing less than
partiality for Israel. Israel, after all, is the only
state in the Middle East that legally enshrines the
rights of gay people. Gays serve openly in the military
and occupy high-profile positions in business and
public life, and Tel Aviv is an international gay
mecca. As clichéd as it may sound, Israel is an
oasis of liberal tolerance in a reactionary religious
backwater, and if gay people want to stand with the
“oppressed” of the region, it is the
Palestinians seeking a peaceful, two-state solution,
not the murderers of Hamas or their backers in Tehran, who
merit support.

None of this is
to say that gay people are wrong for sympathizing with
the downtrodden and genuinely oppressed; on the contrary,
it’s an admirable quality. But all too often,
ideologues with ulterior motives and radical agendas
pervert this worthy instinct.

It’s one
thing to express concern about the humanitarian conditions
in the Palestinian territories. But to stand alongside
the enthusiasts of religious fascism isn’t
“progressive.” It’s obscene.