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Palestine and gay
rights

Palestine and gay
rights

Torture

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?

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.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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James Kirchick