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 Op-ed: What’s So Gay About Apartheid?

 Op-ed: What’s So Gay About Apartheid?


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 She is an active member of the Palestine solidarity group, Siege Busters.

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