Gays take a queer stand on Israel

In their rush to demonize the Jewish state, gay protesters have turned on their only friend in the Middle East

By Gil Troy, The Montreal Gazette, Saturday, August 15, 2009
 

An Israeli lesbian couple kisses during a Gay Pride rally in Jerusalem. Israel is the only country in the Middle East where homosexuals - both men and women - enjoy any kind of freedom or rights.
CREDIT: DAVID SILVERMAN, GETTY IMAGES
An Israeli lesbian couple kisses during a Gay Pride rally in Jerusalem. Israel is the only country in the Middle East where homosexuals – both men and women – enjoy any kind of freedom or rights.

Some participants in tomorrow’s 2009 Montreal LGBTA Gay Pride parade will be wearing black in memory of Liz Trobishi, 17, and Nir Katz, 26, two Israelis murdered at a Tel Aviv counselling centre for gay teens on Aug. 1. In expressing their outrage, these marchers will join millions of Israelis, left and right, religious and non-religious, who have denounced this crime. Unfortunately, the killer is still at large, despite a massive manhunt.

Among other solidarity gestures, Israel’s President Shimon Peres led 20,000 mourners in a public rally in memory of the youths and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the small club to pay respects.

This national outpouring mocks the sorry spectacle that marred Pride Week in Toronto in late June, when 180 protestors from Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) marched in an attempt to “reignite Toronto’s queer community in the fight against apartheid,” which is the latest trendy accusation against Israel.

Calling yourself Queers Against Israeli Apartheid defies logic, perverts history, and distorts priorities. It reflects such hatred against Israel that maligning Zionism overrides all other causes, including gay liberation; it eclipses all identities including one’s sexual identity.

The dirty little secret QuAIA must suppress is that Israel is the safest refuge in the Middle East for persecuted homosexuals, including Palestinians. Every year, Israel’s government actually grants some gay Palestinians legal residency to avoid Palestinian homophobic oppression. Israel is one of the few Middle Eastern countries to repeal its anti-sodomy law – from British Mandate days. Israel’s Equal Employment Opportunity Act now prohibits discrimination against employees based on their sexual orientation or marital status. Israel has even banned discrimination in its army.

Israel’s tolerant, celebratory, live-and-let live, Mediterranean spirit, especially in Tel Aviv, disproves the caricature of the Jewish state as a dour, embattled garrison state or theocracy. Openly gay Israelis serve in parliament, others are popular celebrities. Out Magazine has deemed Tel Aviv “the gay capital of the Middle East.”

By contrast, throughout the Arab and Muslim world, including the Palestinian territories, gays are hunted down, blackmailed, imprisoned, tortured, and occasionally executed. Gay Palestinians are often treated as collaborators and have been maltreated in the most brutal ways.

Nearly two years ago, in September 2007, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad created a stir when, during a visit to Columbia University in New York, he said, “We don’t have homosexuals, like in your country.” Of course, gays found in Iran have been beaten badly – and face the death penalty. Ironically, Ahmadinejad’s calls to wipe out Israel – and the United States – did not offend as many people as his homophobia did, just as there are many more protests worldwide against Israel’s actions to defend itself than Ahmadinejad’s efforts to oppress his own people.

In addition to ignoring Israeli tolerance and Arab oppression, the QuAIA activists sloppily compare the national conflict between Israelis and Palestinians with the racial oppression South Africa’s blacks and “coloureds” once endured. The apartheid regime systematically discriminated based on people’s skin colour.

There are dark Israelis and light-skinned Palestinians. No Israeli law discriminates against race while many laws and strictures prohibit racism. Transplanting the term “apartheid” from the South African context into the Middle East distorts history and simply tries to libel Israel by positing a false parallel with one of the most heinous regimes of the 20th century.

Finally, these anti-Israel activists have an odd calculus for determining their priorities. Defining their gay activism and identity through the prism of fighting Israel distorts realities. It exaggerates Palestinian suffering, treating it as the most pressing human rights issue today, despite Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s recent declaration – “In the West Bank we have a good reality … the people are living a normal life” – and despite the economic boom Palestinians are experiencing in Jenin and Jericho, in Ramallah and Nablus. It invites the kind of side show the Queer Against Israel Apartheid activists created at Toronto’s Pride parade, and undermines their credibility as gay activists and as anti-Israel activists.

Alas, this is a sad but increasingly typical story. We see feminists overlooking Muslim and Arab sexism, as well as Israeli tolerance, in their zeal to bash Israel. We see academics overriding their primary professional obligation to tell the truth and acknowledge the world’s complexity in their rush to caricature Israel.

When gay activists, feminists, academics, and others violate their core identities and defining values to malign Israel, they indict only themselves. Israel is not perfect, as demonstrated by the violence in the teen counselling centre. Still, sacrificing integrity and credibility to demonize a democracy is an irrational act of bad faith. Anyone who ignored a commitment to human rights to bash gays would be called homophobic. Why are we afraid to label those who demonstrate such hatred for the Jewish state, anti-Semitic?

Gil Troy is a professor of history at McGill University.

© The Gazette (Montreal) 2009
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  1. Posts about race discrimination (best posts combined for review) as of August 16, 2009 | Discrimination Law News

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