Center Field: ‘Queers against Israel’ – are gays blinded by hypocrisy?

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 8-20-09 

How could hatred of Israel be so intense that it blinds people to what they usually perceive as their most basic self-interest? This past Sunday in Montreal, a few dozen marchers in the 2009 Montreal LGBTA Gay Pride parade marched against what they called “Israeli Apartheid.” Witnesses reported that many onlookers cheered these anti-Israel ideologues as they paraded by.

Similarly, in late June in Toronto 180 protesters 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. These antics take anti-Zionism to an absurd extreme.

As I argued in a Montreal Gazette op-ed the day of the parade, identifying as “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. In keeping with its commitment to civil liberties, 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, as amended, 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 brutalized in the most horrific of 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 against Ahmadinejad’s efforts to oppress his 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 “coloreds” 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 twentieth 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 PA 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 sideshow the “Queer Against Israel-Apartheid” activists created in Montreal and Toronto, undermining 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 only indict themselves.

Israel is not perfect, as demonstrated by the horrific murders recently at the gay counseling center in Tel Aviv. But note how Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres led the nation in denouncing that crime.

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?

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