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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Gil Troy: Canadians uphold a proud human rights legacy

Canadians uphold a proud human rights legacy

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 5-21-09

Canada stood tall – dare we say, glorious and free? – during the recent Durban Review debacle in Geneva, thanks to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s pre-emptive strike in boycotting the so-called UN anti-racism conference long before anyone else did.
Canada is now spearheading the push to reform the United Nations, while challenging liberal and autocratic hypocrisy worldwide. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s bigotry at an anti-racism conference defined Durban II as yet another festival of despots bashing the West and Israel. But more significant was the alliance forged beyond the conference halls between pro-Israel and human rights activists frustrated that the UN’s Israel obsession hurts human rights.

Canadians such as MP and former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler and the executive director of UN Watch, Hillel Neuer, were essential marriage brokers in building this friendship, demanding the UN live up to its ideals and condemn the world’s true human rights abusers.

During the first World Conference Against Racism, held in 2001 in Durban, South Africa, the streets filled with anti-Zionists shouting vitriolic anti-Semitic slogans that Adolf Hitler didn’t finish the job. Some human rights groups and pro-Israel groups began working to reform the UN human rights mechanisms.

Not surprisingly, Canadians such as Cotler and Neuer were crucial in launching this initiative. Many Canadians maintain great faith in the UN’s founding ideals and are proud that John Peters Humphrey, a longtime McGill University law professor, drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Cotler, on leave as a law professor from McGill, is a world-renowned human rights crusader who has spent decades cris-crossing the globe defending the oppressed, including Nelson Mandela and Natan Sharansky. Neuer was Cotler’s student at McGill, continuing this McGill – and Canadian – tradition.

When the UN started preparations to host a review conference in Durban, Neuer was particularly well-placed to head off another hatefest. Based in Geneva as the executive director of UN Watch, he has frequently highlighted the UN’s anti-Israel obsession and its hypocrisy in letting dictatorships dominate the Human Rights Council. Working with various organizations in shifting coalitions – including its parent organization the American Jewish Committee, as well as NGO Monitor and B’nai Brith International, Freedom House and Freedom Now – UN Watch helped redirect the process.

Effective lobbying of the Ford Foundation and others cut off funds that NGOs would have used to replicate the Durban I sideshow. The UN, embarrassed by Durban I, agreed to shift the venue of this year’s conference to Geneva, where the UN and Swiss police could better control events. Western diplomats worked to moderate the Durban Review declaration. In this environment, Canada’s bold decision to boycott galvanized the forces trying to right Durban’s wrongs.

As a result, in Geneva, there were no angry mass rallies against Israel. UN Watch and dozens of other groups hosted conferences and side meetings, giving dissidents and victims from Iran, Egypt, Cuba, Burma, Rwanda and Darfur opportunities to tell their tales. The participants denounced the United Nations for allowing oppressors such as Libya to chair the Human Rights Council, and for ignoring real abuses in their zeal to demonize Israel.

The largest demonstration appears to have been a festive gathering of 2,000 to 3,000 Israel supporters on the conference’s third day. Joining one American, one Italian, one Israeli, and one French politician on the podium were two of us from McGill, Cotler and I, as well as Harper’s parliamentary secretary – and personal representative to the side conferences – MP Pierre Poilievre. The MC, David Harris, of the American Jewish committee, joked that at these events, Canadians rarely outnumber Americans. May we always compete to lead the way on these issues.

“Please use your liberty to promote ours,” Soe Aung, a Burmese dissident, begged at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy, which celebrated 60 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Convention. While the first Durban sideshow embodied the UN at its worst, the second Durban side conferences tried to meet Aung’s challenge.

If the UN starts to reform, history will honour the Conservative Harper – with his Liberal colleague Cotler – for not only saving the United Nations, but also for helping to save many liberal activists from their own moral myopia.

Center Field: Remembering the Holocaust after Ahmadinejad denied it

Center Field: Remembering the Holocaust after Ahmadinejad denied it

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 4-21-09

DURBAN DIARY

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and the author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today. He is attending the Durban Review conference as an observer.

Thanks to tremendous prep work by the Jewish community along with human rights organizations and democracies ashamed by Durban I, Durban II has been mild. Despite the undercurrent of hostility – and the occasional security threat — the UN’s move from Durban to Geneva worked. The NGO delegates’ lounge has the festive schmoozy air of any conference. The streets have been relatively quiet.

In fact, pro-Israel forces have dominated the street. On Monday, members of the European Union of Jewish Students taped their mouths shut – and were joined spontaneously by two Darfur refugees – to protest the UN’s silence on Sudan’s crimes and other human rights violations. Last night, a moving Yom HaShoah commemoration in front of the United Nations featured Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, Canadian parliamentarian Irwin Cotler, Father Patrick Desbois and the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy.

Cotler recalled his parents’ lesson that some events “in Jewish history, in world history, are too terrible to imagine, but not too terrible to have happened.” Cotler’s words and his denunciation of Ahmadinejad’s genocidal designs on Israel linked the traumas of the past that Elie Wiesel described so eloquently with the threats of the present. Mourning the Holocaust in Europe, with six elderly survivors lighting candles in front of the UN, hours  after Ahmadinejad’s Durban Review conference appearance, also linked the world’s failures yesterday with the world’s failures today.

Still, with so many eloquent supporters of Israel assembled, this conference often feels like a Jewish fringe festival – and a gathering of my mentors and heroes – but with a profound message.

Today (Tuesday), after hearing predictably anti-Israel speeches from the Palestinian and Syrian conference delegates, I attended a side NGO session on modern anti-Semitism. The capacity crowd heard Professor Wiesel, visibly anguished by Ahmadinejad’s appearance, denounce the Iranian’s speech as “an insult to our intelligence, an insult to our sensitivity, an insult to our memory.”

Wiesel received a standing ovation by demanding the UN apologize for inviting Ahmadinejad at all. The actor Jon Voight followed with a heartfelt tribute to Israel and the Jews, mystified by the hatred such a “sacred” people endure. Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz then drew “the unbroken line” linking Hitler, his Palestinian ally Haj Amin el Husseini, Yasser Arafat who called Husseini a hero, Ahmadinejad and his terrorist proxies Hizbullah and Hamas.

“Woe unto any of you out there who support Hamas,” Dershowitz thundered. “You are supporting Hitler’s heirs – you are complicit in the great evil of the twentieth century.” Natan Sharansky linked the Soviet Union’s “Orwellian world” with the modern UN’s Orwellianism. Sharansky offered a simple test for “a real conference against racism.” Countries that grant free speech should be given free speech; countries that fight against racism should be allowed to join the conference combating racism. Father Desbois, who uncovers mass graves of Jews in Eastern Europe by speaking to elderly parishioners, demonstrated the importance of challenging people to do the right thing. When he approaches, many ask “Father, why are you coming so late.”

While each of these speakers testified eloquently against the Durban distortions, the fifth speaker, Professor Shelby Steele, tried explaining the continuing appeal of modern anti-Semitism masquerading as anti-Zionism. Steele, a leading black American intellectual, analyzed the wave of revolutions after World War II which eliminated white supremacy. Unfortunately, for many Africans, Arabs, and African-Americans, ending racism, achieving freedom, did not improve their lives as much as they expected. The result was an obsession with racism, and a scapegoating of Israel and Jews, as an act of “bad faith.” It is easier, Steele said, to denounce someone else than to take responsibility for your own misery – or to work hard to improve. Anti-Semitism, is a way of “changing the subject.”

On this Yom HaShoah, in the unlikeliest of places, some of Israel’s most thoughtful defenders helped change the subject in Geneva constructively, away from the Durban obsession with “changing the subject” destructively. Professor Cotler’s warnings that the unimaginable can become the historical haunt me, even as the words of Father Desbois comfort me. We cannot be complacent. And we cannot wait for others to recognize the justice of our cause. We must challenge our friends, our neighbors, seeking out allies. We must make sure that in the future, no one looks back on a preventable historical tragedy and wonders “why are you coming so late” to ask for help.