As a queer person who considers himself socially conscious, I was frustrated to hear about the recent Brown/RISD Hillel event featuring Ivri Lider, a gay Israeli popstar. He argued that Israeli queers live in relative freedom, while Palestinian queers may be persecuted for their sexual identity. Let me say that I am no apologist for homophobia in Palestine, or anywhere for that matter.
However, this event was just another in Israel's public relations campaign to "pinkwash" its crimes against Palestinians and its occupation of the Palestinian territories. By creating the false illusion that apartheid Israel serves as an oasis of tolerance for all queers, this PR campaign blatantly attempts to co-opt sexual justice struggles in order to obfuscate the fact of violent, discriminatory and racist Israeli policies against both Palestinians and Arabs living within Israel (gay or otherwise). More troubling, the appropriation of queer liberatory rhetoric is twisted and used in order to justify the imposition of military imperial authority over Palestinians.
Ivri Lider was just another to take up this same line of ethically hollow propaganda by comparing the situation of queers in Israel to the situation of Palestinian queers. Lider strategically distinguished between queer rights and other political rights, a divide which I find incomprehensible but all too convenient. Israeli queers can use the struggles of Palestinian queers to claim solidarity with them along lines of sexuality while ignoring the ways in which they are complicit in their broader oppression. Lider purposefully ignores the daily realities lived by the Palestinians; realities defined by the violent, illegal Israeli occupation and colonization of Palestine.
This approach of compartmentalizing politics enables Israel to ally itself with an assumed queer agenda while actively strangling the human rights of the Palestinian people. As a member of the queer community, I am infuriated by the disregard for human life and humanitarian responsibility expressed by Israel. I reject any attempts to even implicitly market Israel as the contribution to any international liberation I should consider valuable. I also question the aims of a campaign to improve international opinion of any nation by appealing to a narrow politics of identity. Joey Low, the founder of the nonprofit organization "Israel at Heart," which was responsible for organizing Lider's tour in the U.S., stated in a Jerusalem Post interview, "The gay issue is not the highest issue on my agenda (and) I care more about the image Israel has."
While I give Mr. Lider credit for expressing sympathy to the discrimination queer Palestinians face (to be sure, Israeli queers face homophobia as well!), I find it appalling that he neglects to mention the long, brutal and illegal occupation of Palestine. The situation of militarized apartheid renders dedicated activism by Palestinians for their rights (queer or otherwise) a near impossibility. It is the systematic demolition of Palestinian homes (made possible by U.S. companies like Caterpillar!), the ongoing construction of the illegal settlements and the myriad check points in the West Bank that intentionally impede any type of collectivization or political mobilization by Palestinians. The gains made thus far by the LGBTQ movements in both the U.S. and in Israel required sustained, long-term dedicated activism in the face of homophobic policies and players in both countries — sustained commitment that is virtually unimaginable for Palestinians living under a military administration whose tactics are isolation and insecurity.
In response to this PR campaign, activist organization Queers Against Israeli Apartheid has pointed out that "Homophobia exists in Israel, Palestine, and across all borders but queer Palestinians face the additional challenge of living under occupation. Israel's apartheid system extends gay rights only to some, based on race." The struggle for sexual justice in Palestine is inseparable in both purpose and spirit from the overall cause of Palestinian freedom, justice and equality — and the struggle of all oppressed peoples of the world for that matter. If Mr. Lider and other supporters of Israel take queer rights seriously, then they should also be fervent and vocal opponents of Israel's ongoing crimes in the Palestinian territories. If they support the idea of international queer liberation, then they may have to reach beyond the privilege of being Israeli in Tel Aviv and spread their vision to ending all forms of domination that affect queer people, not just homophobia.
It's a big responsibility, but Lider is just the empowered international gay icon for the job. He can start with calling for an end to the Israeli occupation and align himself with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, one of many that seek to bring about this climate of genuine political freedom. It is only within this climate of political humanity that the beauty of queerness can realize its full potential.
If you are interested in this issue I encourage you to visit the website of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (queersagainstapartheid.org) to learn more about this issue.
Malcolm Shanks '11.5 is a Middle Eastern studies concentrator from Washington, D.C. He can be contacted at malcolm_shanks (at) brown.edu.