Queers Should Focus on Arab World and Iran, Not Israel

Israeli-Palestinian Face-Off: Part 2 of 2 | The LGBT communities of the world are now confronted with a strange fusion of homophobic radical Islamists and extreme left-wing groups.

In recent weeks, the anti-Israeli groups Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QAIA) and Siegebusters have taken shots at the one Middle Eastern country that respects the rights of its LGBT community. As 100,000 people took part in the annual Gay Pride Parade in Tel Aviv, QAIA stoked hatred of the Jewish state at similar parades in Brooklyn and Queens. They are slated to march in the jumbo Pride Parade in Manhattan on June 26.

Meanwhile, Siegebusters — whose membership appears to overlap with QAIA’s –– are raising funds to sponsor a flotilla to violate Israel’s legal naval blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

The alliance between Hamas and Siege Busters/ QAIA is unsettling. Hamas co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar has said, “You in the West do not live like human beings. You do not even live like animals. You accept homosexuality. And now you criticize us?”

Both the European Union and the United States have designated Hamas a terrorist organization because it showers Israel’s southern cities with rockets and calls for the obliteration of the Jewish state. The purpose of the naval blockade is to prevent weapons and rocket smuggling into Gaza.

Meanwhile, homosexuality remains a crime across the Muslim world. In Syria, Bashar al-Assad’s regime imposes a three-year prison sentence for same-sex relations. In Libya, where Muammar Qaddafi has ruled for more than 40 blood-soaked years, the punishment is five years in prison. In Yemen, the penalty is death. The Islamic Republic of Iran and Saudi Arabia lead the world in enforcing capital punishment against their LGBT communities. And the list goes on.

What is most ironic about QAIA’s obsession with Israel is that the Jewish state is the only government in the Middle East that openly encourages acceptance of LGBT communities –– and even tourism by foreign gays.

Tzipi Livni, Israel’s former foreign minister and head of its opposition party Kadima, spoke at the Tel Aviv pride event. Citing Israel’s declaration of independence, she highlighted the government’s responsibility to guarantee the rights of all people.

“There are still many teenagers who fear the price of freedom is the love from their parents if they come out to them,” Livni said. “There are parents who are still prejudiced and unwilling to accept their children as they are.”

Nitzan Horowitz, an openly gay member of the Meretz party in the Knesset, told participants in the Tel Aviv parade, “We will expand the struggle so that anybody who wants to live his or her life on their own path can do that without fear of being cursed or hit in the street, without fearing being thrown out of their home, and without the fear of being harassed at work.”

In a largely overlooked remark to a joint session of the US Congress in late May, even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blasted the lethal homophobia flourishing in Muslim countries. He compared Israel’s “path to liberty” with “the Middle East [that] has long rejected it. In a region where women are stoned, gays are hanged, Christians are persecuted, Israel stands out. It is different.”

In early June, New York’s LGBT Community Center denied QAIA permission to hold meetings there, leading to charges it was silencing dissent and free speech. Yet the Center would surely deny individuals and groups the opportunity to rent space when their rhetoric is animated by hatred. It would never welcome, for instance, the crackpot anti-gay Reverend Fred Phelps and his followers, who blanket military funerals and gay events with signs reading “God Hates Fags.”

When QAIA equates Israel with the former Apartheid regime of South Africa, they evince little practical understanding of the vast distinctions between them. Those distinctions are not lost, however, on the Vanguard Leadership Group, made up of students and alumni from historically black colleges and universities in the US. In April, the organization spoke out against the odious likening of the Jewish state to the former Apartheid regime.

Vanguard president Michael Hayes said, “This rhetoric does absolutely nothing to help Israel-Palestine negotiations or relations. We feel this type of action serves to hinder the peace process domestically and abroad, and have made it our priority to take a stand to shift the tide of understanding.”

In fact, our understanding of anti-Semitism has broadened in recent years to respond to new manifestations of “the world’s oldest hatred.” The former Soviet Union’s renowned refusenik Natan Sharansky, now an Israeli human rights activist, explained that the Jewish state faces extreme critics in the West identifiable through a “3-D test” –– in that they demonize, delegitimize, and apply double standards to Israel, ones they would apply to no other country in the world. QAIA’s rhetoric and actions are consistent with that pattern of attack.

Siegebusters and QAIA have said nothing of the thousands of Syrian refugees who fled as Assad began gunning down his own citizens. They have uttered not a peep as Libya and Yemen have persecuted democratic reformers.

In a preemptive move to insulate themselves from charges of anti-Semitism, QAIA and Siege Busters note that some of their members are Jewish. Sherry Wolf, a self-described socialist and anti-Zionist Jewish member of Siegebusters, has invoked this Jewish insurance policy to inoculate the group against criticism it is fanning the flames of Jewish hatred.

There are gays who are closeted and homophobic. There are women who are misogynists. And, sadly, there are Jews who are anti-Semitic.

The post World War II definition of anti-Zionism — a euphemism for opposition to Israel’s right to exist — was neatly captured in the late 1960s by the Austrian Jewish writer Jean Amery, who noted, “Anti-Zionism contains anti-Semitism like a cloud contains a storm.” When rising anti-Semitism burgeoned among left-wing Europeans in the late 19th century, the German Social Democrat August Bebel termed the affliction a “Socialism of Fools.” The misguided leftists associated with QAIA, unfortunately, follow in that tradition, besotted with the anti-Semitism of fools.

Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow at the Iran Human Rights Project of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

For Part 2 of this Face-Off, see Laura Durkay and Brad Taylor's “We’re Here, We’re Queer — And We Support Palestine!