Speaking Truth to Strange Bedfellows

In his recent Gay City News essay, Lawrence Mass writes vigorously on the need for Jewish queers to speak out on issues concerning both communities. Drawing an analogy between the AIDS/HIV pandemic and what he calls “the current crisis of anti-Semitism,” he asks what would Larry Kramer do?

His answer is less clear, but seems to involve the enthusiastic and uncritical support for Israeli government policies so often demanded of Jews in the U.S.

The past few years have certainly seen a number of attacks on Jews––the May 2003 bombings in Casablanca, and the 1999 shooting attack on a Jewish Community Center and day camp near Los Angeles being two of the most dramatic examples. But Mass’ effort to declare that these attacks and Palestinian armed resistance to the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem are one problem with one solution is neither accurate nor useful. There are several different things going on here, and none of them can be addressed by falling in to salute the Israeli military and the government policies that it carries out.

First of all, there is the Palestinian armed resistance to the Occupation, and the occasional violent action elsewhere ostensibly in support of it––like the Casablanca bombings and almost all of the recent attacks on Jews in France. As Mass suggests, let’s “look more squarely at the macro-realities of world terrorism.”

The Occupation, now in its 36th year, is like any other military occupation––East Timor, Northern Ireland, Iraq. It holds million people under arbitrary 24-hour curfews, shoots and bombs them indiscriminately, destroys their houses, and prevents them from working or tending their farms. The results, according to the World Bank, include 53 percent unemployment (81 percent in Gaza), 50 percent of the population living on less than $2 a day, and 13 percent acute malnutrition (comparable to the Democratic Republic of Congo). Is it any wonder that a number of the youth who have grown up under these conditions have turned to the gun, in the face of a corrupt ‘Palestinian Authority’ incapable of getting a stonewalling Israeli government to negotiate in good faith?

Those are conditions that Jews and queers can recognize. We have seen them before, in the armed ghetto uprisings against Nazi oppression, in the Judenrat collaboration in the White Nights, and in the Stonewall riots against homophobic violence. Like those revolts, the Palestinian intifada has been more successful symbolically than militarily. Since September 2000, the Israeli military has injured almost 24,000 Palestinians and killed 2,547—including 262 children under 16. In contrast, Palestinian armed actions have killed 819 Israeli Jews—49 of them under 16. The implications are clear: one side has massive weaponry, paid for by U.S. aid, which it uses mainly on civilians living under occupation; the other is ill-armed and desperate.

What is the answer? The Israeli Women’s Coalition for a Just Peace, a joint Jewish-Palestinian group, has been announcing it for years: “The Occupation is Killing Us All.” Only the end of the Occupation will bring an end to the deaths of Israeli Jews as well as of Palestinians. An immediate and complete withdrawal by the Israeli military would enable a fair and just negotiation about the longer term to begin. It would also eliminate the rationale for “Pro-Palestinian” attacks on Jews elsewhere in the world, like the Casablanca bombings.

Jews in the U.S. are particularly well placed to help this effort along, since our government pays for the Occupation––$6 billion every year, from our taxes. We can help the members of the Women’s Coalition (which include many lesbians) and the queer Israeli anti-Occupation group Kvisa Shchora/Black Laundry best by demanding that our money no longer be used to feed the Occupation’s death machine.

Separately, we must deal with good old-fashioned anti-Jewish prejudice, the kind exhibited in the L.A. attack. This hatred is part and parcel of white supremacy, tied to racism directed at people of color, and almost always to virulent homophobia. The L.A. shooter, for instance, attacked a Filipino postman as well as a Jewish day camp. It’s not surprising that this ideology is more noticeable right now in the U.S., given the links between the current administration and long-standing far right agitators. Pat Robertson, for instance, who in 1998 called Jews “spiritually blind” and “spiritually deaf,” and Jerry Falwell, who that same year declared the Anti-Christ to be alive as a Jewish man, have close ties to George W.’s inner circle.

Again, there is a clear way to respond. Jewish and queer groups in the Northwest have joined communities of color and feminist groups to fight back against propagandists of white supremacy and homophobia in their strongholds. Each group targeted by the far right in that region is small, but together Jews, queers, Latinos and the other communities under attack have begun to succeed. After defeating a proposed anti-queer law in Oregon, they’ve continued to do the hard grassroots work fighting white supremacist and homophobic groups throughout the region.

That lesson, however, has not reached the “mainstream” Jewish leadership, which has cozied up to high-profile right wingers. In 2002, Robertson was awarded a “State of Israel Friendship Award,” and the Israeli Embassy threw Falwell a prayer breakfast––in both cases because of their enthusiastic support for the Occupation. Queers know this dynamic all too well—the 1998 endorsement of Al D’Amato by the Human Rights Campaign, for instance—and we know that fighting self-appointed “community leaders” is often a sad necessity.

What’s striking here is how much the self-appointed Jewish leadership agrees with those they condemn most. The prominent Jews who honor Robertson and Falwell say the same thing as those who attack Jews in Casablanca to avenge the dead of Gaza. They say, with Lawrence Mass, that the Jewish people is the same thing as the state of Israel and its government. This is why Moroccan Jews can be attacked for Ariel Sharon’s war crimes, and why American Jews can be called traitors for refusing to support those war crimes. This is why the Anti-Defamation League and American Jewish Congress prefer to ally themselves with the Christian far Right, rather than the queer communities and communities of color attacked by those who hate Jews just as much.

So, once again, let’s take Mass’ advice and “cut through a lot of the bullshit.” Most Jews live outside of the state of Israel. We’ve voted with our feet, and for the past 50 years mainly the desperate have migrated to the “homeland”—refugees from the Soviet Union’s collapse and from Argentina’s Dirty War and economic catastrophe. Some Israeli Jews are leaving, disgusted with their government’s oppressive policies or simply fleeing the danger those policies put them in. But many are staying to fight those policies, and queers are very visible among them: refusing to serve in the occupying army, agitating for Palestinian human rights and against militarism. They have the support of many Jews elsewhere, especially Jewish queers, who make up a large part of groups like New York’s Jews Against the Occupation and San Francisco’s Jewish Voices For Peace. All share one basic message: the state of Israel does not speak for us. It claims to act in our name, but only endangers us. What should Larry Kramer do? Work to end the Israeli Occupation, and struggle for justice at home––act up, fight back!

Daniel Lang/Levitsky works with Jews Against the Occupation.

Lawrence Mass’ essay “Jews, Anti-Semiticism, Mass Murder, and Silence appeared in the October 23-29 issue of Gay City News and is available online at www.gaycitynews.com/gcn_243/jewantisemitism.html.

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