Does the confluence of three anti-Israeli incidents involving the gay and lesbian community, which might be seen as merely coincidental, instead represent a deeper-seated tendency?
How can one explain Spanish gays evicting a group of LGBT Israelis from Madrid’s Pride Parade in early July, the presence of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) at Toronto’s parade the same day, and the American philosopher and gender studies professor Judith Butler’s political embrace, while in Berlin in connection with that city’s pride events, of the anti-gay, anti-feminist, radical Islamic organizations Hamas and Hezbollah?
The Spanish group organizing Madrid’s gay pride parade revoked its invitation to a delegation of Israelis because they refused to condemn their country for seizing a ship that violated an international naval blockade off its coast. The irony could scarcely be richer — Israel is the only oasis of gay rights in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, Spain’s Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Transsexuals and Bisexuals turns a blind eye to the persecution of the LGBT community in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other Muslim countries. When I spoke to Yoav Sivan, a gay Israeli journalist (and Gay City News contributor) living in the US who has written about Spanish Israelophobia, he lamented that “people make political decisions regardless of sexual orientation…they do not let their gay identity get in the way.”
In the Israeli daily Haaretz, Sivan dissected Spanish media bias against Israel: “Take the February 2008 decision by Israel’s attorney general to grant broader adoption rights to same-sex couples. Few stories about Israel are more conducive to neutral — let alone favorable — coverage in Spain, a leader in gay rights. But El Pais turned the ruling into the achievement of a community that ‘suffers flagrant discrimination’ in a clerically dominated state.”
Spain once turned the screws on the Jews, forcing them to convert to Christianity or face death during the Inquisition, and it now compels LGBT Israelis and Diaspora Jews to deny their own right to defend themselves. This new, more insidious conversion demands that people castigate Israel for taking measures the world would tolerate of any other state. Before the Holocaust, some Jews converted to Christianity to gain acceptance and recognition in mainstream European society. Now they must convert politically, becoming harsh critics of Israel.
The Spanish gay leaders Antonio Poveda and Miguel Angel Gonzalez disturbingly captured the essence of this new conversion in a joint statement: “An Israeli institution that does not explicitly condemn the Israeli army’s attack on the human rights activists seems to us to be out of place at the pride demonstration.”
On his Atlantic Magazine blog, gay journalist Andrew Sullivan, who has sometimes invoked inflammatory language against the Jewish state, stoutly defended the right of Israelis to participate in pride celebrations worldwide: “It seems to me that questions about how the law deals with sexual orientation have nothing to do with Israel’s policies concerning Gaza… or with much else in foreign policy for that matter. But if gay pride parades are to take a position on Israel, they should surely note that Israel is the safest place anywhere in the Middle East for the gays and the BLT community. Barring an Israeli float in Madrid’s gay pride parade seems perverse, exclusive, and pernicious. They think they could have a pride parade in Gaza?”
Andres de la Portilla, chair of Spain’s Association of Evangelical Homosexuals, a conservative-leaning group, responded to Poveda and Gonzalez, arguing that the delegation from Tel Aviv showed “proper support of Israel, which is the avant garde in implementation of homosexual rights in the Mideast.”
In 2007, news that Israeli Arab Lesbians would hold a conference in Haifa was not even a blip on the radar in Europe. Yet the attendees themselves conceded that the Jewish neighborhood in Haifa allowed them to express their sexual freedoms in defiance of the southern branch of the Islamic movement.
The Spanish LGBT community’s intense and peculiar preoccupation with Israel has skewed its priorities. Would Poveda and Gonzalez suggest that the Madrid pride parade march to the Iranian Embassy and demand the cessation of gay executions in the Islamic Republic? Spanish activists are pathologically fixated on Israeli foreign policy, even as waves of gays have fled President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime in Iran to avoid incarceration or public executions, seeking asylum in the West.
While Madrid’s pride event ensured that Israelis would be excluded, Toronto Pride’s organizing committee ensured last week that a rabidly anti-Israeli group, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA), could march. QuAIA has compared Israel with Nazi Germany as well as the former racist apartheid regime in South Africa, assertions that according to European Union and the US State Department definitions meet the criteria for modern anti-Semitism, largely because they serve to de-legitimize the Jewish state.
In okaying QuAIA’s participation, the Toronto Pride organizing committee departed from its 2009 language barring “violence, degradation or negative stereotypes of any person(s) or group(s).” QuAIA was initially barred because of its “apartheid” comparisons; the subsequent capitulation to a fringe group of Israel-haters marks a low point in Canada’s liberal LGBT tradition. On July 5, a day after the parade, City Councilman Cliff Jenkins announced plans to “vote in favor of revoking the city of Toronto’s funding of the Pride Parade so long as Pride organizers continue to permit the negative participation of the QuAIA.”
In yet another bizarre example of queer progressives aligning themselves with reactionary homophobic Islamic organizations, Judith Butler, in a late June interview with the Tageszeitung, a left-liberal German daily, said of Hamas and Hezbollah, “These movements could be described as left,” repeating early praise for the two groups.
Speaking at the Berlin’s Brandenburger Tor, Butler said she would refuse the Civil Courage Award at the city’s Christopher Street Day (CSD) Parade — an event attended by 600,000 people under the motto “Normal is different” — because the organizers were guilty of stoking “Islamophobia.” Adhering to a rigid social and political correctness, Butler ignored recent evidence of Muslim violence against Jews and members of the LGBT community in Germany.
That blindness explains why Jan Feddersen, a gay editor at the Tageszeitung, in a blistering commentary in June — with a sub-head reading, “In bed with Hezbollah” — exposed Butler’s confused thinking.
“That Butler gives a thumbs-up to the concept of narrow self-righteousness is actually consistent,” Feddersen wrote. “She who cannot and will not think in civil rights categories favors, in a global perspective, alliances in which homosexuals cannot be interested. Hezbollah and Hamas, she recently decreed in a speech, should be positively rated from the leftist perspective [as] organizations that fight misery and poverty and oppose what she sees as the Zionist impertinence called Israel. “
While in Berlin, Butler helped promote an alternative Christopher Street Day Parade in the Kreuzberg district, at which Israeli flags had previously been removed.
To understand the expressions of European and North American LGBT hostility against Israel, Eike Geisel, an undogmatic leftist author (1945-1997), neatly captured the justifications for modern hatred of Israel, ones that are useful in understanding hostility toward the Jewish state by LGBT Westerners: “To be against Israel in the name of peace is something new. For this hostility has cast off any practical or political motives… This new anti-Semitism does not arise from base instincts, nor is it the product of honorable political intentions. It is the morality of morons. Anti-Jewish… hostility arises from the purest human needs; it comes from the yearning for peace. It is therefore entirely innocent; it is as universal as it is moral. This moral anti-Semitism completes Germany’s restoration to goodness, in that it heralds the perfection of inhumanity: the banality of good.”
Alliances between the LGBT community and anti-Western homophobic organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah amounts to Western queers digging not only their own graves, but the graves of persecuted LGBT folks in Iran and the Arab world as well. Israel is the LGBT canary in the coalmine. The recent treatment of Israel in key pride celebrations worldwide should be nothing short of a powerful wake-up call for the global LGBT community.
Benjamin Weinthal is an American journalist living in Berlin.