Why is Israel a queer issue?

I’ve been trying to avoid commenting too much on Australian politics, other than listening to what’s going on here and sharing what can be learned from it with those back home.  I also, in general, avoid the Israel / Palestine issue as a whole, though I will occasionally chime in on specific points.  I’m choosing my words carefully here, and ask that readers don’t take words like “perceive” and “believe” to mean that I disagree with (or agree with) those involved – I am simply trying to share what I best understand to be the viewpoints involved to illustrate my point.

Some background, and my biases, before I continue.  I fear if I don’t explain this, I will be accused of some sort of hidden agenda, so bear with me.  The Israel/Palestine issue is, at best, complex.  Even when I do take an interest and read about it, I only get so far before I’m tempted to throw my hands up in despair.  I fear that far too many people are attempting to simplify, or oversimplify the issues.  I understand why, politically, they choose to do this, and I believe that all (most) parties involved believe they are holding the best interests of everyone at heart, even if others believe they are not.  As best I can tell (without visiting an Embassy to confirm), I’m actually an Israeli citizen, having been born to one.  From having spoken to people who live and/or lived in the area over the decades, I also know that there is a lot of hatred and negativity in (and about) the area (across all the peoples involved).  In many cases, this has been passed down from generation to generation, to the point that it appears as common sense, rather than hatred.  I won’t use the word ‘unfounded,’ since I really don’t have enough information (as, I believe, no one else does either) to decide.  Either way, I have no real solutions, and feel like I barely have enough information even to fingerpoint the specific problems that need solving.  I do have a preference towards non-violence, and towards non-repression, but won’t claim to know enough to prescribe any solution to the situation as is.

What I do know, however, is my community – the queer community.  We’re global, we’re diverse, we take innumerable shapes and forms around the world, and we very frequently disagree.  This makes us a strong, vibrant, community, and I love how well we come together on issues we agree on, while allowing one another the space to speak on our own behalf on those we disagree.  I’m proud to be part of a community that respects, nay, celebrates diversity of all kinds as much as we do.

Which is why it really hurts me to see our community, and our identities, dragged into conflicts that are seemingly not ours.  It is also why it really hurts me when some of our strongest allies are accused of being traitors and bullied – whether because of us, or supposedly in spite of us.

Most of my readers will know that in recent years (in Toronto, at least), the queer community and the Israel-Palestine debate have crossed paths more than a few times.  A group calling itself Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) has marched in the Pride Toronto parade for a few years now, originally uncontroversially and over the last two years quite controversially.  I’ll spare the details, but in 2010 this all came to a head when pro-Israel groups from inside and outside the queer community called for them to be banned from the parade, sponsors were reported to have threatened to withdraw, and ultimately the group (or, technically, its name) was banned from marching.  For me, this was an issue of censorship, which to me is far more important than almost any other issue in politics.  Without free speech (no matter how offensive some people may find it; even if I’m offended by it), our society will never progress, and we will never understand one another well enough to solve problems.  This banning led to protests (often on the streets) from numerous people within the queer community (myself included, having joined the Pride Coalition for Free Speech despite no links to QuAIA), cheers from others, and ultimately some interim solutions to allow the group to march.  The issue is still ongoing as the city may or may not withdraw funding from Pride Toronto based primarily on this issue, and the organization is in a bit of chaos at the moment as countless factors compounded to cause some serious problems with it.

On the censorship issue, I don’t have much more to say other than that QuAIA is queer people who have something to say (which, interestingly, became the basic criteria for admission into Sydney’s Mardi Gras parade this year).  Regardless of what anyone else believes, they believe this is a queer issue, and that’s all that’s important to me.  Their rationale is fairly simple (though there are diverse voices within the group as well – I’m oversimplifying here, regrettably) — Israel markets itself to queers around the world as a haven for homosexuals, where we are welcome and should come spend our tourism dollars.  Many QuAIA members take issue with the country using queer identity to convince people of its goodness while it engages in what is perceived to be other forms of badness.  Others believe more simply that human rights abuses affect all people, including queers, and they happen to be a group of queers who feel there are abuses going on there.  Agree or disagree, it doesn’t matter, because that’s their view, and in my view, they have a right to it.

All of this brings me to a couple of posters that were plastered all over Darlinghurst this past weekend during Sydney’s Mardi Gras weekend (Mardi Gras being their equivalent of “Pride”).  They’re on my Flickr (click the photo to view larger), also posted below:

Do the NSW Greens Oppose gay Rights? Do the Greens hate gays?

This, to me, answers the question posed by the title of this post — one that is frequently raised by those who oppose groups like QuAIA participating in the Pride parade.  Why is Israel a queer issue?  Because those who support Israel make it one.  Those that already claim it’s a queer issue often make the case that Israel & its supporters are using queer identities and queer rights to justify other behaviour, so they are responding.  These posters (very typical of rhetoric I’ve heard directly from Israel supporters), are excellent illustrations of the arguments made.  And it disgusts me that queers are being dragged into this.  So much so that it makes me want to oppose those who make such an argument.

Before I dissect all of the statements on these posters, I’d also like to point out that as best as I can tell, there is no QuAIA group or an equivalent in Sydney.  There were certainly no middle-eastern politics in the parade, though there were proud Jewish, Muslim, and Christian groups marching right in front of one another.  These posters, best as I can tell, are provoked by opposition to the Greenssupport of the BDS campaign.  Mardi Gras, being a few weeks before the state election, appears to have been a venue of opportunity for whoever created these.  There has already been a suggestion in the comments section of my Flickr account that these posters are in contravention of state election advertising rules.

The ‘front’ of the posters ask:

DO THE NSW GREENS OPPOSE GAY RIGHTS?
By Boycotting Israel, the NSW Greens are boycotting the only country in the middle east where homosexuality is not a capital offence, or even a crime.
Choose Freedom.  Don’t Vote Green on March 26.

These arguments are made again on the back, but I’ll take this opportunity to point something out: The Greens, at both the federal and state level, appear to be the only major party (major in the sense they are elected to more than one or two seats – Labor and Liberal have a stronghold on holding any real power, though the Greens almost hold the balance of power federally) that actually has a gender and sexuality policy, and it is very pro-queer.  Federally, both the Labor and Liberal/Coalition leaders have publicly stated opposition to same-sex marriage, while the Greens support it.  This is why I’m offended enough to write about this at length — the Greens are clear allies to the queer community, and without even reading any of the logic on these posters, I can already tell they’re being unfairly attacked.

Over to the other side:

DO THE GREENS HATE GAYS?

By boycotting Israel,t he NSW Greens are boycotting the only country in the Middle East where homosexuality is not a capital offence, or even a crime. Support gay rights. Don’t vote Green on March 26.

Translation: Greens boycott Israel. Israel doesn’t hate gays as much as everyone else around them hates gays. Therefore, Greens oppose gay rights.  Don’t listen to any of their rhetoric about supporting gay rights.  They really mean that they hate gays. Duh.

Of course, by this rationale, Greens also hate Jews, historical sites, and democracy. Oh, wait… What’s their next argument?

DO THE GREENS OPPOSE DEMOCRACY?

By boycotting Israel, the NSW Greens are boycotting the only country in the Middle East with a democratically elected government.  Support power to the people. Don’t vote Green in March 26.

Well, of course then.  There is a valid point here — Israel’s electoral system does proportional representation better than most places in the world.  I would even go so far to suggest that Israel has a more democratic electoral system than Canada.  Of course, there’s the fact that those residing in the occupied territories are not citizens and therefore do not get to vote on their own living conditions, but if you consider the Palestinian Authority to be self-governing then that eliminates that bit of undemocracy.  Of course, the Palestinian Authority is democratically elected, using a parliamentary democracy system (a list that Australia also appears on).  Wait. Which is it?  There are two possible situations here: Israel is democratic, and Palestine is self-governing and democratic, or Israel is undemocratic and Palestine is not self-governing (being occupied).  Neither of these situations fits the “only …democratically elected government” description.

More importantly, as far as I understand the BDS campaigns, they oppose the policies of Israel, not their democracy.  They want to tell Israel (and its citizens) that they will not provide them economic advantage while the country engages in the policies BDS supporters disapprove of.  That’s not the same as opposing democracy.

DO THE GREENS SUPPORT TERROR?
Iran is anti-Israel. Hezbollah is anti-Israel.  Al Qaida [sic] is anti-Israel.  Hamas is anti-Israel.  And by boycotting Israel, so are the NSW Greens.  Leave terror to the terrorists. Don’t vote Green on March 26.

Well, OBVIOUSLY!!! Iran=Hezbollah=Al Qaeda=Hamas=NSW Greens.  A boycott is so exactly the same thing as threatening to wipe the entire place from the face of the planet, engaging in all-out war, and attacking the US because of its policies on Israel.  Perhaps we should send all the Greens to prison right now, because their call to oppose Israeli policies is exactly the same as terrorism.

DO THE GREENS HATE CHRISTIANS?

By boycotting Israel, the NSW Greens are boycotting the only country in the Middle East with a growing Christian population.  Christians are people too.  Don’t vote Green on March 26.

Don’t vote Green, because Christians are people too.  I’m SO glad this poster told me as much; until I saw it I totally thought Christians weren’t people too.  (Does this make anyone else think of that episode of The Simpsons when Nelson was in a play called “Kids are People Too?”)  The real implication of this, of course, is that the Greens oppose the only country in the Middle East that is not predominantly Muslim, and therefore they must be pro-Muslim, and therefore terrorists (see point above).  In fact, if you remove the first section, you have the Greens portrayed as opposing democracy, supporting terror, and hating Christians — obviously, the Greens are Al-Qaeda in disguise.  For that matter, even if you include the hating gays, they’re still Al-Qaeda by implication.  I’m surprised “Do the Greens hate Australia?” (or America) wasn’t tacked on to the end of this.  Maybe that’s what goes in the top section for non-gay events.

I, for one, am tired of my identity being dragged into this debate.  I’m tired of my sexuality being used for political and commercial gains.  I’m tired of those who support my rights being dragged into the mud for doing so.  Can we stop with this already?

What really depresses me is that in this last year or so of the QuAIA and Pride Toronto stuff, these are the arguments I heard time and time again from those who supported banning the group, or de-funding Pride.  They don’t make any sense, and in my view are founded in homophobia (or at best, complete disregard for the real problems queer people face daily), islamophobia, and opposition to free speech.  I don’t really care who created these posters, but I do wish they had opposed things they disagree with the Greens on, rather than calling them out as homophobes which they are not.  There is already so much hatred towards queer people in today’s society, we don’t need more of it to be manufactured.

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9 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Michael Went on 2011/03/07 at 5:06 pm

    Wow. A smart person today told me that in politics truth doesn’t matter. Only spin matters. Hopefully noone changes their vote on the basis of these posters, but it’s really scary that someone might.

    Reply

  2. Thanks for posting this. You’ve obviously thoughtful and trying to be respectful on a ridiculously complex issue and I appreciate it.

    I have a couple of points for the record though I’m not expecting you to agree.

    For the record, I’m a Zionist, an atheist, consider myself Jewish by ethnicity and I’m gay. I also think Israel should unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank ASAP regardless of whether Hamas or whoever is blowing up buses and lobbing rockets. Just do it, I say.

    That said, on the issue you bring up, that QuAIA should be able to march because this is a free speech issue and free speech trumps everything, I think that’s naive. If QuAIA was an organization that advocated outlawing gay people, we would not let it march. But while we wouldn’t let that kind of organization march, that kind of organization would at least be marching for some gay-related issue.

    The Israel-Palestine conflict is not a gay issue, except that in Israel (population: 6 million) gays have rights and in Palestine and the entire Arab and Muslim worlds (population: 1 billion+), they do not and are often arrested, tortured or killed for being gay.

    Which brings me to the second point, where you write: “Why is Israel a queer issue? Because those who support Israel make it one. Those that already claim it’s a queer issue often make the case that Israel & its supporters are using queer identities and queer rights to justify other behaviour, so they are responding.”

    Again, I disagree. Does Israel market itself as a haven for gays to travel to? Yes, because it is! But has Israel nefariously passed progressive laws to trick people into thinking Israel is a progressive country? Of course not. It IS a progressive country, by any standard and measure, except for the crappy occupation, which I oppose and which is a biproduct of a war that Israel didn’t ask for. But to suggest that Israel Tourism can’t market to gays because another of the country’s policies is regressive, is ridiculous. Should Canada not have marketed itself as a gay-friendly destination when gay marriage was not yet legal? Of course not. Should Canada not market itself now as a gay travel haven because we leave our aboriginal population living in squalor? Of course not. They’re two separate issues. And should be dealt with separately.

    My 2 cents, anyway. Thanks for listening.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Charles in Vancouver on 2011/03/07 at 9:04 pm

    This particular conflation irks me as well. Very well written, Neal.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Kim K on 2011/03/08 at 2:43 am

    Nicely done! You’ve made some great arguments here – some of which I will definitely be using in the days to come.

    We’re missing you in person, but the blogging, tweeting, and facebooking help.

    Reply

  5. Good post. I’ll add, briefly: It’s also a queer issue because apartheid is especially harmful to LGBT people. Some history on South Africa, as an example: http://j.mp/hblLie

    Reply

  6. Posted by Anthony Burnett on 2011/03/27 at 9:41 am

    Good job Neal in tackling a very difficult and contentious issue. We reasoned & well argued.

    Reply

  7. Posted by james on 2011/05/12 at 4:51 pm

    Yes great article. A minor side issue. Your comment about israeli parliament’s prop representation being more demotractic that the Canadian System is very prophetic. As of may 2011 we can say that if Canadians had a similar system yous would now have a non-conservative coalition goverment rather than the current right wing ratbags!

    Reply

  8. […] naked – something that Sydney still does not allow) which I’ve discussed tangentially here.  Sydney had a controversy over the participation of an animal rights group in 2010, which was […]

    Reply

  9. […] “israel gays not real people” and countless similar variations.  These likely hit this entry which got a lot of hits at the time I posted it.  Based on all the search terms, it seems […]

    Reply

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