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Israel's gay rights sleight of hand


'Pink washing' by Chris JohnstonWhen the Greens-led Marrickville council campaigned to introduce the ill-fated Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) scheme against Israel in March, posters popped up all over Sydney's inner west asking, 'Do the Greens hate gays?'

The aim of these posters — ultimately traced, not to a gay rights group but to a member of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies — was to discredit the Greens' stance on human rights. After all, if the Greens really stood for gay rights then they wouldn't be boycotting the 'only country in the Middle East where homosexuality is not a capital offence or even a crime'.

This, it turns out, was not an isolated incident but rather part of a larger pattern of what many in the gay rights community have dubbed 'pink washing'. That is, a concerted, worldwide effort, often by the Israeli government itself, to use gay rights as a means of winning public support for Israel.

Shai Bazak, Israel's consul-general to New England, has deemed November 'Out In Israel' month in Boston, and organised gay celebrities to give panel discussions of their (positive) experiences of being openly gay in Israel. And earlier this year, the Israeli foreign ministry set up an exhibition of gay art in London and Manchester, where, again they invited prominent gay Israelis to attend.

One invitee, Gal Uchovsky, revealed that the brief sent by the ministry insisted speakers inform English audiences 'that Israel is the only country in the Middle East that respects gay rights ... where gay people can live openly and safe'. Uchovsky ultimately declined the invitation.

This is not the first time Israel has seized on global struggles in order to win the public relations war against Palestinians. In 2008, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a speech at Israel's Bar Ilan University, declared Israel was 'benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon', which had 'swung American public opinion in (Israel's) favour'.

Indeed, 9/11 marked the point at which Israel reframed its conflict with the Palestinians, as a fight against terrorism rather than anti-Semitism.

Israel is 'spinning' gay rights in a similar way. Gays do enjoy more rights in Israel than in the Palestinian territories, due primarily to their own tireless and often dangerous campaigning. But Israel is using gay rights to encourage the erroneous perception that it is locked in an existential battle with Palestinians, thus masking the true nature of the conflict: that of occupier and occupied.

Israel could withdraw from Palestinian territory and still support gay rights. The two are not mutually exclusive.

This hasn't stopped pressure being placed on gay groups the world over to publicly support Israel. Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) is a Toronto based group, which for many years has marched in Pride Toronto in support of Palestinian rights. But in the last two years, as the 'pink washing' trend gained momentum, the group began to meet opposition.

In 2010, it all came to a head when pro-Israel groups demanded QuAIA be banned from the parade. With sponsors threatening to withdraw support, organisers did just that.

While it may seem natural for gays to side with Israel, this support epitomises the major failings of so many human rights movements. Namely, that they tend to prioritise their own struggle without considering the ways in which all forms of discrimination are linked.

The concept of intersectionality, first coined by feminist sociologist Kimberlé Crenshaw, has recently been adopted by the UN, which explains: 'discrimination is not just one isolated category; it can be many categories all at the same time'.

It is not enough to simply eliminate one form of oppression. Even if homophobia were completely eradicated in Israel, gay Israeli Arabs would still suffer discrimination on account of their race. The question is, do gays deserve human rights because they are gay, or because they are human?

What intersectionality highlights is that these different forms of discrimination are co-dependent since they perpetuate the dominance of the strong over the weak. Israel is using the fact that gays suffer discrimination in order to actively discriminate against another group.

What supporters are overlooking is that some of those currently suffering under Israeli occupation are gay as well as Palestinian. Thus, they are unwittingly participating in the oppression of their own.

The greatest civil rights leaders in history understood intersectionality. Perhaps the greatest of them all, Martin Luther King Jr, famously warned that 'injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere'. Members of the gay community, tempted into supporting Israel unconditionally, would do well to heed these words.

Ruby HamadRuby Hamad is a freelance writer and graduate from Victorian College of the Arts, where she majored in screen writing and directing. She also holds a Bachelor's degree in Political Economy from the University of Sydney. Ruby lives in Sydney where she is developing several feature film scripts. 


Topic tags: Ruby Hamad, Israel, Palestine, Middle East, Gay rights, Greens



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Existing comments

The punishment for homosexuality in Islam is death. Homosexuals are not punished by death in Judaism. Big difference. Ask the homosexuals.

Skye | 14 November 2011  

Ruby needs to think through some of these issues further. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an existential conflict precisely because the Arab world and Palestinians per se have not been able to come to terms with the existence of a Jewish national state in the Middle East. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank is a product of that conflict, not its cause.

One can believe as I do that Israel is a liberal democracy providing greater rights for gay people, women and other minority groups than any other state in the region, and still be critical of the policies of the current Israeli Government, and support two states for two peoples. Ruby should remember that more than half the Jewish population of Israel were originally from her home country Syria and other Arab countries, and experienced appalling discrimination at best in those countries and ethnic cleansing at worst. By the way neither Arabs nor Jews are a race, there is no such concept. And Martin Luther King is probably not the best person to cite in a critique of Israel, he was an unconditional supporter of Zionism who regarded critics of Israel as anti-Semites.

philip mendes | 14 November 2011  

The writer ignores the biggest reality of all - Palestinians could stop violating the human rights of hundreds of millions of gay people anytime they want; thus Palestinians have the power to end Israel's use of gay human rights by Palestinians simply ending human rights abuses against gay people. Why isn't the writer demanding Palestinians end human rights violations rather than condemning Israel for upholding the human rights of hundreds of millions of gay people?

C'mon Palestinians - prove to the gay community you are not simply mass human rights violators against the gay community and the gay community will side with you more.

Dan | 14 November 2011  

The author makes an interesting point. It is simplistic to side with Israel on the basis that they show greater support for human rights in one particular context. Human rights are universal. Palestine's position (while obviously significant in a practical sense) is quite irrelevant to this intellectual point.

Edwina | 14 November 2011  

The principle of intersectionality is interesting; the continued dominance of the strong over the weak. Could this then not be applied throughout much of the Muslim world where minorities are denied their human rights?

Iraq is now all but empty of Christians who have been there since the dawn of Christianity. The Arab spring is bringing a rise of Islamic fundamentalism that will see Sharia Law enforced. This discriminates against non-Muslims. Palestine itself has seen the percentage of Christians fall dramatically. And in some Muslim majority countries the Ahmadi sect of Islam are in fear of their lives as they have been officially judged as heretics.

We can all improve our record on human rights. However, I contend that some countries, Israel included, has got less to be lectured about than many other countries.

John Ryan | 14 November 2011  

Ruby, Ruby, like a film script you have created a scenario where, possibly, millions of Muslim Gays invade israel seeking freedon to practice their lifestyle. Aren't the Israelis just so stupid? Here they are advertising to the world their tolerence on the one hand, and hoping that the opressed in Muslim countries do NOT seek refuge there on the other.

I have stated in Eureka Street before the fact that Christianity speaks in many voices, giving it the ability to cover any given issue from many viewpoints without each voipoint using the sword at every other viewpoint that it disgrees with; that is its strength. Likewise Israel accepts many different ideas, different belief values, different ways of living as part of the human rights that need no verbalisation; that gives in the vibrancy it has. That is its strenght Ruby, when did you last hear anyone statement from the Israeli Goverment that it is part of their policy to anihilate every Arab state in existence?

Josh | 14 November 2011  

There is an article in Time on the very issue of Indonesia's treatment of the Ahmadis. If you read the article, you will note how it is plainly stated by the minister for Religious Affairs, that the Ahmadis may not openly practice their faith, or proselytize. What would Indonesia, and other Muslims countries say, if Western countries put a similar ban on Muslims? How many Westerners would decry our intolerance, while not holding Muslim countries to the same standard? It was good to see the author of the article plainly calling Indonesia to lift its game. Here is the link. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2099185,00.html#ixzz1dcqZ0nar

John Ryan | 15 November 2011  

JOSH, JOSH, why do people refer to homosexuals as somehow "seeking freedom to practise their lifestyle"? How on earth does the spiritual, physical and sexual core of a human being suddenly become a lifestyle - as if akin to being vegetarian? It's obvious that homophobia is not a religious issue at all it's pure and simple bigotry no different to racism.

AURELIUS | 15 November 2011  

I post here a link to an article from Reuters. It shows that Malaysia may not be as modern and moderate in its Islam as some people like to think. A couple of states are proposing harsher penalties for homosexuals. The law would also apply to those who support homosexuality. Where would you rather be a gay, Israel or Malaysia? http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2011/11/11/malaysian-states-with-islamic-law-eye-harsher-punishments-for-muslim-gays/

Patrick James | 15 November 2011  

It is not only sexual rights, but racial and religious as well. The Palestinian Authority declared that no religious or ethnic Jews would be allowed in the Palestinian state. This would be enforced by ethnic cleansing.

De Jure discrimination against non-Arabs exists throughout the Arab world and it is not at all unfair to add homophobia to the charges of racism and religious discrimination.

mick | 15 November 2011  

There is no question that Israel's record on gay rights is close to exemplary, not only in the region but in general. It seems that Ruby is disturbed by this wrinkle in her anti-Israel platform.

She is also flat-out wrong in her claim that "the Head of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies" was responsible for anti-Greens posters in Marrickville. Those were posted by one Dr John Nemesh, who is indeed Jewish but certainly not the "Head" of that organisation. The charges that he breached the electoral act by not stating his name on the posters were dismissed in Newtown Court last week.

Ruby seems to have some difficulty distinguishing between fact, fiction and polemic.

SG | 15 November 2011  

I have no problem owning up to my mistakes SG. Nemesh may not be the 'head' but he is certainly a member. In any case, whether or not he was guilty of electoral fraud is a moot point. Fact is, he admitted to being responsible for the posters. My discussion of the posters was limited to the role they play in Israel's spin, and in that respect I was not mistaken.

And now that we have all determined that, yes indeed, gays in Israel have it pretty good, can everyone please let me know why this means Israel is allowed to oppress and occupy Palestine? Why do some people deserve rights and others don't? I'm yet to see anyone address that part of my article.

Ruby Hamad | 15 November 2011  

Ruby, you ask “Why do some people deserve rights and others don't?” Maybe you should ask the Palestinian leaders that question. If they hadn’t wasted the last 100 years trying to prevent or eliminate the re-establishment of a sovereign Jewish presence in Israel, the Palestinians would have had their own state since 1948, alongside Israel.

The Palestinian leadership has never wanted Jews to have an independent political presence in Israel. They want the Jews either to leave or be killed or go back to being second-class citizens in an Islamic state.

"Israel will exist until Islam will obliterate it", says the Hamas Charter.

Can't get a denial of another people's rights - even of their right to exist at all- much clearer than that.

As that old Jewish guy Rabbi Hillel once said: "All the rest is commentary".

SG | 16 November 2011  

And while we're on the topic of denying other people's rights at the most fundamental level, take a look at this video, hot in Gaza this week: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=u0L3p-fXh7w&mid=52 .

Compare and contrast that to the position of Arabs in Israel: Arab citizens serving as Knesset members, Arab judges in Israel's supreme court, even Arab Israeli soldiers today, including women.

Israel will leave the West Bank, as it left Gaza almost 7 years ago. Never mind that instead of peace from Gaza it got 8,000 rockets and the hatred spewed in the video above to incite more.

There will be a state (or two) of Palestine eventually. For the sake of the Palestinian people, may their human rights records towards their citizens (especially their female and their gay citizens) come even close to Israel's towards its.
As for the rights Hamas or Fatah governments may accord any non-Muslims they may possibly allow to remain resident - one shudders to think.

SG | 16 November 2011  

In reality, it is only in Israel that homosexuals, women and Palestinians enjoy equal rights with other citizens. Moreover the Israelis are the one people in the region who have consistently sought peace. As long as Palestinians foment conflict and hatred, they will reap what the sow.

Brian Wimborne | 18 November 2011  

Ruby your argument is not supported by the actions of Arab and Islamic Terrorists.

Leonie | 01 December 2011  

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