Sunday, March 06, 2011

Queers for Palestine controversy

For the seventh year, according to report, Israeli Apartheid Week is being observed in the month of March in several countries (see Yet one proposed event, scheduled for March 5 at the LGBT Center on West Thirteenth Street in New York City, has been canceled, owing to the opposition of several important donors.

This was to have been the concluding event of a national tour of representatives of Al-Qaws, Queers for Palestine, more fully: the the Palestinian Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Trans and Queer (LGBTQ) community project of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance (JOH). This group describes itself as the first-ever official Palestinian LGBTQ organization.

There are a number of valid reasons for questioning the policies of the state of Israel. And indeed I have done so. However, the status of gay men and lesbians in the Jewish state is not one of them. There LGBT people have the same rights as in most other advanced Western countries. To be sure, some Israeli rabbis fulminate against us, but so do Christian ministers in this country.

The Queers for Palestine has a generally leftist, anti-imperialist orientation. This affinity seems to call for a certain self-censorship. I have not seen the spokespeople for the group discuss the scapegoating of gay men in the Palestinian territories, where some have been tortured and even killed. Some of these men have felt compelled to flee to Israel itself where their status is uncertain. Ir is significant that Al-Qaws does not operate from Ramallah or Gaza City, but is headquartered in Jerusalem, where it is under the protection of the Israeli government.

The reluctance to discuss these facts of actual Arab discrimination and persecution hangs together with the ridiculous fairy tale being propagated by academics such as Professor Joseph Massad of Columbia University to the effect that homophobia in the Middle East is an import from the West. Before the Western incursions gay men and lesbians are supposed to have lived happy and undisturbed lives in Islamic countries. As I have shown elsewhere, the Qur’an and Sharia Law say otherwise.

Moreover, the use of the inflammatory term Apartheid is not a way of creating dialogue. Personally, I wish that there were more concern in this country for the plight of the Palestinians. Yet name calling is not the right way to achieve this aim.

Finally, there is the matter of the policies of the Center itself. Rightly or wrongly, it has not historically been open to all comers. Some years ago the administrators stepped in to stop an appearance of the poet Allen Ginsberg who was to speak in favor of NAMBLA. To be sure, this decision may have been improper. Let us suppose, though, that the Exodus group (which claims to cure gay people) or a delegation of gay Scientologists were to request to have events scheduled at the GLBTQ Center. Surely, the administrators would be within their rights to deny such a request. It is evident, then, that the Center is not open to all comers. The mistake, if any, was to first approve the request and then to deny it. But there is no universal right to appear at this community center, or indeed at any other.

AN IRREVERENT POSTSCRIPT. Today (March 6) we are told is the day that, in order to show tolerance, one should declare: "I am a Muslim for today." In my view this would be unwise since, unless one is prepared to stick to it, tomorrow one would have to be an apostate. Under sharia law apostasy is punishable by death. Really.

One needs to remember that Islam is definitely not a "religion of peace." On second thought maybe the declaration is a good idea: it would give cover for venting one's frustrations in a dramatic, possibly violent way. "I am a Muslim, so die Judaeo-Christian dogs! Unless, that is, you offer me some jizya tribute."

Now I have given myself away: only a timid academic would resort to an expression like "Judaeo-Christian."



Anonymous bambam said...

Sadly the reality is much more nuanced than what you depict here. Whether it comes to the way that israel (as a goverment) deals with it's LGBT citizens that come from an arab and a palestinian background or are seeking asylum in israel or when it come to the nuances of what Islam thinks of homosexuality or for that matter about what Islam is in general.
A general rule of thumb is that when you are criticizing something that you don't belong to or don't fully understand you should be choosing your words carefully if you actually hope to have a conversation that you would actually learn something from the other side rather than hearing your own vitriol voice.

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