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Queers for Palestine? I prefer Pride in Israel

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With June being international Pride month, it seems appropriate to reflect on the fact that Israel is the only country in the Middle East where homosexuality is accepted and gay peoples’ human rights are recognised and protected.

There, gay people are able to participate in all parts of society and Pride parades and celebrations aren’t just permitted but supported and incredibly well attended. In fact, Tel Aviv’s Pride parade is one of the largest and most vibrant in the world, let alone the Middle East.

This is a far cry from the situation in every other Middle Eastern country where homosexuality is criminalised and gays are deprived of the most basic human rights and protection, let alone the opportunity to host festive Pride parades once a year. From Jordan to Turkey, Syria to Saudi Arabia, and beyond, gays are one of the most persecuted minorities in those countries who can only dream about the types of freedom and acceptance enjoyed by their Israeli counterparts.

You would think then that Israel, the lone bastion of gay rights in that part of the world, could surely count on a measure of support from progressives who claim to champion gay rights and support persecuted gay minorities. You would be wrong.

In a truly stunning rejection of sanity and reason, there are an increasing number of gay rights activists who choose to vilify Israel and rather side with one of the most homophobic societies in that rather homophobic neighbourhood, the Middle East.

This group of activists can often be found waving Palestinian flags at Pride marches across the world, along with their favourite banner proudly proclaiming “Queers for Palestine”.

You might be tempted to think that these people are rightly carrying the banner for gay Palestinians who are subject to abhorrent persecution in the Palestinian territories of West Bank and Gaza. But again, you would be wrong.

The “queers for Palestine” crowd aren’t that interested in drawing attention to the fact that Palestinian society is among the most homophobic and least tolerant in the world. Rather, these activists prefer to protest against Israel and accuse the country and its supporters of something they call “pinkwashing”.

With an all too typical disregard for reality and truth, the “queers for Palestine” crowd have decided that the very real progress made in the arena of gay rights in Israel is merely a facade, a devious illusion manufactured to distract from the “evil, colonial-settler-apartheid state’s” many crimes.

This is the claim of those who cry that Israel is “pinkwashing”, and indeed, it has to be one of the more absurd attempts to demonise Israel. Its absurdity is matched only by the sheer ignorance of those inevitably leftist LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) activists who profess solidarity with Palestinian LGBT minorities but more often than not, know nothing about the truly staggering degree of homophobia in Palestinian society. They’d rather blame Israel of course.

It’s quite clear, then, that the allegations of “pinkwashing” have no substance, and are merely another attempt by anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, antisemitic – I’m increasingly of the view there’s actually no difference between those terms: they’re all just antisemites – elements on the left to attack Israel.

Do these people really think that Israel has been using its gay community to score political points with international progressives in an attempt to divert attention from the conflict with the Palestinians and other Arab neighbours?

Do these people really think that the struggle for gay rights in Israel, which spans more than 60 years, is naught but a cunning ploy to distract from Israel’s “occupation” of Palestinian land? Like I said, it’s patently absurd. But it’s also an especially malicious accusation because it erases and delegitimises Israel’s gay community, ignoring its struggle and achievements.

The fact of the matter is that while Israel’s gay rights struggle isn’t yet over, Israel is, without doubt, the safest place to be gay in the Middle East. To acknowledge this and to take pride in it isn’t “pinkwashing”, it’s simply the truth.

It’s also the truth that since the early 1960s, same-sex couples have been able to live freely in Israel without fear of institutional persecution and with protection under law.

Many of the most liberal countries in the West followed suit only a good deal later when the gay liberation movement swept the West in the 1980s. That same movement brought further far reaching recognition of gay people in Israel and subsequently, gay people have been able to serve openly in Israel’s military and also in parliament – incontrovertible evidence of a country making real social progress.

Show me a gay Palestinian politician or an openly gay member of its armed forces.

Activists who genuinely care about gay rights would be far better served embracing and supporting Israel’s gay rights efforts rather than trying to detract from and erase them. Those making the “pinkwashing” accusation claim to be acting in the interest of oppressed minorities, yet this rings hollow.

The most disturbing thing about the “queers for Palestine” crowd isn’t just that they would delegitimise what gay Israelis have achieved, it’s their total lack of concern about the deplorable treatment of gay Palestinians by their own government and institutions. The institutionalised homophobia and abuse of gay Palestinians gets little to no attention from them.

“Pinkwashing” would be pretending that queers in Palestine have any rights at all. This isn’t an exaggeration. Polls and surveys consistently find Palestinian society among the most homophobic in the world. According to such polls, about 95% of Palestinians don’t believe homosexuality to be acceptable.

In the words of Talleen Abu Hanna, a Palestinian citizen of Israel who became Miss Trans Israel in 2016: “I wouldn’t be alive if I grew up in Palestine.” But Talleen is alive and thriving and that’s because Talleen lives in Israel, and that’s something to be proud of.

  • Adam Sachs is a specialist in digital product development and agile transformation, coaching product teams, from small start-ups to the largest of enterprises.

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