Sunday, May 6, 2012

"Pinkwashing" by Israel - LGBYTQ friendly?

Here is an interesting statement by the director of the Columbia Law School Center for Gender and sexuality. To read the entire statement, see

Hi, I’m Katherine Franke from Columbia Law School, and I’m sorry I can’t join you today in person at the Equality Forum’s panel on legal issues, I want to thank you for indulging my presence by video.

As you no doubt know, the Equality Forum has chosen Israel as it’s featured nation this year, and for that reason I thought this was a good opportunity to talk a little bit about the state of gay rights in Israel/Palestine. Last January, I was part of the first lgbtq delegation to the West Bank – 16 of us, academics, artists, journalists, community leaders, and even a lesbian rabbi – visited Palestine and Israel in order to get a first hand sense of lesbian, gay, trans and queer politics in the region. While we were there Tel Aviv was voted in poll to be the “world’s best gay city.” Lesbians and gay men have been openly serving in the Israeli military for years, same-sex couples’ marriages have been recognized by the state for some time, and Israel has much better sexual orientation discrimination laws than we do. The Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren often notes that, in his words: Israel “provides shelter to Palestinian homosexuals seeking safety from Islamists in the West Bank.”

Given all of this, I was really curious to hear what queer Palestinians had to say about the struggles they face. I met with Israeli gay activists in Tel Aviv, as well as the members of Al Qaws, the Palestinian lgbtq group based in Ramallah, and Aswat, an organization of Palestinian lesbians who are citizens of Israel and is located in Haifa. What they told us, and what I witnessed, complicated the story of gay rights in the region considerably. Here are some highlights of what I learned:

While Tel Aviv may have a hot and hunky gay bar scene – the tolerance or acceptance of homosexuality is not as common elsewhere in the country. Israel, like the U.S. is a complex place, and is increasingly religiously conservative – in fact when I was in Jerusalem I saw that many of the public busses are now sex segregated, men sitting in front, women in the back, and in one Jerusalem neighborhood women are banned from walking on the main streets entirely so as to avoid men having contact with them. A recent report documented that almost half of the out gays and lesbians serving in the Israeli military have been sexually harassed by other servicemembers, and a member of the Knesset and Education Minister recently said that gays “are not people like everyone else,” that we are an abomination. Ambassador Oren was mistaken when he said that Israel gives asylum to gay and lesbian Palestinians. Israel does not grant asylum to any

Palestinians, regardless of their sexual orientation, and in fact won’t even let an Israeli who marries a Palestinian share their Israeli citizenship with their spouse. Tel Aviv may have a great gay scene, but most Palestinians will never see it since, regardless of their sexual orientation, because they are not allowed to pass through the checkpoints and the Wall to enter Israel from the West Bank.

What I learned from the queer Palestinians I met was that gay rights organizing in Palestine has to be understood within the context of the Israeli occupation.

The Occupation is a totalizing experience – permeating all parts of life for Palestinians. It is impossible for them to isolate their gay or lesbian selves for special legal and political treatment, but rather the fight for sexual rights is part of a larger struggle for Palestinian self-determination and freedom. Let me give you a particularly salient example: Since 2000 Shin Bet, the Israeli security service, has had a policy of blackmailing Palestinians who are gay or who are perceived to be gay and threatening to out them unless they become informants against their own people. For this reason, gay people in Palestine have a reputation as collaborators with Israel – so some of the homophobia gays and lesbians in Palestine experience is the direct product of the occupation itself. Read more….

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