Israel promoting its alleged LGBTQ friendliness to excuse its repression of Palestinians was once again on display in a recent Sun-Times op ed column by the Chicago consulate, which boasted of marching in Chicago’s Pride Parade.
For the last several years the Israeli government has heavily promoted a campaign it dubs “Brand Israel,” of alleged liberality towards gays and women. It does so to divert attention from its appalling human rights record against Palestinians, most recently its murder of over 100 unarmed demonstrators by Israeli Defense Force sharpshooters – including children, and clearly-identified medics and journalists.
As LGBTQs who also marched in this year’s Pride Parade under a banner, “Israel: Stop Killing Palestinians,” we have several problems with this:
1) Greater equality for one group should never justify or excuse the repression of another. LGBTQs in the U.S. have won substantial freedoms in recent years, but that record of progress in no way excuses the United States’ police killings of Black people, theft of Native American lands, separating children of immigrants from their parents, and other racist crimes. For many LGBTQ people in the U.S. who are also people of color, progress on LGBTQ rights can often seem to be a pale reflection of that enjoyed by white gays.
2) The situation is perhaps even worse in Israel. Palestinians are about one half of the population effectively controlled by the Israeli state, but most cannot travel except in tiny areas of the country with fake independence reminiscent of Native American reservations or the infamous “bantustans” of South Africa when it was controlled by the racist apartheid government. Any greater freedoms for LGBTQs that the Israeli state boasts of are largely not available to LGBTQ Palestinians.
3) For those appalled by our racist President’s despicable treatment of immigrants, especiallyLatinos, Israel presents a more developed version of his bigoted goals: Racist border wall? Israel already has it, largely built on land stolen from Palestinians. Separation of children from their families? Israel already imprisons thousands, including children, without charges and trials. For years both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have repeatedly cited the Israeli government for systemic torture, something Chicago’s notorious police torturer Jon Burge would be proud of.
Tellingly, the consulate noted that “’Pinkwashing’ is the claim that Israel celebrates the excellent status of its LGBTQ community as an intentional cover up of government wrongdoings” – but nowhere in the 585-word piece do the terms “Palestine” or “Palestinians” appear.
Israel has often boasted that it is a democracy, but any close examination shows that from day 1 it was a theocracy, effectively excluding half its population from equal rights, not to mention LGBTQs who lack equal marriage rights due to the theocratic strangle-hold over the institution of marriage.
For many years LGBTQs in the United States have organized against attempts by the anti-Semitic, Islamophobic religious right to turn this country into a “Christian nation.” The reason is simple: any “democracy” defined by religion is by definition not a democracy at all, as anyone not part of the dominant religion, such as LGBTQs, are second-class citizens. The same holds true for Israel.
As by far the largest per capita recipient of U.S. arms aid in the world, nuclear-armed Israel should be a primary concern for those in the U.S. concerned about human rights abroad.
That our bigoted President has found kindred spirits in bigots at home, and Israel’s far-right government and brutal despots elsewhere, should be a wake-up call about the human rights tragedy that Israel is inflicting on Palestinians.
A shorter version of this letter appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times here.
Andy Thayer is a co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network and helped organize the group’s “We Stand With Palestine” contingent in last Sunday’s Pride Parade.