Gay opposition rises against Israel Apartheid Week

Activists in favor and against Israel face off after a LGBT community center cancels "A Party to End Apartheid."

Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
As the Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) events of March come to a close, a number of leading gay and non-gay activists have come out swinging to defend the Jewish state.
“When Israel is accused falsely of being an apartheid society, there is an agenda – and that is the delegitimization of the Jewish state. And that is anti-Semitic,” Stuart Appelbaum, the first international trade union leader to announce he was gay, wrote in an e-mail to The Jerusalem Post last week.
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“When Israel is singled out and held to a different standard than so many countries where people are actually oppressed because of race, that is anti-Semitism, too,” added Appelbaum, who is president of the New York-based 100,000-member Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.
Until late February, academics and activists, particularly gays and lesbians, who compare Israel with the former apartheid regime in South Africa might not have expected that action against their blasting of Israel was in the cards. Michael Lucas, a columnist for the gay US magazine The Advocate and a producer of adult entertainment films, was the game-changer. He launched a public relations and financial boycott campaign targeting New York City’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center for its plan to host an IAW event entitled “A Party to End Apartheid” with the anti-Israel group Siege Busters. Siege Busters was also slated to fundraise at the center for a new flotilla to break Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
According to Gay City News, the leading US publication on LGBT, the center’s executive director, Glennda Testone, justified the denial of space to Siege Busters, saying at a charged public forum last week that the group’s activities were not “LGBT-focused” and that its planned IAW meeting was “an incredibly controversial and contentious event.”
While Lucas’s efforts garnered a rare victory in a battle arena where anti-Israel forces have gained traction over the years, he told the Post that “I think we still have not succeeded in getting across our key point. We are not fighting ‘criticism of Israel’... We are fighting the delegitimization of the State of Israel. The stated goal of these groups is a united, multiracial Palestine. That’s inevitably a Palestine with a growing Muslim majority and the end of the Jewish homeland.”
Appelbaum also stressed that free speech rights were being used as a phony argument.
“The Siege Busters and other groups opposing the center’s decision to prohibit the Israel Apartheid Week party were intellectually dishonest. This was not a question of free speech. This was hate speech. The center should not be used as a venue for racism, Islamophobia or anti-Semitism. Nor did they even care about free speech. The same groups have consistently sought to ban and prevent supporters of Israel from expressing their views.”
Asked what was driving a segment of the LGBT community to bash Israel, Dr. Phyllis Chesler, a professor emerita of psychology and women’s studies at City University of New York and a leading expert on contemporary anti-Semitism, wrote to the Post that “over the years, the gay liberation movement, world-wide, has become increasingly Stalinized and ‘Palestinianized.’” She said that “to retain their place in the larger Left, feminist and gay movement, they have identified Palestinians as the most victimized of all, and to retain their own value as outcasts and victims, they, too, especially lesbian feminists and lesbian Jewish feminists, must toe this politically correct party line.”
According to Chesler, “the fact that Palestinians torment, torture and murder ‘queer’ Palestinians and that Israel grants them asylum does not matter.”
In a March letter to the LGBT Center in New York obtained by the Post, Yonatan Gher, the executive director of LGBT advocacy organization the Jerusalem House for Pride and Tolerance, wrote that the Jerusalem House was “a safe-haven unique to Jerusalem in its ability to be a home to Palestinians and Israelis, and Secular and Religious LGBTQ people from a wide political spectrum.”
He added that “Apartheid is a difficult word. As a peace activist myself, my experience is that the use of such terminology – despite injustices that undoubtably exist – is counter-productive to achieving the goal of promoting tolerance, acceptance and peace.
It is a term that serves to increase alienation, to push away mainstream Israeli society.”
Yet, in the latest issue of the New York-based liberal Jewish newspaper The Forward, Dr. Judith Butler of University of California, Berkeley, who has written extensively on gender theory, said it was “quite simplistic and false” to argue that Israelis are free from homophobia and Palestinians are plagued by bias against LGBT.
Butler, a fierce critic of Israel’s policies, signed a petition in support of Siege Busters and opposed the center’s cancelation of the IAW event. She noted in The Forward that in Israel, there were “modes of virulent homophobia among right-wing religious people” and “modes of living as queer” that take place “within Palestinian areas.”
What struck many LGBT observers – including Appelbaum – as bizarre was The Forward’s failure to mention that Butler had gone to great lengths to praise Hamas and Hezbollah as “progressive” and “leftist” forces. Butler has come under fire in Germany and in the United States for her defense of the two radical Islamic movements.
Last year, Jan Feddersen, a leading gay journalist with the liberal daily Tageszeitung, wrote in a commentary – with a sub-headline reading that Butler was “In bed with Hezbollah” – that she “favors, in a global perspective, alliances in which homosexuals cannot be interested. Hezbollah and Hamas, she recently decreed in a speech, should be positively rated from the leftist perspective [as] organizations that fight misery and poverty and oppose what she sees as the Zionist impertinence called Israel.”
While in Berlin last year, Butler helped promote an alternative Christopher Street Day gay parade in the Kreuzberg district, at which Israeli flags had previously been removed.
Lucas told the Post that “Butler’s comment is blatantly manipulative. She asserts that there are ‘ways of living as queer within Palestinian areas.’ Well, sure, there were also ‘ways of living as a Jew’ in Nazi-occupied territories. Just not very pleasant ones.
So what? And, sure, there is ‘virulent homophobia among right-wing religious people in Israel.’ That’s very sad. But equally true is that the few religious homophobes are kept in check by some of the most progressive pro-LGBT laws in the world and by a population which, in its vast majority, is not just LGBT-friendly but LGBT-welcoming.”