Israel’s gay PR campaign
Israel has begun an aggressive public relations campaign to market itself as an oasis of gay tolerance and democracy in the Mideast, surrounded by “backward” countries where gays have no rights. The campaign is not about supporting queers in Palestine or elsewhere in the Mideast who are resisting homophobia. It is about using their experience of homophobia to promote hatred of Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims – including queer Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims. The campaign is designed to make people living in liberal democracies like Canada feel an affinity for Israel. The implication is that Israel needs to practice apartheid, colonialism, and violence in order to preserve the liberal freedoms it enjoys. It might be unpleasant, but surely we can understand the exceptional circumstances?
LGBT TRACK RECORD OF PRO-ISRAEL LOBBY GROUPS
Here in Canada, some of the most vocal defenders of apartheid Israel, like B’nai Brith and the Canadian Jewish Congress, are keen to use gay rights to make this argument. We hear, “You can’t be gay in Palestine!” Yet B’nai Brith Canada has closely aligned itself with homophobic Christian fundamentalist leaders Charles McVety and John Hagee. According to Dr. Stephen Scheinberg, former chair of B’nai Brith’s League for Human Rights, the organization actively decided not to support extending protection from hate speech to gays and lesbians in order not to offend its evangelical Christian allies.
Meanwhile, one of the two co-presidents of the Canadian Jewish Congress until June 2009, Rabbi Reuven Bulka, sat on the Scientific Advisory Committee of the U.S.-based National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). The sole purpose of NARTH is to promote “conversion therapy” to straighten out queers; they believe that homosexuality should be listed as a psychiatric disorder. For these reasons, neither the CJC nor B’nai Brith today have much credibility in talking about gay rights. Many members of QuAIA are active in efforts to support queers in countries throughout the Mideast. The CJC and B’nai Brith are absent from those efforts.
The reality is that both organizations used to be strong allies of the queer community, from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. But as both have increasingly made support of apartheid Israel the sole focus of their activity, their politics and their alliances have shifted sharply to the right, on queer rights and many other issues. Queer rights are now just a propaganda tool in the defense of apartheid Israel.
SAME OLD ARGUMENTS
During the long struggle against apartheid South Africa, many of the same arguments were used in its defense: it was an island in a sea of “backwardness”, it was the only “democracy” in the region; it protected liberal rights — even the status of gays in South Africa was invoked. Because of its special circumstances, it was argued, South Africa needed its apartheid system to protect those freedoms for the favoured race. One day, the argument that Israel needs to practice apartheid and colonialism to protect the freedoms of a favoured race will seem equally hollow.
Responses to the gay PR campaign:
Queers still face homophobia in Israel, like everywhere else. No country is free of homophobia.
Examples of Israel’s use of gay rights as a propaganda tool:
Out of the closet and into the streets of Tel Aviv. “A peek at LGBT acceptance and freedom in the Middle East.” Produced for the Israeli government by by bluestarpr.com
Come to Gay Pride in Israel. Also produced for the Israeli government by bluestarpr.com