Given the bitter polarization currently reigning in American politics and the scarcity of voices straying outside their partisan echo chambers, I cannot be accused of playing it safe as a gay writer when I submit an article to Front Page Magazine. Although I have been published by FPM three times before and have been criticizing the gay Left for a quarter century, the flames in the FPM comment areas show that some readers cannot see past that word “gay.” But it would be hard for angry readers on the Right to be any nastier than those on the Left whom I face in the gay press, and I share vital concerns with the publisher of this magazine; so, here goes.
In this age of Islamofascist terrorism, the Achilles Heel of Western civilization is one of the very things it treasures most: its hard-won tradition of tolerance and openness. The medievalist thugs who seek to destroy us do not share those values and have been using our tolerance and openness against us; hence, our struggle to balance liberty and security, which is important precisely because each loses its value without the other. That struggle has continued fitfully for more than two centuries. The least we should be able to agree upon is our obligation to use our collective strength and intelligence to protect the oases of liberty where they are threatened in the world. Unfortunately, too many of the West’s most privileged children have no idea how good they have it, and eagerly serve as Useful Idiots to our enemies.
Today’s example is Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism (QUIT). As the name suggests, these people imagine themselves to be much more liberated and fashionable by their naughty embrace of the epithet “queer” and their incredibly selective outrage against the only nation in the Middle East that offers a shred of liberty.
Ever eager to show their solidarity with Palestinians who despise them, the terribly “rad” queers of QUIT have organized a boycott against an international gay celebration scheduled for this summer, because its host country will be Israel. As a recent unsigned QUIT op-ed put it:
The theme of World Pride 2006, to be held in West Jerusalem in August, is ‘Love Without Borders.’ From the planned starting point of the march on Ben Yehuda Street, you can see with the naked eye one of the harshest borders ever constructed: a 25-foot concrete wall, called by Israel the ‘separation barrier’ and known to Palestinians as the Apartheid (or Segregation) Wall.
Here we see the obscene logic of the Left, by which a nation’s self-defense is trivialized and slandered as a mere expression of racism. Smug, self-styled idealists, observing from a safe distance that spares them from a daily risk of getting blown to bits in order to go about their business, luxuriate in their moral superiority as they march defiantly through the streets of Berkeley.
I recently distributed a column to gay newspapers rebuking these hypocrites and those who pander to them in the guise of fighting oppression. Like the Communist Party USA before them, these self-professed fighters for freedom and justice have perversely allied themselves with the sworn enemies of those values. They have the same clarity of purpose as the United Nations had when it gave the chair of its Commission on Human Rights to Libya.
What provoked me to write, however, was not the trite, silly rantings of QUIT, but the respectful treatment of them by an organization that is supposed to be more responsible – the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), a U.S.-based non-profit organization founded in 1990. Their website states, “Our mission is to secure the full enjoyment of the human rights of all people and communities subject to discrimination or abuse on the basis of sexual orientation or expression, gender identity or expression, and/or HIV/AIDS status.” One useful service they provide is to assist gay people who are seeking asylum. Given the harsh anti-gay persecution in Muslim countries, this assistance to refugees can save lives. My problem with IGLHRC is when they stray from this mission into the service of leftist dogma, merely substituting one form of oppression for another, all the while preening self-righteously.
I will have more to say about IGLHRC shortly, but first let me provide some background on the efforts of a longstanding guardian of human rights, the United States.
State Department Reports on Human Rights Practices
Every year at about this time, the U.S. State Department publishes a 5,000-page report to Congress on human rights conditions in over 190 countries. State began systematically including anti-gay abuses in the internationally respected report in 1991 during the first Bush administration. This was done in response to a request by gay activists who met with the analyst at State responsible for preparing the report. As one participant, Michael Petrelis, tells it, the official “promised, on behalf of State, to include anti-gay violations, provided he received verifiable documentation from non-government agencies, U.S. embassies, and human rights activists.” (Please note how, contrary to what you might expect if you listened to left-wing rhetoric, gay activists had no difficulty meeting with the appropriate officials to address their concerns during a Republican administration.)
I looked up the 2004 report. Included in the section on “Israel and the occupied territories” are the following entries:
In June, bystanders verbally harassed participants in a gay pride parade in Jerusalem. At the same time, a photograph and the telephone number of a homosexual Jerusalem city council member was plastered on that city's billboards along with accusations that he would bring disaster to Jerusalem. Anonymous callers threatened to bomb the parade; however, there was no violence.
In 2003, the Association of Gay Men, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Transgendered in Israel complained of several incidents in which police allegedly engaged in verbal and physical harassment of homosexuals in a Tel Aviv public park. Representatives of that organization subsequently met with the police to discuss ways to improve relations, and the police appointed contact persons in all police districts who serve as liaisons to the homosexual community. No similar complaints were reported during the year.
Now look at these entries from the section on Egypt:
In February 2003, a court rejected the appeal of foreign national Wissam Toufic Abyad, who had been convicted of "habitual debauchery" after arranging to meet a police informant posing as a homosexual man on an internet site. Abyad, serving a 15-month sentence, was unable to get his case heard by the Court of Cassation. He was released in May.
In February 2003, a Court of Appeal in Agouza, Cairo upheld the 3-year sentences of 11 allegedly homosexual men convicted of "habitual debauchery." A twelfth defendant was tried in juvenile court and later sentenced to 2 years' imprisonment. Lawyers for the 12 appealed the case to the Court of Cassation, but no court hearing date had been set, and the 12 remained in prison during the year.
Individuals suspected of homosexual activity and arrested on "debauchery" charges regularly reported being subjected to humiliation and abuse while in custody.
In March, the HRW [Human Rights Watch] Executive Director visited the country to unveil the new report "In a Time of Torture," which focused on harassment and abuse of alleged homosexuals.
Having read these reports from Israel and Egypt, ask yourself this: If you were gay, which of the two countries would you feel safer visiting for a gay pride celebration? To be sure, there were anti-gay officials in Israel who tried to keep World Pride 2006 out of Jerusalem. By contrast, no one would dream of trying to organize such an event in Egypt in the first place.
I am missing the leftists’ point, of course, by expecting “queer” activists to focus on these troublesome details. The leftists believe that (a) all forms of oppression are linked; and (b) everyone’s problems are somebody else’s fault. This leads them (1) to prefer Marxist agit-prop over useful work; and (2) to blame countries that are economically and culturally vibrant for all the problems of those that are not. This is the object of the Left’s negative-sum game: drag everyone else down to your level.
Kissing the Hand that Detonates You
Which brings me back to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. In a January 9 e-mail to members of its International Advisory Committee (IAC), IGLHRC Executive Director Paula Ettelbrick and her board liaison for IAC, Adrian Coman, asked for input on whether IGLHRC should join the LGBT World Pride celebration scheduled this summer in Jerusalem. They stated that the consensus of their staff and their board’s program committee was not to participate.
They explained, “While IGLHRC sees as its mandate the promotion of human rights everywhere, and would typically wish to support local organizations and activists, and participate in any world conference where the discussions and goals included LGBT rights, as a human rights organization, we do not feel it is appropriate to participate in a ‘world pride’ event in the middle of an occupation and in a location were our colleagues from the region could not travel to Israel to participate.”
Helpfully, the e-mail, which was forwarded to me, includes a couple of internet links for further information. One of them is to www.BoycottWorldPride.org, which reveals that the boycott effort is spearheaded by the group QUIT, which I discussed earlier.
Given IGLHRC’s stated commitment to promoting human rights everywhere, you might suppose that they have also boycotted notoriously oppressive countries like China and Cuba. You would be wrong. In 1995 in Beijing, IGLHRC was represented by Julie Dorf and Rachel Rosenbloom at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women. And in 1998 in Havana, IGLHRC’s coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean, Alejandra Sardá, presented a paper at the Third International Women’s Solidarity Meeting.
So totalitarian capitals like Havana and Beijing are fine, but the sole democracy in the Middle East, which happens to be the place to which gay Arabs in the region flee, is the target of a “queer” boycott effort, essentially because it has dared to defend itself from neighbors bent on wiping it off the map and driving its Jewish inhabitants into the sea.
As Barrett Brick, the former executive director of the World Congress of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Jews, observes, “I am most amused by the comment about Israel being a location to which regional colleagues could not travel. It is the Muslim countries that ban entry by Israelis and people with Israeli stamps in their passports.”
Contrary to leftist propaganda, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank was not the result of expansionist greed by Zionist imperialists, but a response to an attack against Israel. The occupation is therefore entirely justified. The same cannot be said of Israeli settlements in the occupied territory, but on the other hand several democratically elected Israeli governments have sought in vain to trade land for peace with neighboring tyrants. If more Arab leaders emulated Anwar Sadat of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan in choosing peace, the region could be the focus of rebuilding instead of destruction. But as Israeli diplomat Abba Eban said after Geneva peace talks with Arab countries in December 1973, “The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
The foolishness of the queer left’s boycott of Jerusalem World Pride 2006 is nothing new. In May 2002, QUIT participated in a pro-Palestinian rally at UC-Berkeley. A Palestinian objected, saying, “Gay people have no place in society, whether in Palestine or in the U.S.” When someone took issue with him, he replied, “You are a cultural imperialist.” How’s that for solidarity?
This is the Left’s idea of gay pride: demonizing Israel, which protects gay rights, while romanticizing a homophobic Palestinian culture that teaches its children no greater aspiration than to murder people by blowing themselves up.
The justifications for various boycotts aside, I generally oppose them because they tend to hurt the wrong people, and I believe that engagement works better than disengagement. When singer Paul Simon broke the ANC cultural boycott of South Africa with his “Graceland” tour in the 1980s, he was widely denounced. Yet his collaboration with South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo inspired millions and catapulted Ladysmith to international acclaim and success.
With the voices of Ladysmith director Joseph Shabalala and his colleagues gracing numerous television commercials, members of QUIT would no doubt say this only proves that Ladysmith has sold out to the global forces of capitalist oppression. But if you prefer the misdirected radicalism of spoiled American leftists to the enchantment of Ladysmith, you are more than tone deaf.
My own partner is a refugee from another part of Africa, and our travel budget for this year may not take us to Israel for World Pride. But I know where my heart will be, regardless of what decision the folks at IGLHRC make.
I’m going to Graceland.
Finding Allies in Unexpected Places
After my column, which was substantially similar to the previous section, was published in Boston’s Bay Windows on January 19, IGLHRC came in for a storm of criticism. This was partly because some people who are not swayed by leftist silliness forwarded my column to their email lists. IGLHRC’s response was to deny it all, change the subject, and ignore my critique.
On January 20, Ettelbrick released a statement with the heading, “Contrary to Press Reports, IGLHRC Is Not Boycotting World Pride in Jerusalem.” Aside from falsely characterizing my column, which had accurately described and quoted Ettelbrick’s January 9 e-mail, this statement gave some readers the false impression that my highly opinionated commentary had been a news report. Indeed, Ettelbrick objected that I had not called her prior to writing my piece, as if I were a reporter obligated to include her spin. I pointed out to her, when she phoned me on the 20th, that she was free to submit her own op-ed.
My column generated a good deal of e-mail, some of it supportive. One colleague of mine from the Midwest wrote to Ettelbrick suggesting that if she thought Israel were so despicable and the Palestinians so deserving of sympathy, IGLHRC should hold a rival international gay event in Palestinian-controlled territory. The head of a national gay organization assured me that his group supported Jerusalem World Pride. A former IGLHRC official told me of having quit a while back in disgust at their leftward drift. The head of a left-leaning foundation said I was right that the Left has a flawed perspective on the Middle East conflict.
One smart friend wrote, “Will IGLHRC cease projects and efforts in any area under ‘occupation?’ If so, that means they would have shied away from any action in Lebanon until the recent departure of de facto occupying Syrian troops. Will they cease any operations in the northern six counties of Ireland? What about the many contested border regions throughout Muslim nations, which the org appears to be so enamored of? (They remind me of foolish British ‘orientalists’ of a century ago, only in a new pseudo-socialist garb.) Albanian Kosovo, anyone? Kurdistan?”
On the other side, several readers accused me of racism for having dared to notice the prevailing Palestinian culture’s support of terrorism. In response to this, I pointed out that name-calling was not a refutation, and that it was a poor time to fault my observation about Palestinian support for terrorists, considering that Palestinians had just voted in large numbers to put Hamas in charge of their government. Holding people responsible for their choices and actions is not racist, and refusing to do so is not respect.
In an e-mail that was forwarded to me, someone wrote, “Many within our organization, the Gay Liberation Network, have long advocated for both human rights for gays within the Israeli state, and for an end to the brutal Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, colonial settlements, and the return of Palestinians to their lands previously seized by Israel.” I suppose that last phrase is intended to encompass the entire territory of Israel; but at least the writer used Israel’s name, instead of referring to “the Zionist entity.”
As I pointed out to the Palestinian victimologists, Israel accepted the United Nations’ two-state solution in 1947 while its neighbors rejected it and encouraged Palestinians to flee their homes, thinking they could get it all by going to war. Those neighbors lost and have lost every time since then. Israel, while determined to defend itself, has repeatedly sought peace. It is outrageously hypocritical for the leftists to talk about Israeli discrimination when Israel is a democracy and there are Arabs serving in the Knesset. If the tables were turned, who can doubt that any Jewish legislators’ desks would be at the bottom of the Mediterranean?
Of course, bigotry comes from lots of different directions. Several months ago I found a website that appeared to be from some unhinged person, listing the names of dozens and dozens of gay Jews. Presumably this was intended to alert people to the gathering threat from the sodomite wing of the International Jewish Conspiracy. I found my own name on the list with a question mark beside it. Whoever compiled the list was not sure I was Jewish, but included me just to be on the safe side. I am rather proud of that.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist whose work has appeared on Salon.com and the Independent Gay Forum (www.indegayforum.org). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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