Israel, the Gays and Equality Forum
by Mark Segal
The last couple of years have seen progressive LGBT people taking on issues other than equality, as well as bringing the debate into the community. Israel and the Palestinian cause has been a flashpoint. With Equality Forum in Philadelphia poised to honor Israel this May, several progressive blogs have denounced the organization and suggested the honor be withdrawn. Their argument is easy to appreciate: Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians and Palestinian state. Those progressives might have a point, but that point is misleading and downright anti-equality.
Full disclosure: I’m Jewish, but also have been a member of “Peace Now,” an organization that has often been at odds with the Israeli government. I’ve traveled throughout the Middle East, and was one of the first LGBT reporters to do a series on LGBT people living in Middle Eastern countries, including Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Israel. For those national readers, those here in Philadelphia will tell you I have no appreciation of Equality Forum’s executive director. Several years ago, he mass-emailed an obscene, graphic depiction of me that crossed the line of decency. We will never have a relationship. In conclusion, I’m not a diehard who blindly supports Israel or Equality Forum. With that stated, I think I’m in a good place to examine this issue fairly.
Here’s the fine print. Progressives are right. Israel keeps the Palestinians under total control, using roadblocks, settlements and blockades. All true. But at the same time, the Palestinians refuse to recognize the state of Israel and house organizations in the “Palestinian state” that have an agenda to wipe Israel off the map. I believe it’s fair to say that Israel has the right to protect itself against people who are at war with it. But for the LGBT community, that should not be the issue. Here’s what it should be.
Israel has some legal recognition of the LGBT community. It accepts marriage equality from other nations, it was one of the first nations to accept gays in the military, has a gay tourism campaign, gives government funds to LGBT organizations and, when a hate crime happened at the Tel Aviv LGBT Community Center, the prime minister, a conservative hawkish member of parliament (the Knesset), visited to assure the LGBT community that the government would not tolerate hate crimes against them. In the Middle East, and a nation with a strong religious right-wing itself, this is very progressive.
Compare that with the Palestinian state and culture. The culture is so hateful to LGBT people that any LGBT activism is limited due to the very possible chance of violence. There is little if any support within the Palestinian authority for any LGBT issues. Hate crimes against gay people happen regularly and, in fact, many LGBT Palestinians move to Israel for safety. Then there is the issue of honor killings. When a family believes it has been badly shamed, its members feel they have the right to kill. This has happened with families with gay children before. So by supporting the Palestinians, one is supporting an anti-equality cause, if not supporting hate crimes themselves.
Israel should indeed be applauded for being the one place in the Middle East that is a relative safe haven for LGBT people. Our community’s first priority is for the safety of our members. Can anyone state that being openly LGBT in the Palestinian territory is safe? No, you cannot.
Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. He can be reached at [email protected]