On February 22, the New York City Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center cancelled an upcoming Israeli Apartheid Week fundraising “party,” whose organizers planned to raise money for another flotilla to “break the siege of Gaza.”
Michael Lucas, a pro-Israel activist and gay adult filmmaker who belongs to the Center, insisted that this anti-Israeli-Apartheid “party” would be “anti-Semitic.” His opponents are mainly Jewish lesbian feminists who believe that the cancellation undermines their right to free speech. Over the years, most lesbian feminists have strongly supported pornography as a First Amendment right. Only now are they demonizing Lucas as a “Zionist” pornographer.
According to Sherry Wolf, a spokeswoman for a group called SeigeBusters, and an outspoken proponent of the cancelled anti-Israeli-Apartheid “party”: “It’s atrocious that after 28 years, [the LGBT Center is] becoming yet another occupied, homogenized space that only powerful and, frankly, white people dominate.” She subsequently organized a demonstration that took place on March 5, the date the fundraising event was to have taken place. On March 14, at a forum organized to debate the issue, SeigeBusters and its supporters outnumbered the pro-Israel activists by more than two to one.
When I was much younger, I took an idealistic view of gays and lesbians — invariably associating them with divine artists, writers, dancers, composers, playwrights and civil rights activists. But then, when I began working with real lesbian and bisexual women as part of my feminist activism, I discovered that — like everyone else — lesbians were neither angels nor devils. Like men, many lesbian feminists I met had internalized sexism and homophobia, and did not really respect or trust other women. In many cases that I observed, they used their intimate groups to bully, isolate and then shun any lesbian feminist who was “out of line” — despite the common pretense that feminist groups are leaderless and free-thinking.
In particular, I discovered that lesbians, bisexuals and “queers” often are expected to toe a party line when it comes to the Middle East. I am talking about the Palestinianization of lesbian feminists, including — perhaps especially — Jewish lesbian feminists, who are more concerned with the rights of a country that does not exist, “Palestine,” than with the rights of real Muslim women who are forced to veil themselves, accept arranged marriages and whom are victimized by honour killings when they are seen as too western or disobedient.
I have seen these North American lesbian “queers” at university-based Israel Apartheid Week events in America and Canada, wearing kaffiyas, sporting buttons that say “I am a Palestinian,” “I am a Jewish anti-Zionist” or “Jews For Justice in Palestine.” Many wear military buzz cuts and boots, carry heavy backpacks and sport other insignia of the European-Arab Street and ACT-UP-style protests. Were these women to dress this way in the West Bank or Gaza, they would be persecuted for their appearance — or worse.
What is going on? According to a group called Jews Against the Occupation-NYC: “It’s no coincidence that queers have been at the heart of Palestine solidarity groups for decades … The demonization and dehumanization of Palestinians under occupation resonates loudly for queers, as do other forms of racism and militarism.”
In emphasizing their view of Palestinians as the quintessential innocent victims, these politicized lesbians do not see themselves as others see them: Privileged, educated and free American “queers.” Instead, these activists imagine themselves to be outcasts, pariahs, “occupied” by Western patriarchy. And so they long to be somehow “Palestinian” in spirit, a posture that allows them to share in the Palestinians’ victim status. Perhaps they also feel victimized by the Jewish families, and by homophobic strains of Judaism, that have rejected them for their sexuality; in turn, they reject the Jewish state.
Ideologically, such Jewish lesbian feminists tend to be anti-racists. They seek to relive the good old days of the fight against South African Apartheid. This romantic, backward-looking attitude blinds them to reality. They do not view Palestinian terrorists as “terrorists” but as freedom-fighters. They do not understand that, at many points in history (including this one), Islam has been the largest practitioner of both religious and gender “apartheid” known to humankind.
Groups such as Seigebuster ignore the fact that there are gay-pride parades in Israel, and that “out” gay soldiers serve in the Israeli army. For years, Israel has been providing asylum for Palestinian homosexuals who have been tortured and near-murdered by their own Arab leaders.
For example, in 2003, the BBC reported that there were 300 gay Palestinian men secretly living and working in Israel. One 22-year-old gay man who fled from Gaza told a reporter that he fled after he was almost killed when his family discovered his sexual orientation. “[My brother] brought a stick and hit us,” he said. “He tied us up with an iron rope and went to call my dad, and tell my partner’s [family]. Then he came back and hit us again.” He only survived because he persuaded his mother to release him.
I have seen gay and lesbian contingents marching together with leftists and Arabs outside presentations I have given; they have heckled, hooted and tried to silence me in the lecture hall. The loudest chants of “From the River to the Sea — Palestine will be free” are coming, not only from the Muslim student associations or from the Palestinians with loudspeakers; they are coming from the mouths of American Jewish lesbian feminists whose very lives, certainly their political identities, are strangely bound up with Arab territorial claims.
The Jewish lesbians among them are not “self-hating Jews.” They are political opportunists obsessed with their own victimhood posturing — even if it means they must sacrifice the cause of both women and homosexuals in the process.
Phyllis Chesler, PhD is an emerita professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies at City University of New York. She is an author, psychotherapist and an expert courtroom witness.