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From the streets of New York City to the townships of South Africa, the LGBT rights movement and its opposition are engaged in an unprecedented international battle. GlobalPost presents an ongoing series of reports from key locations at this pivotal time in history, telling highly personal, often overlooked stories from the fight.
Israeli government "pinkwashes" treatment of Palestinians by glamorizing gay rights record, critics say.
TEL AVIV, Israel — Gloria Gaynor’s anthem “I Will Survive” is never out of place in a gay setting, but something about it was different on this particular night.
The words were coming through in Arabic instead of English, the uplifting disco beat resounding against the ancient walls of the club housed in a mixed neighborhood where the Arab city of Jaffa blends into the edges of modern Tel Aviv.
Conflict still rules the region, a complex and bloody dispute about land, history and religion decades in the making, but at the Palestinian Queer Party, music takes precedence and peace rules the room.
Held every six weeks or so, the party demonstrates what is possible with gays in charge, say those who attend.
The majority of the crowd at the party are gay Palestinians living within the borders set after Israel’s victory over Arab forces in 1948 — officially called Arab-Israelis — but about a third are Israeli Jews. West Bank Palestinians have also been known to cross the separation wall to mingle and dance here, risky a trip as that might be. Once they are among fellow gays, these Palestinians can often hide from Israeli authorities in plain sight.
“If gays were controlling the world, we wouldn't have any more war.”~Yoni Schoenfeld, Editor, Bamahane
“If gays were controlling the world, we wouldn’t have any more war,” says Yoni Schoenfeld, the openly gay editor-in-chief of Bamahane, the official magazine of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), sitting in his office in Tel Aviv and commenting unofficially.
Tel Aviv has been voted the most gay-friendly city in the world and has even been called the “Mecca” for gay Palestinians, but rights advocates say the good press is actually a mask covering Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in general, considered by many human rights organizations and observers to be a persecuted group.
The phenomenon has been termed “pinkwashing,” which tends to deify Israel as a socially enlightened society while demonizing Palestinian and other Arab attitudes about lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBTs), critics say.
For example, the New York City-based Anti-Defamation League offers a poster via its website reading, “Which of the Middle East nations protects the legal rights, safety & freedom of the LGBT communities? Only Israel.”
But advocates say that because Israel doesn’t accept applications for asylum from gay Palestinians (or any Palestinians at all), it has created a double standard rooted firmly within the conflict itself. Some also see a disconnect between the IDF, which supported openly gay soldiers long before the US ended its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, and the security apparatus accused of mistreating gay Palestinians.
Others, like Schoenfeld, disagree. “I don’t think Israel uses [gay rights] for propaganda.” A gay soldier guarding a checkpoint, he says, “doesn’t see the connection between the two things.”
'Nowhere to Run'
Gay Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank have been said to suffer doubly, grappling with the challenges of homosexuality within their communities as well as the dangerous and uncertain existence most Palestinians live day-to-day.
Haneen Maikey is the director of Al Qaws, a gay advocacy group that works in Israel and the Palestinian territories (the West Bank and the Gaza Strip). She was at the door during the Palestinian Queer Party, collecting money for entry and making sure everything went well.
The loud music made the event a difficult place for a formal interview and later by email, Maikey declined to speak, stating, “I am aware you are interested in making an article about pinkwashing in the West Bank but unfortunately both Al Qaws and PQBDS [Palestinian Queer Boycott Divestment and Sanctions] are not interested. Generally we have no media policy and only work on creating our own media or cooperating with allies when it is needed."
Maikey also did not want other West Bank activists who work with her to be interviewed. Ironically, the result of such hesitance to comment is that the voices who speak most openly about gay Palestinians are actually Jewish Israelis.
Anat Ben-Dor and Dr. Yuval Livnat are co-directors of the Refugee Rights Clinic at the Tel Aviv University School of Law. Part of their work is advising LGBT Palestinians who have come into Israel and attempted to claim asylum. Ben-Dor co-authored “Nowhere to Run,” the 2008 publication detailing horrific treatment of gay Palestinians within