Arab-Israeli Tensions Spill Over to Pride Celebrations

by Joseph Erbentraut
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Jun 28, 2010

Pride season means many different things to many different people within the LGBT community, but one theme - that of unification and temporarily putting aside the various disagreements that fuel community infighting - is an undeniable Pride pillar oh which many queer people lean.

But Pride season can also exacerbate existing tensions within the community, particularly in response to major world events. The May 31 Israeli attack of a Turkish humanitarian aid flotilla headed to the Gaza Strip - an attack that resulted in the deaths of nine, the injuries of dozens and the detainment of hundreds - has proven to be one of those events.

As media, governments and protesters worldwide largely condemned Israel's attack on seemingly innocent civilians, tension boiled over into Pride celebrations worldwide. Pride organizers' actions raise serious questions over the role of censorship in queer-centric spaces.

LGBT outcry over attack
In Madrid, an Israeli singer's concert was canceled and an Israel delegation was banned from participating in that city's Pride Parade, scheduled for late June, due to reported security concerns over their presence. In an interview with the Guardian, Antonio Poveda, president of Spain's Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Transexuals and Bisexuals, said: "After what has happened, and as human rights campaigners, it seemed barbaric to us to have them taking part."

And in Toronto, tempers flared palpably as a pro-Palestinian group called Queers United Against Israeli Apartheid was originally barred from marching in their city's parade, set for July 4, after the city threatened to pull its funding of the event. Over 20 honored by the Toronto Pride organization returned their honors in protest and the decision has since been reversed, as reported by EDGE: Queers United Against Israeli Apartheid will march in the parade, despite criticism from some pro-Israel LGBT advocates.

Avi Benlolo, president of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies, is among those angered by Pride Toronto's reversal. "We feel that Pride Toronto is no longer a representative of gay rights, but has now been unfortunately hijacked and has become a vehicle for anti-Israel bashing and agitation," Benlolo told the Toronto Star.

The controversy understandably has American LGBT advocates on both side of the contentious and centuries-old Israel-Palestine issue seeing red during our rainbow-intensive season.

Can the Palestinian struggle be separated from gay rights?
LGBT activists who stand in solidarity with the Palestinian population paint a different picture of Israel. For them, the many pro-Israel advocates in the gay community see on the state's progressiveness on LGBT issues as "pinkwashing." San Francisco-based Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism, an organization similar to the group originally banned in Toronto, considers themselves part of "an international movement for human rights that encompasses the movement for Palestinian liberation, and all other liberation movements."

Andy Thayer, the Chicago-based founder of the Gay Liberation Network, who's recently traveled to Russia to protest government oppression of Pride celebrations there, is among those activists who aligns himself in solidarity with the pro-Palestinian movement.

"We've heard the repeated chant over and over that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, and yet there's a whole section of the population who are segregated from the rest of society," Thayer told EDGE. "It's completely outrageous that Gazans are living as virtual prisoners on their own land, 80 percent of them living off less than two dollars a day."

Thayer considers many present-day American LGBT organizers as remiss in what he describes as a failure to speak out against governments that actively oppress any given class of people, including our own. He describes many organizers' single-issue, U.S.-only focuses as ahistorical, ignoring lessons from earlier organizers like Harvey Milk who reached out to labor and immigrant communities for mutual support.

"If we as LGBT people are going to ask for solidarity for our struggles, whether it be here in the U.S. or abroad, we cannot remain oblivious to the struggles of others," Thayer continued. "If we are going to maintain any sort of internal cohesion to our movement, we will need to take up these 'other' struggles."

Next: Human rights, LGBT rights


  • BB, 2010-06-28 12:21:56

    From the article: "Varying viewpoints and strategies aside, the ultimate goal on both sides of the issue remains peaceful co-existance." Before gays come out swinging for one side or the other, it would be best to become educated by studying the charters of the PLO, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Then ignorant Mary Sunshine statements like this above would never see the light of day, and left wing gays wouldn’t look like the unsophisticated dilettantes most are.

  • Silvestris, 2010-06-28 13:01:29

    Yay, lets support a bunch of people who hate and want to kill us!!

  • , 2010-06-28 13:44:10

    Author here. Dear BB, don’t you think it’s important to draw a distinction between groups like PLO, Hamas and Hezbollah and the many innocent Palestinian civilians in Gaza? Also, I think it’s important to mark a distinction between the many Israeli moderates who are working for/support change and those who committed the May 31 attack on the Turkish humanitarian flotilla. This is not a simple issue deserving, also, not-simple analysis.

  • , 2010-06-28 14:11:44

    Many Americans and Canadians don’t know about the Shabra-Shatila Massacre, where Israel trained Christian mercenaries living in Beirut to kill over 3,000 innocent men, women, and civilian citizens in a Palestinian camp; they don’t know about how Tel Aviv University was built over a city whose inhabitants were forced to flee. When you look closely and examine the venomous atrocities that pro-Zionist Israelis have commited since Ben-Gurion initiated his "Operation Broomsweep"-claiming that he would rid the country of every single Arab, then one begins to understand why people are angered over the human rights abuses. Even in Israel, a large organization of Jewish Rabbis protests the actions of the government, and years ago over 500 Israeli soldiers layed down their arms because of their governments behaviour towards those in the Gaza. The sad fact is that Zionists want all of Israel to themselves, and they will destroy every last house, and chase every last Arab from the territory, and this is what they themselves have claimed they wanted to do. As a gay man, I am proud of my gay siblings who have taken time to speak out against these atrocities. They should be allowed to march in the parade, they should be allowed to voice their opposition to apartheid, and to the murder of more than a million Palestinians. Hamas is not listed as a terrorist organization in England and France, only in the US and Canada, with its pro Zionist dollar supporting their governments and the support of fundamentalist Christians in the US and Canada who see all of Islam as the Devil incarnate, and want to see it crushed, wherever it arises. Some gay men and women have suddenly risen from silence and apathy, and voice their support for freedom, for liberation. That is a cause to March, any day.

  • , 2010-06-28 14:26:35

    Here are a few links about the Israeli Zionist solution: here is a link to the an eye-witness account by an asian female doctor who was working in the camp in Beirut when Israel attacked the city. The reason they attacked was to force the PLO to leave Beirut and to lay down their arms, which they did. The US consoled them, stating that they would be fine, and protected and that civilians remaining in the camp had nothing to worry about. That is when the trained Christian mercenaries the Israelis had trained were sent in, to torture, and kill 3,000 people. If any of us were in that situation or had relatives killed, do not tell me that you would sit idly would take a coward to simply sit back and do nothing in light of such a genocide. In addition, the Israeli tried to cover up their crimes, burying men, women and children in mass graves. The mercenaries even tortured young children and elderly men, gouging out their eyes, raping women, and shooting children multiple times. If you read these blogs, my blogs, and you actually go out there and buy some books and read, you will start to understand that Israel is very wrong. Gay men and women are an oppressed people, and we must each and every one of us stand up to help anyone else who is oppressed. To stand silent, like the Germans and the Catholic clergy did, both prior and during the Nazi regime, is to share the responsibility for what happened to millions of men, women, and children. At least I can sleep at night, knowing that I can help by boycotting Israeli products, and fighting for the Palestinian civilians.

  • BB, 2010-06-29 13:24:07

    Dear Author: In wartime, do we exonerate the people from the actions of their governments, or do we hold the entirety to account? This is war. People are dying and there has never been a groundswell among the Palestinian populace suggesting they want anything other than the complete destruction of Israel along with Hamas and Hezbollah. You’re not too young to remember average Palestinians dancing in the streets of Gaza in joyful rapture as our towers collapsed and Americans were burning to death inside, are you?

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