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Pinkwashing & Israeli occupation – not so complicated

LGBT delegation missed chance to meet gay Palestinians

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Pauline Park, Israel, gay news, Washington Blade
Pauline Park, Israel, gay news, Washington Blade

The author, Pauline Park, at the gap in the separation wall at Al-Wallaja east of the Israeli frontier. (Photo courtesy Park)

BY Pauline Park

“The concept of ‘pinkwashing’ emerged as a hot topic throughout the week,” Kevin Naff wrote of his participation as part of “a delegation of nine LGBT leaders from the United States” to Israel in November (“Israel as ‘gay heaven’? It’s complicated,” Times of Israel, Nov. 10). The delegation tour was sponsored by Project Interchange, a program of the American Jewish Committee, which is aggressive in its defense of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Naff quotes a speaker who addressed the group, Gal Uchovsky, as telling the delegates “that we had arrived in ‘gay heaven’” and that Israel is “the best LGBT country in the world” whose “LGBT residents face no serious problems that he could identify.” My Israeli friends would certainly contest Uchovsky’s absurd claim that LGBT Israelis “face no serious problems.” Fortuntely, Naff was able to recognize Uchovsky’s propaganda for what it was.

One would get a very different impression speaking primarily or exclusively with wealthy gay Jewish Israeli men in North Tel Aviv — as Naff and his fellow delegates seem to have done — than if one spoke with LGBT Israelis from more marginalized communities, including lesbians and bisexuals, who often feel marginalized by gay men in Tel Aviv and elsewhere in Israel; transgendered women, who face police harassment and brutality in Tel Aviv and other cities in Israel just as they do in New York and other U.S. cities; Israelis who face discrimination because of their of Mizrahi (Sephardic) Jewish ethnic origins; or refugees from Africa and elsewhere who may be LGBT (though not necessarily openly so) but who have no right to remain in Israel, because the state of Israel does not recognize non-Jewish economic refugees or those fleeing political persecution — regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

And that’s not even to mention the pervasive discrimination that Palestinians with Israeli citizenship face. As Prof. David Lloyd argued persuasively in a December 2013 analysis for the Electronic Intifada, the crucial distinction between “citizenship” (ezrahut) and “nationality” (le’um) in Israeli law privileges Jewish Israelis over Palestinians living in Israel because “citizenship” is in effect a second-class citizenship without nationality status.

“Some critics claim the country’s embrace of LGBT rights is merely a propaganda effort to claim the mantle of modernity and establish a stark contrast to homophobic regimes in the West Bank, Gaza and elsewhere in the Middle East,” Naff writes. In doing so, Naff is in fact rearticulating the very discourse in which Uchovsky was engaging in when describing Israel as a gay paradise — the attempt to use Israel’s record on gay rights (supposedly better than that of its Arab and Muslim neighbors) as a justification for an Israeli occupation that is illegal under international law, or at the very least as a means to distract attention from it.

Naff’s delegation appears to have met with only one Palestinian — “a scholar and Fatah and PLO adviser,” Abu Zayyad. But meeting with a single official with the Palestinian Authority — widely viewed by many West Bank Palestinians as little more than a tool of the Israeli occupation — hardly constitutes balance when the rest of the tour was devoted to meeting with LGBT Israelis and Israeli officials.

“The focus of the visit — LGBT issues — was often overshadowed by the frustrating stalemate of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Why can’t the two sides come to an agreement on a two-state solution? It’s complicated,” Naff writes. And yet, is the issue of the Israeli occupation of Palestine really that complicated? For all of the complications and complexities of the situation, it is at root quite simple: the indigenous people who have lived in Palestine for centuries are being systematically dispossessed of their land and their rights by a foreign military occupation that is illegal under international law and that even the United States does not recognize as legitimate. And that occupation makes no exception for Palestinians who might be LGBT/queer, who face the same restrictions and daily humiliations living under Israeli occupation as non-LGBT Palestinians. And contrary to propaganda in circulation, Israel is not and cannot be a haven or a refuge for LGBT Palestinians because there is no such thing as refugee status for non-Jews in Israel, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Rather than hearing pinkwashing propaganda from the likes of Gal Uchovsky, Naff and his colleagues would have learned far more if they had met with Palestinian villagers and farmers under siege from Israeli settlers and the Israeli military in the West Bank, as I have. I participated in the first U.S. LGBTQ delegation tour of Palestine in January 2012 and met with many Palestinians — both LGBT and non-LGBT — throughout the West Bank, from Nablus in the north to Hebron in the south and Ramallah in between. Staying two nights with a Palestinian family in Dheishe in Bethelem, one of the largest refugee camps in the West Bank, I had the opportunity to speak at length with Palestinians about conditions in the occupied territories.

Naff expresses his disappointment with the decision of alQaws and Aswat to decline the invitation to meet with his delegation. AlQaws and Aswat, two of the leading Palestinian LGBT groups, are doing vital work on behalf of queer Palestinians under extremely difficult circumstances that no U.S.-based LGBT organization has to face. The 16 members of my delegation met with members of both alQaws and Aswat for extensive discussions about the impact of the occupation on LGBT Palestinians, and those discussions were productive and enlightening. It seems to me that Naff’s group of relatively privileged LGBT Americans should have recognized how problematic it was to demand that LGBT/queer Palestinians either facing pervasive discrimination within Israel or living under a crushing foreign military occupation in the West Bank engage them in dialogue, which is the privilege of the powerful. True dialogue is simply not possible when one party is holding a gun to the other’s head, which is what “dialogue” with a people living under a brutal and illegal military occupation represents.

I might add that members of Naff’s delegation could have found opportunities to engage with LGBT/queer Palestinians even before leaving the U.S. and could do so now that they are back from their tour; they can also feel free to engage members of New York City Queers Against Israeli Apartheid if they wish to hear our views on Palestinians and the Israeli occupation.

The conclusion I have come to is that pinkwashing does nothing for queer Palestinians and arguably makes things worse by generating more support for Israel and the occupation in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere. The liberation of queer Palestinians is inseparable from that of Palestinian society as a whole; whatever privileges wealthy gay Jewish Israeli men may enjoy in the affluent districts of North Tel Aviv do nothing for queer Palestinians being crushed by a brutal and illegal foreign military occupation that is daily dispossessing more and more Palestinians of their lands and their homes.

Given the intransigence of the government of Binyamin Netanyahu — the most right-wing prime minister in Israeli history — and his determination to move forward with the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem and the de facto annexation of the West Bank, it seems to me that only boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against apartheid Israel will advance the cause of the peaceful resolution of the impasse that the Israeli government itself has created with its endless occupation of Palestine and construction of an apartheid regime.

Pauline Park is a member of New York City Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, founded in 2011. She was a member of the first U.S. LGBTQ delegation to Palestine in January 2012.

 

(Kevin Naff responds: After members of our LGBT delegation expressed concerns that we were not given access to more of the Palestinian perspective, Project Interchange arranged a follow-up conference call in November with Dr. Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy & Survey Research. I shared Pauline Park’s concerns over pinkwashing, but Project Interchange worked hard to present a balanced itinerary, which included visits to the West Bank, Ramallah and the edge of the Gaza Strip. I welcome Park’s invitation to learn more about NYCQAIA and will follow up with her.)

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  1. William Leo Coakley

    January 8, 2014 at 2:37 am

    As an Irishman who knows about sectarian conflict—and the powerful occupying bully state—I was happy to see in the Blade Pauline Park’s clear-headed and incisive report on pinkwashing and the realities of life in Israel for Palestinian queers and indeed all non-Jewish and even non-Orthodox Jews. Israel has been allowed to continue its occupation and oppression primarily with American money: the billions each year of American tax dollars, urgently needed for domestic necessities, pouring into Israel the arms that make the illegal occupation possible, the fatly funded lobbyists who have America’s politicians, federal, state, and local, in their grasp, and the American ‘philanthropists’ who are the main support for the ever-encroaching illegal Jewish settlements evicting Palestinians from their own land. This must be stopped. Park obviously knows first-hand what is really happening in the so-called gay paradise and it is encouraging that Naff at least has agreed to be in touch with her.

    William Leo Coakley

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Opinion | Lovitz for Pennsylvania state representative

Accomplished gay candidate is longtime equality advocate

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Jonathan Lovitz, gay news, Washington Blade
Jonathan Lovitz (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

It’s an embarrassment of riches for residents of center city Philadelphia, which includes the “gayborhood,” as they prepare to vote for their next state representative. 

The post has been held by Rep. Brian Sims, who’s gay, since 2013. Sims is giving up the seat to run for Pennsylvania lieutenant governor. More on that later.

Two out LGBTQ candidates are among those competing in the 182nd District’s Democratic primary to replace Sims — Jonathan Lovitz and Deja Alvarez. Lovitz, who’s gay, has served as senior vice president of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce for five years. If elected, it would be the first time a seat held by an LGBTQ state representative transitioned to another LGBTQ official and he would be the first LGBTQ Jewish elected official in Pennsylvania.

Alvarez, who’s transgender, is director of community engagement at World Healthcare Infrastructures and serves as chair of the Philadelphia Police LGBT Liaison Committee. She would become the first out trans person to serve in the Pennsylvania Legislature if elected.

Both are excellent candidates who would make their own bit of history if elected, but Lovitz stands out as the strongest choice to replace Sims in the legislature, a change that local residents desperately need.

To paraphrase Oprah in her famous endorsement of Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton: Just because I am for Lovitz, doesn’t mean I am against Alvarez. I am acquainted with Lovitz and know him to be an ethical, smart, hard-working professional who is deeply dedicated to his work and to the residents of Philadelphia. He would make a fearless and tireless advocate for Philly and for equality issues in Harrisburg.

At NGLCC, Lovitz has helped write and pass more than 25 state and local laws, including in Pennsylvania, extending economic opportunity to LGBTQ-owned businesses around the country. As the country struggles to emerge from pandemic restrictions, we need more legislators at all levels of government who understand the importance of small business. Lovitz has the experience in business and in his work on equality issues to deliver tangible results for Philadelphia. 

Contrast his record with that of Sims and it’s a no-brainer that the people of the 182nd District have nowhere to go but up. Sims has sponsored or introduced scores of bills in the past year, but only one has been enacted, according to BillTrack50. Sims has been criticized in the district for his endless media tour and social media self-promotion. He is more interested in thirst-trap selfies than in constituent service. He lacks the professionalism and temperament for elected office, favoring profane outbursts and juvenile insults over diplomatic compromise and legislative achievement. As Christopher Pinto wrote in the Philadelphia Gay News, “Almost a decade in the State House, and he has no legislative victories that he can claim as his own. He spent more time out of the district than inside it, flying from one speaking engagement to the next, while abusing his state issued travel budget and being shrouded in a lengthy ethics investigation.”

Lovitz will not succumb to such vanities. He is a grounded professional who understands how to craft legislation and, more importantly, how to get it passed. He won’t alienate colleagues as Sims has done. 

On equality issues, Lovitz has worked on behalf of marginalized communities at NGLCC and last year he organized PhillyVoting.org, which works to boost turnout among Black and LGBTQ voters. 

“The ongoing violence against our communities, especially against our trans siblings, is a stunning reminder that our work together continues,” Lovitz wrote in an op-ed for the Philadelphia Gay News. “Once again the movement for long-overdue social change in America is being led by communities of color, especially right here in Philly,” he wrote. “And the LGBTQ community must continue to stand in solidarity with them.”

Lovitz understands the moment. He has a passion for business and for helping entrepreneurs to succeed, something cities desperately need after more than 200,000 small businesses have shuttered due to COVID, according to the Wall Street Journal; more than 1,000 Philly businesses closed in just the first five months of the pandemic, according to the Philadelphia Business Journal.

Voters, donors, and our national advocacy organizations should support his bold campaign and help retain an out LGBTQ voice in Harrisburg while improving constituent service for residents of the district. 

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at [email protected].

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Opinion | LGBTQ Virginians advocate D.C. statehood

The right of all Americans to be part of our democratic society

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My hometown will always be Washington, D.C. It’s the place where I was born and spent all of the first seven days of my life. As a lifelong Virginian however, where I live and attended schools, I straddle two communities important to me. 

As a business owner of 30 years in Washington, D.C., I pay many of my taxes and payroll taxes to the Nation’s Capital while I also pay income tax to Virginia where I’m a citizen.

Most important of all, as a gay Virginia voter, I can think of few lifelong political goals more important to me than achieving statehood for Washington, D.C. One of the compelling reasons I still make my home in Virginia and cross the Potomac River every day of my life, is because of my right as a Virginian to vote for two U.S. senators and for a member of the House of Representatives with the power to vote in Congress.

(It is still shocking to know that, with Washington, D.C. statehood still beyond grasp, the Honorable Eleanor Holmes Norton who represents D.C. in the U.S. House of Representatives, has never yet had the authority to vote on the floor of the House.)

At an early age, I was dumbfounded to know that D.C. then did not even have a local government. We lacked an elected mayor and city council, with almost all decisions for the District of Columbia made by the federal government. Yet today, even with a mayor and local government in place, it is breathtaking to know that my friends, neighbors and co-workers still have zero voice in the Capitol and no one to vote for them – and for us – in Congress.

Consider that one of the world’s most diverse and educated cities has so often been bullied by extreme conservative leaders on Capitol Hill who – whenever possible – turn back the clock for D.C. citizens on voting rights, abortion rights, gun measures and our civil rights including LGBTQ equality. Not a single voter in D.C. has much, if any, say over any of those decisions.

The absence of statehood and the lack of real voting rights means that the unforgivable strains of racism and homophobia often held sway not just for Washington D.C., but in denying the United States a true progressive majority on Capitol Hill too. 

Virginians get it. In the past decade, we’ve worked very hard in every county and city in the commonwealth to turn our regressive political past into a bright blue political majority. We have elected LGBTQ candidates to state and local offices in unprecedented numbers. Our vote is our power.

More significantly, through the work of Equality Virginia and its many allies, we are repealing scores of anti-LGBTQ measures and reforming our statutes and constitution to secure equal rights as LGBTQ voters, adoptive parents, married couples, students, and citizens. Doesn’t Washington, D.C. deserve that future?

Virginia needs more states – like D.C. – to join forces and represent all Americans. To achieve this, and to defeat or neuter the anti-democratic Senate filibuster rule, we need our friends, allies and neighbors, the citizens of Washington, D.C. to share in our democratic ambitions.

Long ago, Washington, D.C. resident, abolitionist and civil rights leader, Frederick Douglass declared that “the District is the one spot where there is no government for the people, of the people, and by the people. Washington, D.C. residents pay taxes, just like residents of Nevada, California or any other state. Washington, D.C. residents have fought and died in every American war just like residents of Ohio, Kentucky or any other state. The District deserves statehood and Congress should act to grant it.” 

Speaking for LGBTQ Virginians, we agree. Conferring statehood is not a gift nor a blessing from the rest of us, but instead, it is the absolute right of all Americans to be part of our democratic society. As LGBTQ Americans, if we are to pass the Equality Act and other fundamental civil rights measures, we need the State of Washington, D.C. and its voters by our side.

Bob Witeck is a longtime LGBTQ civil rights advocate, entrepreneur, and Virginian, with long roots and longstanding ties to D.C.

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Opinion | Representation matters: The gayest Olympics yet

From one out athlete to more than 160 in just 33 years

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OK, I really want a Tom Daley cardigan. The now gold-medal Olympian told Britain’s The Guardian that he took up crocheting during the pandemic. He even has an Instagram page dedicated to his knit creations, MadeWithLoveByTomDaley. It’s all very adorable; it’s all very Tom Daley. 

All that aside, you’d have to be practically heartless to not feel something when Tom Daley and his diving partner Matty Lee won the gold on Monday in the men’s synchronized 10-meter diving competition, placing just 1.23 points ahead of the Chinese. And then seeing him with tears in his eyes on the podium as “God Save the Queen” played. Later that week, he knitted a little bag featuring the Union Jack to hold and protect his medal. So very wholesome

Daley is certainly one of the highest profile LGBTQ athletes in these games. Besides the diver, the 2020 Summer Olympics, now in 2021 because of the pandemic, are hosting more than 160 out athletes. A record to be sure, but calling it a record does it somewhat of an injustice. The United States sent the first out athlete to the 1988 Summer Olympics, Robert Dover an equestrian rider competing in dressage. Dover remained the only out (sharing the title once in 1996 with Australian diver Craig Rogerson) for 10 years. Then, during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the number of out athletes jumped to 15. London’s 2012 Olympics saw the number increase to 23. The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro saw the number jump to 68 out athletes. And now we’re at over 160. 

So you get the trend building here. From one out athlete to more than 160. So very far, so very fast. And competing in everything from handball to sailing to golf to skateboarding. Also, noteworthy, New Zealand sent the first trans athlete, weightlifter Laurel Hubbard. These are but numbers and names, but to be sure, this sort of representation, this sort of visibility, is hugely important. Not just for athletes coming up behind them, but let’s think too of those out there, not yet even out, maybe watching in their parents’ living room. Seeing Tom Daley thank his husband, mention their son, this sort of queer normality being broadcast as if it is both groundbreaking and at the same time nothing at all — the importance of this cannot be overstated. 

On top of that, growing up gay, how many times were we all told, whether outright or simply implied, that sports were more or less off limits to us. Meant to display the peaks of gender and ability, sports were not meant for those who couldn’t fit neatly into that narrative. But it appears that that narrative is slowly becoming undone. Just look beyond the Olympics, to the wider world of sports. Earlier this summer, pro-football’s Carl Nassib came out.   

And maybe I’m just of a generation that marvels at the destruction of each and every boundary as they come down. We had so very little as far as representation back then. Now to see it all, and in so many different sports, you can’t help but to wonder what the future will hold for us; and it really delights the imagination, doesn’t it? 

It is the gayest Olympics yet. And if the trend laid out above continues, it will only get gayer as the years go on. And if it’s a barometer for anything, I think we will see a lot of things getting a bit gayer from now on.

Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based writer. He contributes regularly to the Blade.

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