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Killings reveal link between homophobia, anti-Arab racism

West Bank apartheid makes anti-Palestinian violence forgivable



Shira Banki, Jerusalem Pride, gay news, Washington Blade
Shira Banki, Jerusalem Pride, gay news, Washington Blade

Shira Banki, a 16-year-old girl who was stabbed during a Jerusalem Pride march, succumbed to her injuries on Aug. 2, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Jerusalem Open House)

The recent attack on the gay pride march in Jerusalem that left one dead and five others injured has led to a great deal of soul searching in Israel about the challenges facing the LGBT community in a country often lauded for being progressive on sexuality issues.

Anger in Israel has focused both on the lack of police preparation for a possible attack as well as the climate of growing Jewish religious extremism in which it occurred.

Shira Banki, 16, was stabbed to death on July 30 with a butcher’s knife by a Jewish religious extremist named Yishai Shlissel who considered the holding of a gay Pride in Jerusalem repugnant to God and against Jewish religious law. Shlissel charged the march and stabbed at random, hoping to kill and maim as many as possible.

Shockingly, Shlissel had been released only days before from prison. The crime? He attacked the same gay Pride march with a butcher knife 10 years before, stabbing three participants that time.

Although Jerusalem has always been a religious city, in recent years ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups have been given increasingly free reign in deciding how the lives of citizens will be run.

As in all of Israel, public transportation shuts on the Jewish Sabbath, but increasingly in West Jerusalem private businesses that open on Saturday are pressured to close and ultra-Orthodox demonstrators frequently target those that do not, even shutting down roads in order to prevent others from driving.

In religious neighborhoods, advertisements featuring women are torn down by ultra-Orthodox youth who also organize modesty patrols targeting women’s dress, and in some areas public buses and sidewalks are informally and formally gender segregated. Secular Jewish citizens often complain they are being squeezed out, and it is not hard to see why.

But to explain Banki’s killing by focusing on ultra-Orthodox Jews enforcing religious codes on secular Jews tells only a part of the story, and does little to account for the violent tactics used, a rarity in inter-Jewish disputes.

It is more instructive to look at the kind of violent religious Jewish extremism that has become all too common in Israeli society in recent decades: anti-Palestinian racism.

Hours after Banki was stabbed, Jewish extremists firebombed a Palestinian home in the West Bank village of Douma, killing a Palestinian child named Ali Dawabsha and leaving the rest of the members of his family with severe burns.

The attack was not an isolated incident – since the beginning of the year, Palestinian authorities say Jewish settler radicals have carried out nearly 370 attacks on Palestinian civilians, and nearly two-dozen Palestinian churches and mosques have been targeted. The United Nations recorded 2,100 settler attacks against Palestinians between 2006 and 2014, leaving 10 dead and 17,000 injured.

Israeli human rights organizations say that nearly 99 percent of Israeli investigations into these incidents are dropped without any convictions, while the few sentences that are given to Jewish radicals are extremely lenient. For comparison, 99.74 percent of Palestinians arrested for any kind of security-related offense by Israeli authorities are found guilty and sentenced, regardless of the evidence in a specific case.

But the Israeli state is not just indifferent to such racist terror; Israeli authorities themselves have encouraged such violence by referring to Palestinians as “savages” and using dehumanizing language to justify their deaths.

Israel’s current deputy-defense minister, Eli Ben-Dahan, has previously claimed that Palestinians “are beasts, they are not human,” while justice minister Ayelet Sheked has argued that the “the entire Palestinian people is the enemy.”

The backdrop of this culture of racist incitement is Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since 1967, where millions of Palestinians are kept under military rule while the 500,000 Israelis living in settlements built on land confiscated from Palestinians enjoy the full benefits of Israeli civil law. Shlissel, the gay pride attacker, himself lived in Modiin, an Israeli ultra-Orthodox settlement in the West Bank.

The system of apartheid in the West Bank, combined with the system of two-tier citizenship inside Israel itself — where the majority of Palestinians once lived until being forced out and forbidden from returning in 1948 — has made anti-Arab racism normative and anti-Palestinian violence forgivable.

It is no wonder that the killing of more than 2,200 Palestinians in Gaza – more than 62 families bombed in their homes — by the Israeli military was met with more than 90% approval by the Jewish Israeli public (i.e. excluding the 20% of Israelis who are Arab), who even urged the government to go even further.

By permitting Jewish settler terror against Palestinians to go unchecked, the Israeli government has encouraged a culture of impunity for Jewish nationalist and religious violence.

While the majority of this venom has been directed at Palestinians, the potent mix of racist nationalism and religious extremism that Israel’s settler movement embodies is a threat to all of those who fail to adhere to it.

Less than a few hundred meters from the site in West Jerusalem where Shira Banki was stabbed, a group called Lehava holds weekly rallies. The group’s main goal is to prevent Arabs from being allowed to mix with Jews, and a primary target are Jewish girls who date Arab men, even holding protests at marriages to ensure Arab blood not “taint” the Jewish gene pool.

Hatred of “the other” has gone unchecked for so long in Israeli society that the weekly rallies hardly draw attention. Nor do the regular attacks on Palestinian passersby in the area that too often follow.

But the group’s goal is not only preventing racial miscegenation; it is also about ensuring heterosexuality in order to preserve what they deem the Jewish race. The same day the stabbings took place, members were protesting the gay Pride march, and a Lehava leader even compared “being homosexual” to “robbing a bank” and argued that the LGBT community harmed the “Jewish nation.”

It is no wonder that in such a climate, where difference is vilified and violence in the name of nation and religion is encouraged by the powers that be, the LGBT community has ended up being a target as well.

The killing of Shira Banki, a young teenager expressing her solidarity with the queer community, is intrinsically related to the killing of Ali Dawabsheh.

These two deaths – which were immediately followed by the killings of two Palestinians protesting Dawabsheh’s death by the Israeli military – highlight the fact that homophobia cannot be separated from racism, and that violence against national “others” will inevitably lead to violence against internal others.

A state built on racist exclusion can hardly be a safe space for queers – Israeli or Palestinian – or anyone else.

Perpetuating the idea that Israel is somehow a gay paradise, in line with a government-sponsored campaign to promote the country’s gay-friendly image and cover up its violence against Palestinians, only hurts Israeli queers in the long run, as it obscures the fact that nationalist, religious, and homophobic terror and violence are all intrinsically connected.

By supporting pinkwashing efforts, queers around the world risk embracing Israel’s racist policies against Palestinians and its encouragement of terror and hatred against the state’s perceived others. Sadly, the deaths of Shira Banki and Ali Dawabsheh demonstrate this all too clearly.

Alex Shams is a journalist based in the West Bank and a doctoral student of anthropology at the University of Chicago.



Veterans with substance use disorders need our help

Many return home to face a new battle with addiction, trauma



(Photo by SCPhotog/Bigstock)

On Memorial Day, millions of American families honored the memory of the men and women who lost their lives fighting in one of the nation’s wars. It can be challenging for families who have recently lost a loved one.

We must also never forget the countless veterans who made it home but are now fighting a new battle with substance use or mental health disorders. Unfortunately, suicidal ideation is all too common and fueled by drug addiction.

It can be a particularly challenging problem for U.S. military self-identified as LGBTQ. A health survey released by the RAND Corporation found 6.1% of people in the U.S. military identified as LGBTQ. Suicide risk within this community varies considerably depending on the intersection between sexual identity and other aspects of identity.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 3.9 million veterans nationally have a substance use disorder or mental illness. Unfortunately, substance use disorder significantly increases suicidality among veterans ages 18 and older.

Suicidal thoughts and behaviors are common among veterans ages 18 to 49.

“Early intervention is critical, and it saves lives. Yet, it is also important for families to know where to look and how to find help when needed,” said Michael Leach of

Numerous causative factors lead to substance use among veterans. For instance, many veterans struggle to adjust to civilian life. They may experience financial hardships, difficulty finding employment, or accessing benefits.

Many other veterans battle mental and emotional health problems. This can often be compounded with physical injury or chronic pain leading to pain medication use. Untreated trauma, for example, leads to drug and alcohol use to cope with unwanted feelings.

Outside of the usual resources provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the VA facility locator, other options may include:

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides specific resources for LGBTQ veterans;
Helpful hotlines include the Veteran Crisis Line, 1-800-273-8255, option 1 and the Lifeline for Vets, 1-888-777-4443;

SAMHSA has a treatment facility locator where veterans can find specific treatment options.

Families also play a vital role in supporting a loved one struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. It’s OK to express concern about their substance use. Speak to them openly and honestly about it and help them find treatment. Be patient and show compassion for what they are experiencing. Remember, substance use disorders are treatable.

When families and communities come together, amazing things happen. Veterans with substance use disorders need our help; it’s never too late to offer a helping hand.

Veronica Raussin is a Community Outreach Coordinator for, passionate about spreading awareness of the risks and dangers of alcohol and drug use.

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Non-alignment or hypocrisy: South Africa’s non-alignment costing Africa’s human rights discourse

Country must take stronger stance against Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law



LGBTQ and intersex activists protest in front of the Ugandan Embassy in D.C. on April 25, 2023. South Africa must take a stronger stance against the Anti-Homosexuality Act that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has signed. (Washington Blade photos by Michael K. Lavers)

In the past several months, South Africa’s foreign policy has been in the spotlight for essential and existential reasons that significantly impact geopolitics and the continent’s stability. 

The foreign policy for South Africa discussion document by the Department of International Relations highlights the “advancement of human rights and the promotion of democracy” as the pillars on which South Africa’s foreign policy rests. This document emphasizes the role that South Africa is expected to play in the “promotion of human rights and democracy.”

Minister Pandor echoed this document in her 2022 end-of-year remarks

“We will continue with our unwavering position to advocate for a balanced Sustainable Development Program within the human rights framework as underlined in the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action (VDPA). In this regard, South Africa will be one of the chief proponents of a balanced agenda of the HRC, which reflects, among others, the primacy of achieving the realization of the right to development as well as moral human rights issues such as the eradication of poverty and underdevelopment.” 

South Africa has long been known for its commitment to human rights and its leadership in the fight against apartheid. However, its foreign policy continues to be viewed as ambiguous and nonresponsive to developments in African affecting the growth of the continent.

In 2021, President Ramaphosa — as chair of the SADC Organ Troika — committed to a national political dialogue in Eswatini to resolve the political killings in that country. However, the South African government has never followed up or called on the Eswatini government to adhere to its commitment, even as renowned human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko was mercilessly assassinated in January 2023. At the very least, this has not been seen publicly, which would be comforting to those political activists and citizens constantly living in fear in Eswatini. 

On May 29, the president of Uganda enacted the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Act. The new law is a throwback to colonization, where religious fanatism was the basis for the persecution and killing of many Africans. While Africa seems to take the posture of “fighting against imperialism,” it is saddening that this law is the brainchild of American zealots funding hate across Africa, whether it is in Uganda, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi or Namibia. These zealots, the Fellowship Foundation and many others, are well coordinated in their attacks on the judiciary and the African human rights framework, backed by the 75-year-old Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  

In an era where Africa is seen to be taking a stance against imperialism, I shudder to contemplate that hate may be the only imperialist agenda Africa is not actively standing up against. We know the history of petty offences like homelessness and loitering, sedition laws, and anti-LGBTI laws. These are remnants of colonization to keep Africa inferior and the colonial masters superior. Today, the hate continues through repressive and backwards sentiment being paraded as religious values. Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law criminalizes what it calls “aggravated homosexuality” with the death penalty. It would be hard to imagine what “aggravated homosexuality” even means. 

This is another opportunity where South Africa’s posture and foreign policy must be spotlighted. With the growing conversation about the ICC arrest warrant of President Putin, South Africa has reiterated its foreign policy as non-alignment and non-interference. 

However, when the question of human rights and democracy is at play, all must take a stand. This law has been widely criticized by human rights organizations and the international community for violating the rights of LGBTIQ+ individuals and hindering the fight against HIV. It further impedes what Minister Pandor called the “balanced agenda of the HRC,” which speaks to sustainable development within the human rights framework. 

It should be worrying if South Africa continues to maintain a policy of non-alignment and non-interference in the face of the new law in Uganda. While this policy may have its merits, it raises questions about South Africa’s commitment to human rights and its role as a leader in Africa. A foreign policy that neglects the promotion of human rights and democratic principles is hypocritical. On the one hand, South Africa is seen as a leader in promoting LGBTIQ+ rights and has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world regarding protecting the rights of LGBTIQ+ individuals. However, on the other hand, it has failed to take a strong stance against Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law, which is a clear violation of human rights.

By maintaining this policy, South Africa is essentially condoning Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law and undermining the fight for human rights in Africa. This is particularly concerning given South Africa’s leadership role in the African Union and its commitment to promoting human rights and democracy.

South Africa’s foreign policy regarding Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law raises questions about its commitment to non-alignment and human rights in Africa. While non-interference may have its merits, it should not come at the expense of human rights and the fight for equality and justice. 

South Africa must take a stronger stance against Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law and work towards promoting human rights and democracy in Africa.

Melusi Simelane is the Southern Africa Litigation Center’s Civic Rights Program Manager.

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Republicans prove how vile and frightening they can be

Attacks will continue if we don’t defeat right-wing figures everywhere



Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Day after day we see Republicans trying to outdo each other in how vile and frightening they can be. From the fight over the debt ceiling, to their presidential primary, they continue to try to take the nation backwards. 

In the debt ceiling fight, they clearly say, “We will protect the wealthy in our country at all costs, and instead will cut, or eliminate, programs to help the poor.” The far-right wing crazies like Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Chip Roy (R-Texas), and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), are threatening their own speaker, Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), with the loss of his job if he doesn’t go along with what they want. Now that a deal has been cut, we will see how they, and left-leaning Democrats who have been putting pressure on President Biden to reject all Republican demands, will vote. These are facts of life in our nation today. Any person with a shred of decency should be embarrassed. I don’t envy President Biden for what he has to do to keep the nation from defaulting on its debts. The political reality is that he had to give in on some issues. Democrats should not fault him, but rather blame Republicans. 

It is scary when you see what Republicans are doing around the nation with regard to abortion rights, civil rights, and LGBTQ rights. One recent example being Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis proudly signing the bill making abortion only legal until six weeks. There are women who don’t even know by then they are pregnant. Also, it’s time men start understanding how this impacts them. Women need to remind the fathers what their responsibility will be if they both aren’t ready for a child but are forced to have one.

One ignorant parent in Florida complained, and according to politico was able to have “A Miami-Dade elementary school limit some access to Amanda Gorman’s presidential inauguration poem, ‘The Hill We Climb,’ complaining that it contained indirect “hate messages.” This is insanity and the clear result of Trump’s impact on the culture of the nation. He made it OK to once again have hatred spewed from the public square, frightening decent people. 

Like the threats against Target. CNN reported the company was “removing some products that celebrate Pride month after the company and its employees became the focus of a “volatile” anti-LGBTQ campaign. The company told the Wall Street Journal that people have confronted workers in stores, knocked down Pride merchandise displays and put threatening posts on social media with video from inside stores. Some people have thrown Pride items on the floor, Target spokesperson Kayla Castaneda told Reuters. CNN went on to report “Prominent right-wing activists, Republican political leaders, and conservative media outlets, have focused their attention on a women’s swimsuit that was described as “tuck friendly” for its ability to conceal male genitalia. Misinformation spread on social media that it was marketed to children, which it was not.” Again, insanity, promoted by the right wing. The people doing this should be arrested and prosecuted.

It only gets worse as Republican candidates running for president try to outdo each other with anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, trying to improve their poll numbers. DeSantis can tout his “don’t say gay legislation.” Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), a Black man, who says the country is not racist, touts his opposition to marriage equality. Then there is Mike Pence who will quote the Bible to you, claiming it tells us how terrible it is to be gay. 

The Daily News recently reported “Following last year’s more than 220 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced across the country, a poll by The Trevor Project found 71% of LGBTQ youth — and 86% trans and nonbinary youth — said they were negatively impacted by the flurry of proposals to restrict their rights.” They went on to report, “As of May 23, more than 520 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in statehouses across the country, according to the Human Rights Campaign. More than 220 of those specifically restrict the rights of transgender and nonbinary people. These are all Republican bills.

This will continue unabated if we don’t defeat Republicans everywhere. In sharp contrast, Democrats in the Maryland legislature, led by Delegates David Moon (D-Montgomery County) and Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore County) and State Senator Howard Lam (D-Baltimore and Howard Counties), managed to repeal the states sodomy law and pass gun-control measures.

Republicans will continue to carry out their agenda of hate across the nation unless we say with our votes, “We won’t take this anymore.” The United States is better than this and we will show the world we will not tolerate hate; we will fight it.  

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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