Israel’s ambassador to the US Michael Oren has been severely criticized for having boasted the Jewish State’s record on gays at the recent Philadelphia Equality Forum. Western gay activists and militant leftists were furious because Mr. Oren got it right: Israel is not a country that treats homosexuals the way the Palestinian Authority and the Arab world do.
Tel Aviv is a not only a holy emerald city for gays; it’s the only place in the Middle East where gays are free to walk hand-in-hand and kiss in public.
A few days ago, Iran hanged four gays from cranes in public squares (and this after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad previously said that “homosexuality does not exist in Iran.”) Saudi Arabia beheads homosexuals, the Taliban put homosexuals to death by collapsing a wall on them, in Gaza Hamas refers to gays as “perverts and mentally sick” and in the Islamic-oriented West Bank “immoral behaviors” are a good reason for torture.
Islamic law prescribes five separate forms of death for homosexuals. To these, the Palestinian Authority added several of its own. As Yossi Klein Halevi reported a few years ago in The New Republic, in Tulkarem a Palestinian homosexual was forced to stand in sewage up to his neck, his head covered by a sack filled with feces, and then he was thrown into a cell infested with insects. During the interrogation, police stripped him and forced him to sit on a Coke bottle.
Israel has been in the forefront of granting protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Some 300 gay Palestinians fled to Israel in the last 20 years.
Gay men are sort of a “canary in a coal mine” for what is happening to other minority groups in the entire Middle East. In that sense, Palestinian gays in Israel share the same fate of the Rwandan and Darfur genocide survivors and the Bahais in Haifa, where they fled from the Iranian tyranny.
The story of gay Palestinians sheltered by Israel is a phenomenon totally silenced by the Western gay community. That’s why last year Spanish gay leaders could ban the Israeli delegation from the largest gay pride festival in Europe.
‘Army of gays’
Last November, the New York Times ran an op-ed by lesbian Jewish playwright Sarah Schulman, who denounced “the co-opting of white gay people by anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim political forces in Western Europe and Israel.” Veteran feminist Phyllis Chesler called it “the Palestinization of gay activism.” These days, the loudest chants of “From the River to the Sea - Palestine will be free” are coming not only from Palestinian loudspeakers, but also from the mouths of Western gay militants.
Like human rights organizations, gay activism seems to hold Arabs to a lower standard. However, there have been some liberals who spoke the truth. In a speech at the University of California, Berkeley, Alan Dershowitz said: “I support Israel because I support gay rights.” A progressive congressman, Barney Frank from Massachusetts, also worked to grant asylum for 40 Palestinian gays.
Even before the Intifada, ritual murders of gays were common practice in Palestinian areas. But only with the Intifada has violence against gays skyrocketed and become politicized. The murders were carried out by masked men from the refugee camps who saw themselves as “guardians of the Intifada.”
Meanwhile, in Israel a soldier is a soldier, regardless of sexual orientation. In 1993 then Chief of Staff Ehud Barak, the most decorated soldier in Israel’s history, commented that “homosexuality is not a limitation to security.” Abu Odai, a coordinator of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, said that Israel will be defeated because it has “an army of gays.”
The Jewish State has made it a source of strength and homosexual soldiers are everywhere, at the checkpoints, in the trenches against Hezbollah and in the cyber-intelligence units. The film Yossi & Jagger recounts a love affair between two army officers who don’t sway or smile effeminately; they are just two men who discover that they love each other and guard a frontier outpost against those who behead gays.
One would be hard-pressed to find a country that oppresses its gays and treats its Jews well, or vice versa. From Nazi Germany to the Middle East, societies that persecute Jews will get to homosexuals eventually. Gays are the clearest proof possible that Israel is the only free oasis in the desert of fear.
Giulio Meotti, a journalist with Il Foglio, is the author of the book A New Shoah: The Untold Story of Israel's Victims of Terrorism
Clarification: It has been brought to our attention that a passage originally written by James Kirchick was used in the article without his consent. Ynetnews regrets this occurance.