Israel and gay rights. The truth.
It is said that while it is hard to stand up to your enemies, it is even harder to stand up to your friends. I spent many years at the heart of left-wing politics and discovered, to my cost, what can happen when you begin to take a different view, when you do your research and realise that the accepted consensus isn’t necessarily correct; speaking out on this can result in rejection, expulsion from the club.
There is no area where this so robustly applies among the hard left than that of the state of Israel. Support of, or sympathy to Israel can make you an immediate enemy to many. Israel is the untouchable issue; the consensus from which you can not veer.
I was approached recently by a trade union group which is supportive of Israel (such things do exist but are widely maligned) and asked my opinion on what is labelled on the left as the “Pinkwashing Campaign”. This is a campaign which is represented at ‘Pride’ parades, has vast numbers of supporters among trade unionists, and which aims to highlight what it calls a “PR tactic used by Israel which cynically exploits support for LGBT people.” (http://www.nopinkwashing.org.uk/index.php/pinkwashing/2012-06-26-10-38-26)
The fact that Israel is the only country in the Middle East in which gay people enjoy anything resembling freedom or human rights is apparently a fraud – because the anti-Israel left demands that it be so.
The “No Pinkwashing” campaign explains that “Israeli groups have adopted a strategy which aims to defend Israel by presenting it as modern, democratic and LGBT-friendly, and by demonising surrounding countries.” The truth, it claims, is that Israel is in fact a vicious human rights abuser and of course, an “apartheid state”.
The “No Pinkwashing” campaign essentially wants us to disregard Israel’s human rights record when examining its human rights record. None of it matters anyway because Israel is an “apartheid state” and anything good or democratic in Israel is simply a rouse (quite an elaborate one at that).
So let me deal with the human rights record of Israel, particularly in the area the Pinkwash campaigners focus on: the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
As far back as 1963, Israel declared that it would not apply any of the homophobic laws on its books (much of them in existence due to British mandate). This was four years prior to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain. In 1992, LGBT people were protected from discrimination in the workplace – also before this happened in Britain. In 1994, same-sex partners were given the same benefits as straight couples in the private sector, and three years later in the public sector. The Israeli military rescinded any discrimination against gay people serving soon afterwards, and in 2002 the age of consent was equalised at 16. Lesbian couples were given the right to adopt each other’s children (conceived through artificial insemination) in 2005. There are openly gay judges, members of Parliament (the Knesset), and many LGBT public personalities and celebrities. Dana International, a transgendered woman, represented Israel in the Eurovision contest in 1998, and won. In 2012, Tel Aviv was voted (in an online poll) as the world’s number one destination for gay travellers.
Contrast all of this with the Palestinian territories and their leadership so beloved of the hard left. In the Gaza Strip, ruled with an iron fist by Hamas, not only are women subject to appalling treatment but homosexuality can result in death. In 2011, Hamas cofounder Mahmoud Zahar said, “You in the West do not live like human beings. You do not even live like animals. You accept homosexuality. And now you criticize us?” Attacks are frequent in the Gaza Strip and gays live in fear; so much so that LGBT Palestinians commonly flee to Israel.
The Pinkwashing campaigners also claim that Israel’s neighbours are frequently “demonised” with regard to human rights. But “demonisation” suggests untruth. Just as the truth cannot be libellous, nor can it constitute demonisation. It can however be ignored when politically convenient to do so, which is of course what is happening here. The apparent “demonisation” of Jordan for example suggests that the Freedom of the Press report of 2011 that ranked that country 120th out of 178 was a fraud. Its worrying record on gay and women’s rights is also somehow manufactured. The arrest and torture of homosexuals in Egypt is also “demonisation”; ditto the prison sentences for homosexuality in Syria.
In nearby Saudi Arabia, women are property and homosexuality carries the death penalty. So where exactly is the praise for these countries’ human rights records supposed to come from? The fact is that it is the truth which demonises them, but the truth is rather troublesome and so must be denied.
The Pinkwash campaign slogan is “No Pride in Israeli Apartheid”. Perhaps it should be “There is no Apartheid in Israel” (which is not as catchy I grant you). Apartheid made its name in the appalling regime of South Africa from 1948 to 1994; a regime not remotely comparable to that of Israel today. In South Africa, white people enjoyed rights and privileges that black citizens were denied. Racist laws forced black and white to live in separate areas, attend separate schools, and discriminated in terms of ownership, the holding of public office, and voting.
In Israel, equal rights for all are enshrined in the country’s founding document. Hebrew and Arabic are both official languages and Israeli Arabs are represented in high public office including serving as Supreme Court Judges, members of the Knesset, and cabinet ministerial posts. Freedom of the press, religion, and speech are all protected in Israeli law, for everyone.
Faced with this evidence, we will be told that apartheid doesn’t apply within Israel but to the Palestinian populations which neighbour it. Yes, there is a blockade on Gaza and this does negatively affect many Palestinian people, but keep in mind that this occurred in response to the takeover of Gaza by Hamas in 2006/7. Hamas, portrayed by so many on the left as freedom fighters standing up to the brutality of Israel, are in fact an Islamist group with a stated intention to wipe out the Jews. The Hamas Charter, its founding document, makes it clear that “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews”. In 2012, Ahmad Bahr, Deputy Speaker of the Hamas Parliament, declared “If the enemy sets foot on a single square inch of Islamic land, Jihad becomes an individual duty….Why? In order to annihilate those Jews”.
The fact is that in their misguided campaign against Israeli “pinkwashing”, left-wing campaigners are white-washing a far-right group of extreme religious conservatives who are murderously anti-Semitic. As so often, these campaigners are misusing and redefining words, in this case apartheid, to muddy the waters and cover inconvenient truths – just as they do with the word racism to slander anyone critical of Islamism.
Why they do this is up for debate, but I am increasingly convinced that the far-left sees Islamism as the only movement capable of crushing capitalism and bringing an end to the age of America. The totalitarian nature of Islamist ideology appears to suit them. The control of thought and speech which is the inevitable result of Islamism is already underway on the left, as is the use of Orwellian double-speak to disguise uncomfortable facts. The appalling treatment of women and gays is side-stepped and discounted.
The left pretends that Hamas is fighting against oppression when oppression is precisely what it is fighting for. This view is widespread in Europe where a complicit left-wing press promotes it so that the public view is distorted and the real demonisation so successfully disguised – that is the rampant, regular, and incessant demonisation of the Middle East’s only democracy; the demonisation of Israel.