On Race, Palestine, and “Dividing the Gay Community”
In the past few years, the queer movement for Palestine, and particularly for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign against Israel has become quite powerful. Far from merging two separate and unrelated issues, it emerged as a direct response to Israeli attempts at co-opting the global LGBT movement as an ally by promoting itself as a “haven” for gays in a regional characterized by Arab and Muslim “barbarism”. It was an attempt at re-branding and deflecting attention away from issues of occupation, apartheid, and ethnic cleansing by trying to sell itself as a democracy through its leveraging its record on gay rights and by constantly contrasting it to those of Arab countries. Gay rights have become a litmus test for those allowed entry into the realm of the “civilized”, while state-enforced racism remains not only acceptable, but glossed over and denied. The movement to queer the Palestine solidarity movement is essentially telling Israel “you cannot do this is our name”.
The reactions to this from mainly (but not exclusively) western and Israeli LGBT rights organizations have been to dismiss these issues as “outside” of their mandate, accusing queers who work on these issues of “hate”, “spreading negativity”, and “dividing the LGBT movement”. Such silly accusations have been heard from the likes of IGLYO responding to the call by queer Palestinian groups to not hold their general assembly in Israel, and with Israeli funding, and from GayMiddleEast.com, who attempted to characterize political disagreements as part of a concerted “smear campaign”.
But what is happening now is nothing new. Every social movement has at some point been fractured along the lines of race, class, gender, and sexuality, and ours is no exception. The second wave of feminist organizing in the US excluded lesbians, transfolk, and marginalized the voices of women of color. The critique leveled at the movement at the time by people of color such as bell hooks and Audre Lorde was its assumption of homogeneity, of having priorities and discourses defined and set by those in positions of privilege but who claimed to speak for all. The exact same thing is happening now in the LGBT movement on a global scale. We would do well to learn from this history.