GayMiddleEast.com: You do not speak for us

GayMiddleEast.com: You do not speak for us
June 19, 2012 By pinkwatcher

Over a number of years, queer Arab activists and their allies have been exposing the lies, distortions, and deliberate misrepresentations of Israeli-run website GayMiddleEast.com. Below, you will find articles exposing GME for what they truly are. We urge queer Arabs and their allies, as well as journalists looking to understand realities on the ground in the region to refrain from dealing with them, and instead speak directly to people involved.

GayMiddleEast.com’s Zionism

By Pinkwatching Israel
March 22, 2011

Gay Middle East have always had shady politics. That the largest Middle East LGBT (well, G mostly) “grassroots news” website is run by British Israeli Zionist Dan Littauer is already cause for concern. The fact that GME regularly collaborates with neo-colonialist Islamophobes such as Peter Tatchell (the guy with a penchant for threatening lawsuits against those who don’t think he is god’s gift to oppressed gay people) doesn’t help his credentials much. Bizarrely, he is also the human rights and press officer for the Association of British Muslims. Barring the logic of such a position, Littauer is also quite friendly with Islamophobic pornographer Michael Lucas, whose recent campaign against Siegebusters, a NY-based anti-apartheid group, successfully got them banned from meeting at the NY LGBT center. Lucas, by the way, is making a name for himself uttering such gems as “Muslims have not contributed to civilization in any way”. He is also famous for making gay porn film “Men of Israel”, which had its setting on the ruins of homes Palestinians displaced in 1948.

It is not surprising then that GME has never once carried the anti-apartheid statements of the various Arab LGBT groups based in the region, nor has it ever commented on the growing trend of Israeli-backed political censorship in the global LGBT arena. GME responded on Twitter that they only cover news that actually happens in the region, but this of course is not true since they have covered international events that they believe have resonance in the Middle East, such as various UN debates on sexual orientation and gender identity. Clearly, GME does not think that censorship of queer Arab and anti-apartheid groups or calls to boycott Israeli pride parades are relevant to the region. After all, that sort of talk might upset their friends at OutRage and the genocide porn industry.

A brief look on the Israel page of GME showcases article after article of how awesome Tel Aviv’s gay life is, punctuated with a couple of pieces on the Tel Aviv LGBT shootings of 2009. GME also promotedJerusalem World Pride in 2005, at a time when there was a global campaign to boycott it. In an article entitled Tel Aviv Pride 2010 – A beacon of acceptance, tolerance and joy, Littauer lavishes praise on Tzipi Livni, the former Israeli foreign minister who vigorously pushed for and defended Israeli wars on Gaza in 2009 and Lebanon in 2006. In her pride speech, Livni told the crowd that supporting gay rights is “not a political issue, but one of human respect and decency”. She clearly didn’t get the memo. For Littauer though, it doesn’t matter that she encouraged the massacre of thousands of people, she spoke at Tel Aviv gay pride after all! Littauer also proudly states that GME has “previously sponsored Arabs of neighboring countries to participate in the march” – a state-funded parade that should be boycotted according to the rules of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign against Israel, an initiative supported by queer Palestinian groups – which Littauer conveniently fails to mention. He also ignores the fact that the Tel Aviv parade happened less than a week after organizers of one of Europe’s largest pride parades in Madrid uninvited the official Israeli delegation following Israel’s deadly raid on the Freedom Flotilla aid convoy bound for the Gaza Strip. Like other pinkwashers, Littauer seems to think that Gay Israel exists in some sort of rainbow-covered gay bubble.

Go to GME’s Palestine page, and every single article is about Palestinian gays seeking refuge in Israel. Surprise surprise. GME recruits gay Arabs to report directly from the field, and they have taken to defending Littauer vigorously.

When Pinkwatching Israel questioned Littauer’s relationship with Lucas on Twitter, one of Littauer’s minions hurled insults at us and denied that Littauer was a Zionist and that GME is actually against Israeli pinkwashing (perhaps s/he has not visited the Israel and Palestine pages of the site s/he works for).

Pinkwashing works because it draws upon a discourse that posits gay identities as decontextual floating signifiers, and encourages queer folk to ignore their own multi-dimensional identities and realities in favor of aligning themselves with others who happen to have the same sexual inclinations, even when those others happen to be racist, neo-colonial fucktards. What is interesting is that GME’s reporting on Arab countries always contains some sort of political context, or at least an attempt (albeit a bit thin and naïve) to analyze LGBT events within the larger political framework. However, the same analysis is completely absent from their Israel page. Not once, for example, is the word “occupation” mentioned.

During our brief Twitter exchange, GME reprimanded us for launching an attack on Mr. Littauer instead of collaborating with him to further gay rights in the Middle East. We said it then, and we repeat it now, Pinkwatching Israel does not collaborate with zionists, even if they are gay.

Que(e)rying the Israeli-Linked GayMiddleEast.com: A Statement by Arab Queers

By The Queer Shadow Gallery Collective
June 23, 2011
Cross-posted from MidEastYouth

Part I – Delineating Differences

As queer Arab activists working on the ground in several countries in the Middle East, our initial disagreements with GayMiddleEast.com were political in nature. But rather than respond to them or engage in dialogue with us, GayMiddleEast.com resorted to playing the victim and shrugging off those concerns.

GayMiddleEast.com’s disingenuous response to what it sees as a “smear campaign” against it not only obfuscates the legitimate reasons many queer Arab activists take issue with its work, but also presents lies so blatant that a simple Google search is enough uncover the truth. It is duplicitous to claim that pointing out GayMiddleEast.com’s extensive ties to Israel is more dangerous than those ties themselves and its lack of transparency about them.

In its response, GayMiddleEast.com claims that the campaign against them began after they voiced skepticism over the disappearance of Amina Arraf, when in fact the tense history between GayMiddleEast.com and local activists existed long before that and centered around four  issues:

Interventionism

LGBT organizations and activists in the Arab region have always approached requesting foreign intervention very carefully, and it has been the topic of much debate both within activist communities and between them and international organizations that have come to understand the complexities involved and possible backlash that such action would entail.

Meanwhile, GayMiddleEast.com seems to have an open door with the UK Foreign Office and do not think twice about asking them to intervene at any given opportunity. These issues were raised with GayMiddleEast.com by several people, but they refused to engage.

Co-option of queer Arab voices

While perhaps not as vile as Tom MacMaster, GayMiddleEast.com operates on the same principle: White men speaking on behalf of queer Arabs and white men as gatekeepers of queer Arab voices. We are not victims in need of a white male savior working in London, nor do we need a conduit for our poor brown oppressed voices to be heard in the West, which seems to be GayMiddleEast.com’s intended audience.

Over the past few years the region has seen an enormous upsurge of progressive queer activism, from North Africa to the Levant and the Arab Gulf. Much of this work is being done quietly on the ground, from lobbying parliamentarians to organizing support groups, establishing solidarity networks, working with local civil society organizations, and publishing in various forums both online and off.

MacMaster’s deception brought many issues to the fore, and the least interesting are the stories GayMiddleEast.com has been plugging about how, contrary to what MacMaster has portrayed, gays are actually really oppressed. Perhaps more relevant in this context is an honest discussion about how to do solidarity work in a way that is respectful of people’s lived realities. That includes knowing what the limits of solidarity are, especially when you are outside the community you claim to care about, and when you occupy a position of privilege.

Both MacMaster and Littauer have chosen the wrong path; they have both put themselves front and center, the former by actually deceptively adopting the persona of a queer Arab woman, and the latter by acting as a spokesperson and gatekeeper for queer Arab voices with a direct line to the Western media.

It is unnerving that GayMiddleEast.com has one white name, one white face, and a handful of nameless, faceless Arab queers behind it. One of the articles listed by GayMiddleEast.com as being part of a “smear campaign” is actually a discussion about the depoliticization and orientalist tropes evident in much western (and Israeli) gay activism, including GayMiddleEast.com’s. Disagreement and critique for GayMiddleEast.com are tantamount to smears, which in itself says a lot.

Pinkwashing

Pinkwashing aims to sell Israeli racism, colonialism and apartheid as democratic and gay-friendly. This happens through bifurcation: On one hand, Israel, and especially Tel Aviv, are represented as cosmopolitan and LGBT, queer and trans-friendly places. At the same time, war crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories and racist discrimination against Palestinians living in Israel are being euphemized and “pinkwashed”.

The use of LGBT rights in particular is not a coincidence: separating “gayness” from other forms of oppression and hiding behind claims of being apolitical serves this function perfectly. Ideology almost always calls itself non-ideological. Issues of racism within LGBT organizing have long been a source of tension between activists in the Global North and South, particularly as activism becomes more and more transnational and networks of solidarity are built across borders.

The idea that LGBT rights take precedence over other rights need not be stated outright: by claiming that LGBT rights and activism are apolitical, and by refusing to address these issues head on and recognizing that they are interconnected, that principle is made apparent. GayMiddleEast.com’s particular pinkwashing was first addressed here. If GayMiddleEast.com is indeed against pinkwashing as they claim they are, then it would have paid attention when Arab and Palestinian queers took issue with their supposedly “neutral” manner of reporting. Instead, it chose to ignore the questions raised completely. And again, they were characterized as “smears”.

Violations of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Campaign against Israel

GayMiddleEast.com claims that it does not have a position on any particular solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Fair enough – no one has ever asked it to comment on the borders, Jerusalem, or two-states vs. one state, and no one has held it to task for that. What GayMiddleEast.com was criticized for was its rejection and violation of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign to end the Israeli occupation – a strategy to end the occupation, not a solution.

As a “fair”, “honest”, and “apolitical” reporter on news in the Middle East, why did GayMiddleEast.com not even report on the very loud global call to boycott Jerusalem World Pride in 2006? If they are simply an apolitical news site, this would at the very least qualify as news. GayMiddleEast.com have failed to report all subsequent queer call to boycott or news related to it such as the disinvitation of the official Israeli delegation to the Madrid pride parade – one of the largest in Europe –  following Israel’s attack on the Gaza flotilla. They did however report on everything else surrounding Pride in Israel.

Far from being “neutral” and “apolitical”, GayMiddleEast.com have taken very clear political stands – ones that privilege gay rights over Palestinian rights. GayMiddleEast.com has also patted itself on the back for sponsoring “Arabs of neighboring countries to participate in the march” in Tel Aviv, a clear and blatant violation of BDS. What is even more upsetting about the political stands that GayMiddleEast.com has taken is its refusal to admit that it has taken them.

That is the background of the problematic relationship between GayMiddleEast.com and many queer Arab activists, which it is very aware of and chose to completely bypass in its response. Far from being “smears”, these are legitimate political issues taken up by many activists in the Global South.

However, ignoring these critiques is not even what is most disturbing about GayMiddleEast.com’s response: the very blatant and sloppy lies it has presented about its extensive ties to Israel is cause for much concern. Being Israeli itself is not a crime, yet GayMiddleEast.com have gone to great lengths to deny these ties precisely because it knows that what it is doing, and has been doing since its inception, is dangerous.

Part II – Lies and Obfuscations

We invite GayMiddleEast.com to respond to the findings of our research, presented below:

GayMiddleEast.com claims that the website is not Israeli, then admits that it was registered by Assaf Gatenio – an Israeli (the founder and manager suddenly demoted to Israel Editor). If GayMiddleEast.com are so aware that links to Israel are damaging for an already vulnerable population, then why was it founded and why is it still owned by an Israeli? And why, in 2009, was it registered to an Israeli address?

Source: http://www.domaintools.com/research/whois-history/?page=details&domain=gaymiddleeast.com&date=2009-05-12

It is highly improbable that LGBT Arabs would be afraid of being associated with homosexuality (the reason GME gave for Gatenio’s ownership of the site), but would see no danger in asking an Israeli to register a site on their behalf and be too naïve to know how to create pseudonyms for themselves.

GayMiddleEast.com claim that Assaf Shabi Gatenio is not the founder or manager of GayMiddleEast.com, and that he simply misrepresented himself in his online bio:

Source: http://www.gatenio.name/gatenio/aboutme.htm

This is patently false. GayMiddleEast.com have articles dating back to 2003 (the year of GayMiddleEast.com’s founding) in which GayMiddleEast.com itself identifies him as a manager. He has also been quoted in numerous places as the manager, such as in thisAsia Times report from 2005 and this BBC article on Egypt from 2010. If Gatenio really is only the Israel editor, and GayMiddleEast.com are as conscious of the security of queer Arabs as they claim, then why was Gatenio responsible for administering a safer sex surveyin 8 countries in the region?

Source: http://www.flickr.com/groups/25964367@N00/discuss/72157619363865976/

And why, in the GayMiddleEast.com-produced video presenting the results, is Gatenio described as the “manager”?

Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B9rsUc5E9H4

Why would a site with no links to Israel apart from having an “Israel editor” produce all its news broadcasts in Israel, and have pinkwasher Scott Piro, an Israeli-American, as its anchor? And why would Piro refer to Gatenio as his “boss” if he is only the “Israel editor”?

Dan Littauer claims he is only a German citizen and underplays his links to Israel. In fact, Littauer himself has stated that both his parents live in Israel in a post on his personal blog that has recently been removed. The screenshot below was taken on June 12, right before GayMiddleEast.com’s Israel connection began surfacing on twitter:

Source (removed by Littauer): http://danlittauer.tumblr.com/post/70425734/consensus-about-violence

His Hebrew language posts on the blog were also recently deleted. Littauer also has an online profile that suggests he was born in Israel:

Source: http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/tt/42858/

Littauer also used to operate a tourism agency in Brazil in which he presented himself as an Israeli in 2008. Why would he present himself as such to Israelis but then deny it to Arabs?

Source: http://bit.ly/iCT2Yi

Translation: “Dan Littauer, the agent who presents himself as an Israeli, once you transfer the money to him, it will take you days and sometimes even more to reach him. He has endless excuses. The computers crashed… the electricity was cut off… there was rain… no need to go into further detail” – Posted on April 14, 2008 by Rona60 on Israeli tourism site LaMetayel.

We are not exposing GayMiddleEast.com’s fabrications because we are out to get Dan Littauer or because we want to “fragment the gay community”, as has been claimed. We are disturbed by the lengths Mr. Littauer has gone to cover up the truth, especially given that he is very well aware of the consequences of his actions and particularly after the Amina Arraf debacle.

If some queer Arab activists choose to work with GayMiddleEast.com knowing that it is an Israeli organization with suspect politics, then that is their choice, albeit one we disagree with strongly for strategic reasons as well as on principle. But it is not acceptable by any stretch of the imagination, and for any reason, that Dan Littauer, Assaf Gatenio, and the rest of the GME team lie outright in the way they did.

Our issues with Littauer and his crew are political for the reasons outlined at the beginning of this post, they are not personal. Instead of engaging with the questions brought up repeatedly by queer Arab activists, they not only evaded the issues but then took to covering up their tracks and lying about it – sloppily. What GayMiddleEast.com has done through its repeated obfuscation is not only endanger activists it works with and contacts by lying to them and thus robbing them of choice, but it has also, like MacMaster, given our opponents more ammunition against us.

To endorse this statement, please go here.

This statement was endorsed by the following organizations and initiatives:

MidEast Youth (MENA)
Nasawiya (Lebanon)
Meem (Lebanon)
KifKif (Morocco)
Abu Nawas (Algeria)
Khomsa Network (North Africa)
Helem (Lebanon)
Al-Qaws (Palestine)
Palestinian Queers for BDS (Palestine)
Decolonize Queer (International)
Pinkwatching Israel (Lebanon, Palestine)
Engender (South Africa)
Bekhsoos: Queer Arab Weekly (Lebanon)
Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (Middle East, North Africa, South and Southeast Asia)
Omnia
Safra Project
Lebanese LGBT Media Monitor (Lebanon)
Raynbow (Lebanon)

This statement was endorsed by the following individuals:

Suzan B.
Tariq
ArabAmerican
Kawthar
Ahmed Awadalla
Amar Shabby
Elo_borg 
Amal Amireh
Rauda Morcos
Jehan
saira zuberi
Mumtaz
zouba
Yahia Zaidi
Charlotte Karem Albrecht
Suneela Mubayi
Frank O’Gorman, Queer Liberation Front.us

The Shady Politics of GayMiddleEast.com

By Sokari
June 24, 2011
Cross-posted from Black Looks.

Last March, Pink Watching Israel published an article in which they exposed the website Gay Middle East as having “shady politics” with close Zionist connections and “who has never carried any of the anti-apartheid statements by LGBT groups in the region. ”

That the largest Middle East LGBT (well, G mostly)”grassroots news” website is run by British Israeli Zionist Dan Littauer is already cause for concern. The fact that GME regularly collaborates with neo-colonialist Islamophobes such as Peter Tatchell [See Out of Place, Out of Print] (the guy with a penchant for threatening lawsuits against those who don’t think he is god’s gift to oppressed gay people) doesn’t help his credentials much. Bizarrely, he is also the human rights and press officer for the Association of British Muslims. Barring the logic of such a position, Littauer is also quite friendly with Islamophobic pornographer Michael Lucas, whose recent campaign against Siegebusters, a NY-based anti-apartheid group, successfully got them banned from meeting at the NY LGBT center. Lucas, by the way, is making a name for himself uttering such gems as “Muslims have not contributed to civilization in any way”. He is also famous for making gay porn film “Men of Israel”, which had its setting on the ruins of homes of Palestinians displaced in 1948.

There is a degree of deceptiveness about Gay Middle East which Mideast Youth in a post “Que(e)rying the Israel-linked GayMiddleEast.com: a statement by Arab queers” compares to Tom MacMaster’s “Amina”.

MacMaster’s deception brought many issues to the fore, and the least interesting are the stories GayMiddleEast.com has been plugging about how, contrary to what MacMaster has portrayed, gays are actually really oppressed. Perhaps more relevant in this context is an honest discussion about how to do solidarity work in a way that is respectful of people’s lived realities. That includes knowing what the limits of solidarity are, especially when you are outside the community you claim to care about, and when you occupy a position of privilege.

Both MacMaster and Littauer have chosen the wrong path; they have both put themselves front and center, the former by actually deceptively adopting the persona of a queer Arab woman, and the latter by acting as a spokesperson and gatekeeper for queer Arab voices with a direct line to the Western media.

The statement by Queer Arabs reminds me of the “Statement of Warning” made by African LGBTI activists to Peter Tatchell and Outrage in February 2007…

In order to prevent Peter Tatchell and Outrage! from causing further damage through their unfounded campaigns and press releases, we issue this public statement of warning.

As Human Rights Defenders from across Africa, we strongly discourage the public from taking part in any LGBTI campaigns or calls to action concerning Africa that are led by Peter Tatchell or Outrage!

Collaboration across continents is both important and valuable. We are willing to work with those who respect our advice and expertise regarding our continent.

However, Outrage! has been acting in contempt and disregard of the wishes and lives of African Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) Human Rights Defenders. We have made every attempt to address this matter with Outrage!, personally, and they have refused to listen. We now take this matter to the public, requesting you not to take part in any of Peter Tatchell or Outrage!’s campaigns regarding Africa, as they are not factually-based and are harmful to African activists.

In both cases Queer Arab and African voices are being co-opted by white men. With the help of a handfull of collaborators both on the continent and in the Diaspora they continually attempt to discredit our voices but worse grossly undermine grassroots struggles and take credit for any successes and acts of resistance. Queer African voices like our Queer Arab sisters and brothers..

“are not victims in need of a white saviour working in London, nor do we need a conduit for our poor brown oppressed voices to be heard in the West, which seems to be GayMiddleEast.com’s intended audience.

Links: Arab activists question Gay Middle East.com

LGBT racism and transnational resistance: A short timeline
Summer 2010:

– In Toronto, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid is banned from marching at Pride. After massive protests against the censorship, the group is allowed back into the march.

– In Berlin, Judith Butler, a BDS supporter, refuses to accept the Pride award for
civil courage in response to the racist enmeshments of the Pride organizers, and instead passes the award on to anti-racist organizations in Berlin

– In Oslo, there are discussions if Pride should for the first time start in the “homophobic” neighbourhood Grønland, popularly imagined as Muslim.

Spring 2011:
– In London, gay activists linked to the neo-fascist English Defense League organize the East End Gay Pride march through Tower Hamlets, an inner-city areas constructed as Muslim. The official march is stopped after resistance from queer Muslims, other queers of colour, and their allies .

– In Brussels, there are discussions if the Pride parade should this year start in the migrant neighbourhood, and if it should be headed by LGBT-asylum seekers carrying posters that thank the Belgian nation.

– The NYC LGBT Community Center cancels Israeli Apartheid Week and denies the organizers access to the space.

– In Paris, Inter-Pride uses a gallic cock in tricolore to advertise an event (in imitation of a Front National image). Following a spontanous anti-racist coalition, the image is withdrawn.

 In Lyon, a queer kiss-in in front of a Mosque is narrowly prevented.

Madrid 2010:
In response to the attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, where 9 people were killed by the Israeli Army, the state-sponsored Israeli delegation is excluded from taking part in the Pride.

Arab Activists Question Israel-Linked GayMiddleEast.com

By Benjamin Doherty
June 23, 2011
Cross-posted from The Electronic Intifada

A group of Arab activists and human rights organizations have issued a statement about the Israeli-linked group GayMiddleEast.com. This organization was founded in 2003 byShabi Assaf Gatenio, and has recently appeared in the media after the exposure of the Amina hoax presenting itself as the credible and authentic voice of LGBT Arabs.

Titled Que(e)rying the Israel-linked GayMiddleEast.com: a statement by Arab queers, the statement opens:

As queer Arab activists working on the ground in several countries in the Middle East, our initial disagreements with GayMiddleEast.com were political in nature. But rather than respond to them or engage in dialogue with us, GayMiddleEast.com resorted to playing the victim and shrugging off those concerns.

GayMiddleEast.com’s disingenuous response to what it sees as a “smear campaign” against it not only obfuscates the legitimate reasons many queer Arab activists take issue with its work, but also presents lies so blatant that a simple Google search is enough uncover the truth. It is duplicitous to claim that pointing out GayMiddleEast.com’s extensive ties to Israel is more dangerous than those ties themselves and its lack of transparency about them.

In the statement, which has been endorsed by a growing list of organizations across the Arab world and globally including MidEast YouthAl-QawsMeemEngenderKhomsa Network and Decolonize Queer, the authors take GayMiddleEast.com to task for four issues: unwelcome and unsolicited intervention; co-optation of Arab voices; pinkwashing Israel; and violations of the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).

They also present compelling evidence that GayMiddleEast.com (GME) has systematically tried to conceal its founding in and extensive ties to Israel and that GME representatives Dan Littauer and Shabi Assaf Gatenio are not being honest about themselves.

Mounting criticism

GME has been the subject of mounting criticism from Arab and Palestine solidarity activists at least since last year (see #lgbtME: We Do Not Live in Vacuums! andGayMiddleEast.com’s Zionism). Most recently, Kaw at Mideast Youth posted Whose Gay Middle East(.com)? and asked three questions:

  1. Why are activists not fully informed of GayMiddleEast.com’s Israel connection, so as to make informed choices about whether or not to get involved with the organisation?
  2. Or better yet, why is the information not made publicly available on the website?
  3. While GayMiddleEast.com claims to oppose pinkwashing, why have the grassroots campaigns by Palestinian queer activists to counter Israel’s pinkwashing been neither highlighted, nor endorsed?

The people behind GME have tried to evade these questions about their origins, methods and standards and about the identities of their representatives in English-language andIsraeli media.

On 19 June, GME responded to what it called a “smear campaign” saying:

  • GME is not an Israeli organisation. Nor is it Zionist. It is not owned or run by an Israeli.
  • The site’s executive editor is Dan Littauer, a German citizen (with only a German passport) who lives in London. …
  • GME’s website was registered in Germany in 2003 by Shabi Gatenio, GME’s Israel Editor on behalf of a number of Arab LGBT activists.

GayMiddleEast.com’s history

In my own research on GayMiddleEast.com, I found the history of their so-called advocacy very troubling. Using the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, I reviewed the content produced by GME from 2003 through 2008. Some of the people currently or previously associated with the site–namely Dan Littauer, Avi Ozeri, and Scott Piro–have a background in the tourism industry and public relations, and until 2009, GME tried to be a tourism resource.

Before 2009, their site had a section about tourism to Arab countries with cruising tips. The site offered up coming out stories that were both implausible and prurient. They notedsodomy law and age of consent information for each country.

Sodomy laws and age of consent have been important indicators of sexual freedom and equality in many countries. In fact, the United States had sodomy laws until 2003 when the Supreme Court ruled that they were unconstitutional. In other countries, they are also acolonial legacy of laws authored by European powers which persisted after independence. With cruising tips, age of consent, sodomy law information and tourism advice, the GME project looks more like orientalist sex tourism rather than human rights advocacy.

GME’s support from LGBT activists

Some LGBT rights organizations and writers have been eager to defend GayMiddleEast.com against what they called a smear.

Gay Middle East is being smeared. False allegations threaten lives of Arab gay activists: tiny.cc/8n5ei #pride #gay #lgbt #queer #arab

— Peter Tatchell Fdn (@PT_Foundation) June 21, 2011

RT @PT_Foundation Gay Middle East is being smeared. False allegations threaten lives of Arab gay activists: tiny.cc/8n5ei #lgbtme

— LGBT Asylum News (@LGBTAsylumNews) June 21, 2011

Gay Middle East responds to smear campaign. tinyurl.com/69yugu5 #lgbt#GayGirlHoax #GayMiddleEast

— Richard Rosendall (@RickRosendall) June 21, 2011

One of the most prominent defenders of GME, Peter Tatchell, a founder of the group OutRage!, was denounced in 2007 by African activists for unwelcome interference in their countries. Tatchell’s interventions, they said, “repeatedly disrespected the lives, damaged the struggle, and endangered the safety of African Human Rights Defenders.”

So it is alarming that Tatchell now defends GME, an organization whose dishonesty and interventionist tactics are generating similar resistance from Arabs.

Mainstream media role

In light of the activists’ latest statement, it is important to note the role of some prominent media in perpetuating these kind of shadowy organizations who ventriloquize Arabs. The Guardian for example avidly promoted the Amina hoax. After the Electronic Intifada exposed the Amina hoaxThe Guardian rushed to feature the hoaxter on their front page, giving him more publicity and oxygen. It then published an article called “The real world of gay girls in Damascus” by a pseudonymous author who credited GME with helping to place it in the media. GME heavily promoted this article through Facebook and Twitter. GME used the Amina hoax to promote themselves as authentic authorities on Arab sexuality, but in fact, GME merely reproduces the main elements of the hoax: anonymous male authors speaking on behalf of unseen female native informants. Foreign Policy also published a version of the article.

While posing as liberatory, GME revels in voyeurism and titiliation about a supposedly sexually repressed orient – classic orientalist themes.

The statement from Arab organizations serves as a powerful antidote.

Note

This post originally identified the pseudonymous authors of articles that appeared in The Guardian and Foreign Policy as part of GME. It has been amended to clarify the relationship.

Why Gay Middle Easterners Can’t Stand GayMiddleEast.com

By Scott Long
January 28, 2012
Cross-posted from a paper bird.

In June 2011, 15 Arab sexual rights and human rights organizations, and more than a dozen individual activists, signed a statement condemning the website Gaymiddleeast.com for lying about itself, its origins, and its politics. It’s unusual to see so many groups and activists getting together on anything in a fractured region, so this unanimity was something of an event. It’s been six months since the statement, which “Gay Middle East” never answered.  But the website has started creeping back to life. It’s time, I think, to remind ourselves exactly what its lies were, and why they were and are so dangerous.

This statement wasn’t the first time the activists had to tried to ask “Gay Middle East” to clarify basic facts, including where it was founded and based.  The website’s editor, Dan Littauer, earlier responded to criticisms (in a press release written for him by British activist Peter Tatchell) simply by dismissing the questions as “smears.” “Gay Middle East” had denied that it had any links to Israel. The activists responded that GME “presents lies so blatant that a simple Google search is enough uncover the truth.” And they offered the evidence and the truth they had uncovered.

In summary, they found:

  • GME’s claim that it was “not owned or run by an Israeli” was completely untrue: the site had been founded in Israel, registered to an Israeli, and owned by an Israeli.
  • As late as 2009, in fact, it was still registered to an Israeli address.
  • Littauer, its “executive editor,” who when confronted in 2011 claimed he was “a German citizen (with only a German passport),” had in fact repeatedly identified himself as an Israeli in the past.
You can read their research in detail in their statement. What a lot of people outside the region don’t quite grasp, though, is exactly why this is so important.
The activist statement raises a range of political issues.   Those involve, at a basic level, Arab queers’ and Arab activists’ need to reclaim their own voices, rather than submitting to the ventriloquism of others — others who may or may not share their values, may or may not sympathize with their work, but should not in either case be arrogating the right to interpret their struggles to the world.   I’m not going to recapitulate all their concerns here, although I agree with many: they’re already laid out articulately and clearly.  I’m going to address the one that resonates most with me: safety, the safety of activists and ordinary queers. Littauer and “Gay Middle East” have been putting people across the region who work with them in danger.
To be clear: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Israelis working on LGBT issues elsewhere in the Middle East. Plenty of Israeli researchers have produced important academic information on the region. (Among things I’ve read in recent years, Ze’ev Maghen’s work on the concept of purity in Islamic jurisprudence struck me as important, despite the fact that I can’t stand most of what I gather are his politics; and Ofra Bengio‘s study of Ba’ath Party rhetoric, Saddam’s Word, seems to me much better than Kanan Makiya.) But they didn’t do it by denying being Israelis.
Even in Egypt, formally at peace with its neighbor for three decades, Israel remains an enemy in both the state’s rhetoric and the population’s opinions.  Giving sensitive information — and human rights information is clearly “sensitive” to any government — to an Israeli-based group or an Israeli citizen would easily be seen as practicing espionage, almost anywhere in the region.
The khawal as traitor: From state media, 2001

This isn’t a light or abstract threat. It is particularly dangerous for members of groups that are already despised. When the lead defendant in Egypt’s famousQueen Boat case was put on trial, prosecutors claimed he had learned all about homosexuality in Israel. The press carried, and people believed, ludicrously doctored photos of him sitting before an Israeli flag, wearing an Israeli army helmet. In 2007, a Cairo court sentencedMohammed al-Attar to fifteen years, for recruiting gay Arabs in Canada to spy for Israel.  Prosecutors alleged he was “a gay Zionist, who turned his back on Islam and worked to undermine the security of his homeland.”  He later said that police electroshocked him to extract a confession, and forced him to drink his own urine. There are plenty of other stories.

Israel is proud of its espionage, if that isn’t a contradiction in terms. Not only has it long kept up spy networks around and beyond the Middle East, it publicizes the fact just enough to keep governments off-balance. Objectively, in the Great Game, this is sensible. It’d be dumb to do otherwise. The prevalence of espionage makes a general paranoia on its neighbors’ parts perhaps excusable. Targeting gays is not excusable. But when the general rhetoric already sees them as subject to outside influence, treating them as traitors is simply a next step.
If “Gay Middle East” is hiding its real origins, it’s putting the people in Arab countries who choose to work with it and give it information at grave risk. Does it want to keep them at risk of arrest and torture? Does it simply not care? Its duplicity shows contempt for their safety and well-being. It owes them honest answers, which it so far has refused to give.
Networking: Michael Lucas pictures Israel
Networking: Michael Lucas pictures Israel

Many odd things about GME were already on the public record before the Arab activists’ statement. Ben Doherty used the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine to survey content produced by GME from 2003 through 2008. He found it started as a tourism site for non-Middle Easterners, with a seeming emphasis on sex tourism:

Some of the people currently or previously associated with the site – namely Dan Littauer, Avi Ozeri, and Scott Piro [the latter two also Israelis], –have a background in the tourism industry and public relations, and until 2009, GME tried to be a tourism resource. Before 2009, their site had a section about tourism to Arab countries with cruising tips. The site offered up coming out stories that were both implausible and prurient. They noted sodomy law and age of consent information for each country.
Beyond this, there was Littauer’s obvious political bias against reporting negative information about Israel; his refusal to talk to some of the most respected activists in the region; and his odd association with Tatchell in the UK, a figure known for his Islamophobia.A key moment came in April 2011, when “Gay Middle East” boasted of how Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office had invited Littauer to contribute information on LGBT issues in the region, for its regular human rights reports.  Littauer was setting himself up to speak for Arab LGBT activism –without speaking to the activists. He seemed indifferent to their opinions on whether, or what, they wanted to contribute to the rights representations of an former imperial (and currently invading) power. The activists’ statement observes:GBT organizations and activists in the Arab region have always approached requesting foreign intervention very carefully, and it has been the topic of much debate both within activist communities and between them and international organizations that have come to understand the complexities involved and possible backlash that such action would entail.

Meanwhile, GayMiddleEast.com seems to have an open door with the UK Foreign Office and do not think twice about asking them to intervene at any given opportunity. These issues were raised with GayMiddleEast.com by several people, but they refused to engage.

When I visited the region in June 2011, several people voiced increasing fear of “Gay Middle East.” Some were afraid of being blackmailed: Littauer had extracted information about their groups or movements, including names of activists working undercover. They were uncertain how he would use the information, or where it might go.  As these issues were raised with GME, its answer was to turn to Tatchell; the response Tatchell wrote for Littauer’s website contains his signature move of interpreting any criticism as a “smear.” As the activists’ statement says,

GayMiddleEast.com’s disingenuous response to what it sees as a “smear campaign” against it …. obfuscates the legitimate reasons many queer Arab activists take issue with its work.

“We invite Gay Middle East to respond,” the activists wrote. An answer never came. Neither Tatchell nor “Gay Middle East” have ever understood that there are criticisms that demand response and dialogue, not just “smears” that deserve dismissal and rejection.   That inability to answer, to be accountable, to speak to rather than for, leaves them in the end without any credible claim to being activists: just self-promoters, gardeners of their reputations, driven by the passion for publicity.

So six months later, the question still stands: Has “Gay Middle East” got anything to say for itself?

Littauer, at least, has been busily tweeting about those who “smeared” him. His tweets reveal a bit more about GME’s vision. He recently wrote that my old colleague Rasha Moumneh, of Human Rights Watch, is “well known for her loony left militancy – she has a good mentor one shamed ex-HRW…”

The last bit of gibberish I think may refer to me; and, as a Virginia boy, I didn’t know that the German-British-Israeli Littauer, so presumptuously protean, also spoke Southern. But to adopt his demotic Alabaman, I’d just note that I’m ‘shamed, deeply ‘shamed, to be thought Moumneh’s mentor. I’m still young enough to be learning from other people, not mentoring them.

The more interesting point, though, is what Littauer thinks is “loony left militancy.”  He’s referring to a quote Moumneh gave to an article in IPS News. It reads, in its entirety:

“Repression of Arab LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) individuals under previous regimes no doubt existed. Having a non-Islamist government is no guarantee against the persecution of individuals for sexual and gender non-conformity,” Middle East and North Africa researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) Rasha Moumneh tells IPS. ”However, the fear over what is being called an Islamist ‘takeover’ completely ignores what is actually happening on the ground. The Tunisians had free and fair elections for the first time in decades. In Egypt, the primary concern is the abhorrent behaviour of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and not the Islamists.”

Now, both these points are true. The crackdown on homosexual conduct in Egypt from 2001-2004 — when hundreds, probably thousands, were arrested, almost certainly the worst such campaign in the region in modern times — took place under a secular government, enforcing a secular law that was a product of a secular-nationalist revolution. You don’t need the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafists to start a moral panic and target despised groups. All you need is a vulnerable government looking for a distraction.

SCAF, with bloody hands

On the second point: the new Tunisian government isdemocratically elected (which should make it less vulnerable, rather than more).  If Tunisia is to become a normal democracy, its citizens and its self-appointed friends have to stop being paranoid about the passage of power. The election of a party may anger or disappoint its opponents, but it shouldn’t create fear for the system itself, any more than a Tory victory in Littauer’s adopted homeland entitles Labour to claim democratic process is collapsing.  When Littauer indicates that, he’s expressing his contempt for the revolution, and his fear of democracy. Meanwhile, in Egypt, it’s the armed forces and not the Islamists who are busily violating the population’s human rights, subjecting 12,000 people to miltary trial, and shooting unarmed civilians on the streets. To pretend that they are not the most urgent threat to freedom (as well as life) is wilfully to disregard the reality.

So what defines the “loony left,” for “Gay Middle East”? They tell the truth, and they respect democracy and democratic process.

And what defines the “reasonable right,” for “Gay Middle East”? I shudder to imagine.

That seems to say it all.

Whose Gay Middle East (.com)

By Kaw
June 17, 2011
Cross-posted from MidEastYouth

Pinkwash

“It’s raining pink today; Israel must be washing its laundry,” I remarked to a friend after reading the below tweet from Scott Piro, an Israeli-American publicist, and self-proclaimed “social media denizen”.

Most importantly, Piro is the publicist for Tel Aviv Gay Vibe, a campaign by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism that seeks to market the city as a haven and top-line tourist destination for gays. This is in line with Israel’s strategy of exploiting queer rights to promote itself as “a lone outpost of freedom and openness in the Middle East”, while it continues to occupy Palestinians (painted as uncivilized homophobes) with impunity.

It’s needless to say that Tel Aviv Gay Vibe has been the subject of criticism by pro-Palestine and queer activists.

My initial alarm was over the tweet heralding the start of an even more aggressive pinkwashing campaign, but it wasn’t long before I began to harbour even greater concerns

Transparency

I was first introduced to Scott Piro through his work as a reporter and anchor for GayMiddleEast.com. Yes, the website that has been billed as the premier news source for all things gay in the Middle East.

While many were quick to regard GayMiddleEast.com as a credible and authoritative voice for LGBT issues in the Middle East, few have questioned the history of the site’s founding, and why a white British man is acting as its Editor and spokesperson.

GayMiddleEast.com was founded in 2002 by the Israeli Assaf Shabi Gatenio, and was until recently listed under an Israeli address. Its (overwhelmingly positive) coverage of Israel remains the most comprehensive – culminating in its coverage of the 2010 Tel Aviv Pride Parade, which was described as a “beacon of tolerance and acceptance”. The language of pinkwash.

Dan Littauer, the Managing Editor of GayMiddleEast.com and the media’s go-to-source for information on LGBT Arabs, is reportedly a dual British-Israeli citizen.

In a region where non-conformance (sexual and otherwise) is often regarded as a Western implant, even the least tenuous connection to Israel could lead to charges of treason. And herein lies the problem with GayMiddleEast.com; its refusal to be transparent.

Questions for GayMiddleEast.com

On a personal level, I take many issues with GayMiddleEast.com: its contribution to the narrative of hapless gays in need of saving, itsscaremongering about the current uprisings in Arab countries, its fetishizing and exoticising of the LGBT identity – to name a few – but I do believe that the most pressing concerns that need to be addressed by GayMiddleEast.com are:

1) Why are activists not fully informed of GayMiddleEast.com’s Israel connection, so as to make informed choices about whether or not to get involved with the organisation?

2) Or better yet, why is the information not made publicly available on the website?

3) While GayMiddleEast.com claims to oppose pinkwashing, why have the grassroots campaigns by Palestinian queer activists to counter Israel’s pinkwashing been neither highlighted, nor endorsed?


3 Responses

  1. Edgar Locke says:

    I say this from the bottom of my heart – I cannot wait until you anti-Semitic faggots get aids and die.

  2. Ahmed says:

    GayMiddleEast.com has moved to Gay Star News. http://www.gaystarnews.com/
    Dan Littaur has been doing more of the same old there. Please start something about it, now. Thank you!

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