If the Middle East were a gay rights issue
It’s not. But if it were, the balance would lie with Israel, the most liberal of states in the Middle East, whether in civil liberties or in fostering a strong economy. While there is no process of civil marriage for any couples in the state of Israel, marriages performed by others are fully recognized, whether those married by religious authorities within the state, or by other jurisdictions, and since 2007, this has included gay couples. While the United States is still pondering the consequences of allowing gay men and women to serve in the army, the Israeli army now has a good record of acknowledging its gay soldiers. This week as ever, Tel Aviv held its annual gay pride parade. There are a few openly gay members of the Knesset, Israel’s popularly elected parliament.
Which is why the decision of the Madrid gay pride parade to ban a delegation from Israel is highly questionable. A spokesperson for Tel Aviv, Eytan Schwartz, comments “We invited the organisers of the gay pride event in Madrid to join a march this Friday in Tel Aviv, the only place in the Middle East where you can be gay in public. They would be able to talk to Arab gays who travel here secretly because they would be murdered at home if they revealed their sexuality.”
It’s not that the good record of Israel on this and certain other issues should exempt them from criticism, in either their international actions or other internal policies, but I find some in the gay rights movements conflate their grievances on different issues. At the recent protest here, Labour LGBT marched against Israel’s actions. Even aside from the irony of their flag being captured near that of Hamas, organizations that shares few values in common, I wonder why they would not have marched simply as Labour, as Labour Youth or on behalf of an international committee of the party.
On the same grounds, I wondered what LGBT Noise, an organization whose aim is to secure marriage equality, were doing taking part in SIPTU organized protest on public sector cuts last year. I’m sure these organizations could try to justify tangential links between these protests, but I believe it is damaging to the cause of gay rights. They might claim that those involved in gay rights should care about more than gay rights. Yes, of course. But as individuals, not as a part of an organization established on gay rights, even if the involvement of same individuals means there is a complete overlap. Otherwise, there is a risk of diluting the claims of gay rights organizations, that they might be seen as just one more issue that they care about, rather than an issue in their own right. And I do believe that gay rights organizations would do well to highlight areas in which countries in which they might find much fault and fundamental disagreement are far ahead of Ireland or the United States.
As I am commenting here on Israel for the first time since the raid on the flotilla last month, partly because the complexity of the situation should inhibit hasty and partially informed commentary, I should explain where I generally stand. Israel acted far out of proportion, and in doing so acted against its own long-term interests, both in alienating international allies and in strengthening the position of Hamas within Gaza. As this is not the first time in recent years that this much could be said, I hope that the Israeli government does more to take this into account. The government should have acted sooner to prevent settlements in Palestine, but should be credited with what actions they have taken more recently to withdraw from settlements there, and in a major way from Gaza in 2006. They should do more to acknowledge the cause of the Palestinians’ grievance. While I understand the reasons for the blockade, given the threat from Hamas, it seems to have been far too stringent, with certain meat and fruit prohibited. Within Israel, and particularly in Jerusalem, there is clear discrimination against Palestinians in certain services, particularly housing and land zoning. While this continues, a violent reaction is understandable, however unjustified.
What does irritate me is the singling out of Israel of all countries world wide. To continuously highlight the wrongdoings of Israel must surely be doubly counterproductive, in giving second place in attention to crimes of other states, often far more unconscionable, and in letting Israel feel that they will be criticized no matter what, they have less incentive to find more accommodating solutions. Where are the calls for dismissing the PRC Ambassador, given the internal lack of equality before the law and lack of civil liberties there and the occupation of Tibet? I also find the continuous references and analogies to the events of the Holocaust repetitive, facile and insulting, and felt our paper of record could have done better than to have had two articles this week with this old trope, from Fintan O’Toole on Tuesday and from Frank McDonald on Thursday.
Image © Indymedia.ie