Is the meeting with Sharon a victory for our community or a self-inflicted defeat?
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Palestinian policemen watch Palestinian farms burning on the border between Israel and east Gaza Strip, February 18, 2002. Suhaib Salem
by Hagai El-Ad
The first official meeting between an Israeli Prime Minister and representatives of the gay community is scheduled to take place in Jerusalem on February 26. Menahem Shizaf, of the Political Council for Gay Rights in Israel (PCGRI), sees the meeting "... as an accomplishment and an important message to the public."
Hagai El-Ad, another queer Israeli activist, is more ambivalent.
JERUSALEM, FEB. 21, 2002. It appears that a meeting of gays and lesbians with Israel's Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, will finally take place. Is this an achievement for our community, or an example of a lack of feeling, callousness and loss of direction? Is it a victory for the community or a self-inflicted defeat? What do we, Israeli gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, have to say in such a meeting? What do we gain from sitting down with the head of the Executive Branch? What do we lose? And how do we continue to fight for our human rights the morning after?
It would be worth having such a meeting if the community's representatives tell Arik (Sharon) about Dirty Laundry, a new lgbt group fighting for equality for Israel's Palestinian citizens and against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
It would be worth it to lend him copies of the alternative queer publication Anna FranQ, and hand deliver the reports of Amnesty International and Physicians for Human Rights, both of which have a harder time, it seems, in getting a meeting with the Primo.
It would be unbearable to simply sit with the Prime Minister and on behalf of our minority ignore the human rights of others, including what's been happening here in relation to Palestine for the past year roadblocks, prevention of access to medical care, assassinations, and implementation of an apartheid policy in the territories and in Israel.
The struggle for our rights is worthless if it's indifferent to what's happening to people a kilometer from here.
We're fighting for equality, but if we do it at the price of collaborating with an oppressive and discriminatory establishment, then we're no better than the millions of other Israelis who've already chosen to become hardened and indifferent to the suffering of the other, of the enemy, even if the other is an Israeli citizen, even if she is a pregnant woman, even if it's a child on her way to school. It's sufficient for the other to be an Arab to justify, in the eyes of the Jewish majority, almost any humiliation and violence.
How can a human being, especially if they're gay or lesbian, remain silent in the face of such a reality? In so many places, at so many times, it's been enough for the other to be gay or lesbian, or transsexual, in order to justify humiliation and violence. Racism is racism is racism. Indifference to suffering and humiliation of another person because he's "different" is a racist act. And now gays and lesbians will express through this meeting our indifference to this racism, our readiness to remain silent and collaborate with the Prime Minister of a country that oppresses, discriminates, and humiliates.
It's possible to meet the Prime Minister, but only if the meeting is used to express a protest. Not in order to embrace the establishment and be strangled by it, but in order to cry out against the policy being implemented by the Government of Israel.
The Prime Minister of Israel has no desire to meet the representative of the disabled who have been demonstrating in vain for a month now in front of his office. But it's quite suitable for him to sit down for coffee with a gay delegation. Mr. Sharon has no time for the skyrocketing groups of unemployed, but us he meets.
Yes, yes, Arik from the ranch, Arik from army unit 101, isn't afraid to sit in a room with a few fairies. It's all politics, of course. The meeting itself is devoid of any practical substance. There's no government commitment to, for example, financing a gay youth shelter in Tel Aviv, or opening up high schools across the country to the lecture services of Israel's gay organizations.
All we get by holding the meeting with the Prime Minister is symbolic legitimacy for the community. What he gets for sitting down with us is the mantle of enlightenment and pluralism.
Such symbolic meetings can be appropriate, like the one held recently with the President. After all, in Israel the President is nothing but a symbolic figure. But when one goes to meet the Prime Minister, there should be content and action, not just symbols.
We must also consider who needs this exchange of legitimacy more, the current Prime Minister or the gay and lesbian community. Yitzhak Rabin, for example, didn't hold such symbolic meetings; but he allowed a gay couple, a Palestinian from the occupied territory of Gaza and an Israeli from Tel Aviv, to live together in Israel. Will the current Prime Minister permit such a thing? Will there be anyone demanding such a thing from him?
Relatively speaking, Israel is an extraordinary example of great success in the rapid advancement of gay and lesbian rights. Some academics who have tried to explain the phenomenon argue that instead of being a case of extraordinary Israeli openness, it actually reflects the closing of ranks among the Jewish majority in the face of the common Arab enemy. In other words, "She has a (Jewish) girlfriend; it's not so bad, at least she's not sleeping with Arabs." The ultimate sexual taboo in Israel is sex between Jews and Arabs, not sex between those of the same sex (assuming they're both on the same side of the racial fence).
The meeting with the Prime Minister is a critical experiment for testing the above theory: Will gays and lesbians choose now to close ranks with the oppressive majority, or will we understand that a future of freedom is possible for us only if it's possible for everyone. Our ally in this struggle walks by foot today to school in the neighboring village, despite the roadblocks and the closure. He's the one we should meet, not the man currently sitting in the Prime Minister's Office.
Translated from the Hebrew by Lee Walzer.
The author, Hagai El-Ad (firstname.lastname@example.org), is the Executive Director of Jerusalem's lgbt community center, the Open House. The above comments represent the opinion of the author and not the position of the Open House.
For Jerusalem Open House, the city's gay community center.
For a bonanza of Middle East and Israeli links from The Jerusalem Post.
For Amnesty International's report on Israel and the Occupied Territories: State Assassinations and Other Unlawful Killings.
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