The boycott Israel movement can’t have it both ways on LGBT equality

One week later, the debate over A Wider Bridge’s inclusion at the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Creating Change conference (and subsequent protests against them) is still weaving its way through the online progressive community. Jewish, LGBT and Jewish LGBT leaders have criticized the Task Force, both for initially disinviting A Wider Bridge and for not taking a more forceful stand against the protestors, some of whom used explicitly anti-Jewish slurs and, in one case, physically engaged with a conference attendee. The protestors themselves maintain, while either dismissing or ignoring claims of hate speech and threats of violence at the protest, that disruption was the point. Their #CancelPinkwashing action has the LGBT community talking about pinkwashing as it pertains to Israel, which was their goal in the context of the broader Boycott, Divest, Sanctions (BDS) movement.

But not all publicity is good publicity, especially if your core argument has problems on the merits. BDS has gained momentum recently, including with members of the American LGBT and Jewish communities, in large part due to the fact that the entire American left is becoming increasingly critical of the Israeli government in general, particularly given its recent rightward shift suggesting that it has no immediate plans to make peace. However, #CancelPinkwashing’s more specific claim that Israel is only progressive on LGBT issues in order to provide cover for its other human rights abuses is a claim that, as Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern wrote earlier this week, both strains the imagination and has never been applied to any country other than Israel before. Furthermore, it leads one to ask: If BDS got everything it wanted, would the LGBT community be better or worse off?

Jerusalem Pride, via Wikimedia Commons

Jerusalem Pride, via Wikimedia Commons

This is a difficult question to answer precisely because BDS doesn’t state, up front, what it would mean if it got “everything it wanted.” The movement calls on countries, businesses, universities and people more generally to boycott, divest from and otherwise sanction the state of Israel until it “complies with international law and Palestinian rights.” By itself, this doesn’t commit the movement to a specific position on Israel’s right to exist or the two-state solution, among other political questions at the core of the Israel/Palestine conflict. Officially, they just want Israel to act like the Western liberal democracy it presents itself as. That’s frustratingly vague, but it sounds reasonable — reasonable enough to build a broad-based coalition that welcomes anyone critical of the Israeli government, right?


Despite my issues with the Israeli government, despite my shared desire for the country to comply with international law and despite my shared desire for Palestinians to have the political freedoms they deserve, I would not be welcome in BDS because I think these goals are compatible with a two-state solution. Despite the movement’s official agnosticism with regards to what its members mean when they say “Palestinian rights,” in practice that always includes the dissolution of the borders between Israel, the West Bank and Gaza for the creation of one state, not two (As the #CancelPinkwashing protestors chanted, “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea!”). Prominent pro-Palestinian intellectuals, including Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky, have been barred from the movement for suggesting that this de-facto commitment to a one-state solution is some combination of naive, impractical and perhaps not even ideal.

This being the case, the choice BDS is presenting isn’t between a one- or two-state solution, but rather between different, equally vague visions of one state.

To be clear, it isn’t impossible to argue that one state is the only just outcome of the Israel/Palestine conflict. I disagree, but I see how the case can be made. However, if you’re going to make that argument in the context of an LGBT conference, you have to consider whether the full decolonization of Palestine (to use BDS’s terminology) will be better for the LGBT community, or whether it will be worse. And as AMERICAblog contributor InsideOutsider pointed out last Sunday, there isn’t any reason to believe that a one-state solution with full equality for Palestinians will be a net gain for LGBT people in the area.

When asked “Should society accept homosexuality?” 60 percent of US citizens said yes, 40 percent of Israelis said yes and just four percent of people living in the Palestinian territories said yes. Like it or not, justice in Palestine necessarily entails granting additional political rights to a group of people who, in the aggregate, are about as open to the idea of LGBT equality as Uganda. As Mark Segal, a member of the original Gay Liberation Front, pointed out yesterday in the Advocate, “It is so unsafe for out Palestinians that the organization fighting for Palestinian queer rights has to be located in Israel. Why? The Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip has declared homosexuality punishable by death.”

For BDS members, this doesn’t mean that supporting justice in Palestine makes you an anti-gay bigot — you could even say that anti-gay bigotry is incompatible with BDS’s stated goals relating to universal justice — but it does mean that they have to recognize the tradeoff they’re making. BDS can state a goal of full equality for all people, but given the choice, it prioritizes political equality for Palestinians over social equality for LGBT Israelis and Palestinians. That’s okay; we all make tradeoffs, but that also explains why people who care about LGBT issues without being heavily invested in the Israel/Palestine debate aren’t keen to join them. When you show up to Creating Change, a conference that does not adopt a specific politics regarding Israel/Palestine, it is very odd to try and shame the conference’s organizers into adopting your take on Israel/Palestine politics. Especially when the LGBT community as a whole isn’t likely to gain from your movement succeeding.

Members of the BDS movement have responded to criticism of their protest without seriously engaging with this point — a point that happens to lie at the core of the criticism. They simply restate their commitment to “building community in the name of justice for all” while refusing to concede that the upshot of their movement entails justice for a people who can’t be said to share in their vision.

They can’t have it both ways. BDS’s members can present their ideal vision of one state with full equality in which everyone gets along, but it has to be okay when other people point out that this vision is, well, idealistic. They can criticize the Israeli government and say (correctly) that its human rights abuses against Palestinians compound themselves to affect LGBT Palestinians even more harshly, and they can (correctly) point out that Israel has its fair share of progress to make to provide for the safety and equality of its own LGBT citizens. What they can’t do is make these claims while pretending that the state they would have replace Israel is at all likely to be better on this front. At the intersection between LGBT equality and Israel/Palestine politics, members of the LGBT community have legitimate concerns about what the “decolonization of Palestine” means for them, while they also know that Israel, despite its myriad issues, is the country in the region where they are most likely to be accepted. If members of BDS want to address these concerns and change the minds of people who don’t already agree with them, they’re going to have to do better than shouting these members of the LGBT community down as wrong and bad.

Especially since doing so misses an opportunity for solidarity. As I wrote last week, LGBT people on both sides of Israel’s borders have a shared experience in being the victims of violence at the hands of a dominant religious group. For LGBT Palestinians, that violence comes at the hands of two dominant religious groups — both Jewish and Muslim. There was an opening at Creating Change to put the focus on this common ground — in fact, A Wider Bridge planned on discussing the Orthodox Jewish attacks on last year’s Jerusalem Pride Parade at their event — but that chance was lost on protestors who insisted on having their social justice cake and eating it too.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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  • GreenEagle

    Grow up, Butch. So says the evidence, but Butch knows better than the evidence. And Israel did 9-11 too,

    Just what kind of malignant, hate filled person do you have to be to spread these lies.

    And yes, there is a two tiered system. It’s between Republicans and Democrats. Clinton can be impeached for a blow job, but Reagan can commit out and out treason and Bush can start a criminal war of aggression which killed a million civilians and left the entire region in chaos, but no one dares touch them.

    It’s time for people like you to realize how close this country is to descending into an oligarchic dictatorship, and accept the fact that you are pushing us closer and closer to the edge by indulging your violent fantasies.

  • Butch1

    So say the “official word.” Many of the crew on board were sworn to silence or they would have been taken to court for it. You need to research this much more. I witness accounts say much differently about it.

    The weather was perfect; many of the men were out sunning themselves on the deck when the first planes flew over low enough so they could see the pilots. Interesting that they removed their decals identifying themselves. Our men even waved at them. The next time they flew by they attacked! This was a deliberate attack and it doesn’t matter whether it happened fifty years ago or not. We have a history of Israel pulling this and we have a history of it being covered up as well. Why should you think we should let it go because it was fifty years ago? I certainly will not.

    Do not cloud the water with other stories.

    You mention Reagan: of course he knew about the Contra affair as well as George HW Bush; how could he not know? If you bought that story of them being “Out of the Loop,” you are very gullible and believe everything this government tells you. Yes, he should have been impeached, but we seem to have a “two-tiered” justice system in our country. One for us and one for the rich and the powerful. They are too powerful to go to jail or they can fall under a “President’s Pardon.”

    Or we can have a situation as in George Bush (Dubya) and his administration that should have been brought up on war crimes for torture and starting a war with Iraq with false evidence (no WMDs) and the next president gives us a “song and dance” about “let’s just move on and forget about what just happened and try and fix things,” baloney! He let Bush et al off, but the rest of the world isn’t going to, that’s for sure. They are even going after Obama, himself for war crimes.

    I won’t even mention the conspiracy theories involving Israel with 9/11 that mounting evidence is pretty damning.

  • GreenEagle

    The Israeli bombing of the USS Liberty was found by both Israeli and American investigators to have been a mistake, as a result of Israel confusing this ship with an Egyptian vessel during the 1967 war. This incident took place almost fifty years ago, and yet antisemites around the world still misrepresent it as a deliberate attack.

    And, let’s not ignore Butch’s ludicrous assertion that LBJ should have been impeached for this. Compare his reaction to two incidents during Ronald Reagan’s time in office: First, the attack on the US Marine barracks in Beirut, resulting in the largest single-day death toll of US Marines since Iwo Jima (over 200) after which Reagan turned tail and ran from Lebanon. Second, the US blowing up of an Iranian civilian airliner in in 1988, killing 290 people. Both of these were far worse than the Liberty incident, yet I don’t remember people like Butch saying that Reagan should have been impeached for them.

    Although, let me add that Reagan should certainly have been impeached and sent to prison for two acts of high treason: first the deal his campaign cut with Iranian mullahs to not release our 44 hostages until after the election, and second, his supplying these same Iranian mullahs with two thousand missiles, in order to fund his illegal support of the right wing Contra drug dealers in their attempt to overthrow the legally elected government of Nicaragua. Both of these incidents constitute clear cases of giving aid and comfort to the enemy; both were totally ignored.

  • Olterigo

    That’s because those protestors are not there to have a debate. This is a part of the BDS movement. You can google yourself what their methods and tactics are – stifling any debate, any rapprochement, any discussion as long as a pro-Israel person is present. And they don’t shy away from using the dirty tactics of scheduling college councils’ votes for Jewish holidays (so as to avoid any Jews showing up to present a different point of view). But this is just one symptom of the larger malaise of shutting down the conversation on the Left, which is rapidly spreading. You can see it across the Left (Dreger’s “Galileo’s Middle Finger” kind of talks about it.) The good news is that it is spreading within the organized Left becoming the “Regressive Left,” so the larger population is for now largely free from it, and that many on the Left are noticing precisely the spread of it. The bad news is that it is spreading.

  • Moderator3

    I too would like an explanation.

  • hiker_sf

    “Okay, not every single one of them, but a very high proportion of them are okay with that.”

    Go peddle your racist “high proportion” crap to someone else.

  • Butch1

    Explain yourselves . . .

  • GreenEagle

    Butch, as soon as you bring up the USS Liberty, we know that you are a liar.

  • GreenEagle

    They certainly do use them as human shields, and sacrifice them to promote their genocidal aims. Okay, not every single one of them, but a very high proportion of them are okay with that. You know perfectly well that no one is including every single Palestinian in that category, but you would have a lot of trouble finding anyone at all (outside of the Muslim world) who would buy into that.

  • hiker_sf

    Well, that certainly is a blanket statement. We’ve seen this strategy before, demonizing an entire population to make it more palatable to commit genocide. You are on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of humanity on this.

  • HandsomeMrToad

    The most productive, richest, most free, safest, happiest Arabs in the Middle East are Israeli Arabs. Palestinians use small children as human shields.

  • hiker_sf

    The shame.

  • Butch1

    It wouldn’t hurt my feelings. We have been letting Israel off the hook too many times and we’ve turned our heads too many times when they’ve pulled outrageous crimes against us in the past. ( e.g. USS Liberty for one ) President Johnson should have been impeached for that one and held for crimes against this country!) We should stop AIPAC from forcing our Representatives and Senators from signing an Oath of Allegiance to Israel when they enter office as well; this is outrageous. Our reps serve OUR country and our country only and owe no other country any allegiance and shouldn’t be forced to sign anything “or else” be called anti-Semitic and forced by this powerful lobby out of the Congress by disinformation if they don’t sign this. I’m rather tired of our Congress critters cow-towing to them like they have been in the past. Most recently the show against this sitting president regarding the treaty with Iran and sending a Letter to Iran. This actually crossed the line violating the Logan Act and they would have been punished under it if the Republicans weren’t in control of both the House and the Senate!

  • We have far right anti-gay bigots as well in the US. Should all groups from the US be banned from such events?

  • Butch1

    Regardless, of whether they are for gay rights or not, Israel has no right to keep them in horrible apartheid conditions, period.

    Of course, I do not like their opinions or religious beliefs about being against gays, but I also do not think that should be sufficient enough for me to turn my back against their rights to freedom from the way Israel has been treating them since the late 1940s or so.

  • emjayay

    An interesting topic for sure. But without at least an hour or two or three doing internet research I have no idea what all these battling acronyms are about. Maybe someone could sum that long post up in understandable form, please?

    I do get more or less what some comments are about and I do know more or less what Ultra Orthodox Jews are about. I live in Brooklyn.

  • hiker_sf

    First, regarding the protests, anyone who isn’t a victim or related to a victim of violent Israeli aggression should not be saying ‘death to Israel’. It a shame that this happens, but as we all know, within any group there are nutcases, such as Orthodox Jews.

    Now regarding those polls that people like to “play” as some sort of trump card to justify Israeli violence and violation of sanctions: Just as Maslow theorized that there is a hierarchy of need in individuals and one can’t really evolve if their basic needs are not met, there also is a macro-level hierarchy of need for societies to be able to evolve. The United States did not begin to evolve on LGBT issues for more than 100 years after its Civil War.

    The expectation that a population which has been uprooted from their homeland, that has been treated as near slaves in adjoining countries to which they fled, that are manipulated by religious leaders, that are treated like shit by extremist Israelis (and for some reason those extremist Israelis are tolerated by the moderate Israelis), that have not received billions of dollars in aid from the US every year for decades could possibly evolve on LGBT issues when they are dealing with issues of starvation, hopelessness, violence, etc, is at best willful ignorance or worse, “excuse making” for Israel’s violations of human rights.

    BDS is not the only organization that is against Israel’s policies. I suggest that instead of focusing upon the extreme, we align ourselves with the non-extremist ideals in this horrible situation.

  • GreenEagle

    I suspect it is difficult for anyone who has not lived in Israel to grasp the magnitude of the contempt that sane Israelis feel for the small Orthodox minority. By the way, a very large percentage of these Orthodox Jews can trace their ancestry back to the United States within a couple of generations. I have always felt that they learned a lot of their intransigent, irrational behavior studying right wing religious Christians here in the United States, who have also managed to exert an effect on politics far greater than their numbers.

  • GreenEagle

    Hatred knows no logic, whether it is hatred of LGBT people, or of Jews, or anyone else, for that matter. Haters are going to continue their behavior regardless of the obvious irrationality of their position. If certain LGBT people hate Jews enough that they are willing to throw their fellows to the wolves to feed their hatred, that is unfortunately what they are going to do.

  • Don Chandler

    I like your comment, fll. I like that you challenged the usage of “shortsightedness” in its relation to ethics. I think It’s in the between where the truth lies. I’ve come to believe that people fool themselves into rationalizations where they explain their poor or unethical or self-destructive behaviors. Intelligence or smarts might be required to fool oneself :)

    I’ll bet Euthyphro was bullshitting his way through his rationale for prosecuting his father. He might have been right, but…. so Socrates laid some traps to help Euthyphro see the truth–maybe. It’s an interesting story. I can easily see people dedicated to a cause that is unwittingly against their own well-being [American Electorate for instance.] Then, extrapolating on this rationalization, they might think others should join the cause [Trumpery.] You get an ill-founded movement. You must admit, rationalizations are very common in our culture…for instance, the domestication of animals is probably not entirely ethical…at least to the point we take it….but everyone accepts the practice and feels little or no guilt without fully understanding the consequences. At one time it was essential to domesticate animals and now it’s perhaps not so healthy. I begin to wonder, myself. So if you accept this human tendency to rationalize, you might see intelligence and wisdom are not the same thing. Rationalizations are based on intelligence but often defending actions that are not so wise…maybe to convince themselves that what they are doing is necessary or divine providence but that turn out to be against one’s … self. They must be unaware. I’m not very religious. So I’d rather define impiety as an act against one’s self that may or may not include other people.

    I know what you mean though. Intent is definitely a measure of malice, not so much stupidity.

  • FLL

    I agree with your assessment of the ultra-orthodox political groups in Israel. Fanatical religious groups like the ultra-orthodox groups you mention are a danger to any society. Will the Israeli ultra-orthodox parties increase in strength in the near future? I don’t know. I hope not. At present they don’t have enough clout to ban gay pride parades in Jerusalem, which have been an annual event since 2002. If the Jerusalem pride parade were ever banned, it would be the early warning that the strength of the ultra-orthodox parties is posing a real threat. Right now the three parties that identify as orthodox have 21 of the 120 seats in the Israeli parliament:

  • FLL

    Yeah, there is some kind of shortsightedness that calls into question the ethics of the BDS group.

    The term “shortsightedness” implies that someone is not smart enough to understand the consequences of their actions. On the other hand, if someone understands the consequences of their actions but pretends that they don’t, that’s duplicity… or bullshitting, if you prefer. I simply remain unconvinced that most people are stupid. I think most people are aware of the consequences of their actions.

  • quax

    It’s a conundrum if you strife for the human rights of a population that doesn’t particularly value human rights (and just to be clear gay rights are of course a human rights issue).

  • Don Chandler

    If I understand things right, your saying BDS is for a one state solution that guarantees equal rights for both Israelis and Palestinians. But you say the result doesn’t insure equal rights for the LGBT population in Israel and Palestine after the formation of the one state. Or in other words, there will be a loss of rights from former LGBT people living in pre-one-state-Israel and no change in LGBT rights in pre-one-state-Palestine…the new state would in effect accept the Palestinian vision of no LGBT rights. Yeah, there is some kind of shortsightedness that calls into question the ethics of the BDS group.

    First thing I would think about, why sacrifice anyone’s rights for anyone else’s rights? Feels wrong and highly problematic. I understand martyrdom but that is a personal decision. So if a group was suddenly willing to sacrifice other people’s rights for some ‘supposed’ greater cause, I would be very suspicious. Then you might start some lengthy argument with the people that guide BDS…something like Socrates did with Euthyphro when Eurthyphro expressed the intent to prosecute his own father…it’s complicated. It’s not easy to parse. Someone is not thinking clearly.

  • nicho

    Yeah, but the ultra-orthodox who are slowly taking over Israel aren’t too gay friendly either. But I still wouldn’t deny them their human rights — as they’re doing to Palestinians.

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