Reverse Pinkwashing: Exploiting isolated Israeli anti-gay violence to excuse widespread Palestinian LGBT persecution
Palestinian Gay Pride Parades Always Are Violence Free – Because There are None
After a murder and multiple stabbing at the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade last Thursday, by an individual who perpetrated an attack a decade ago, the anti-Israel movement has kicked into high gear.
There is a concerted effort to undermine an indisputable truth — Israel is the safest, most-welcoming, most open society for LGBT individuals in the Middle East.
The term “Pinkwashing” is a growing part of the anti-Israel movement’s attack on Israel, by claiming that Israel promotes its positive gay rights record in order to (pink) wash its alleged crimes against Palestinians. (There also are Greenwashing and Redwashing claims made against Israel.)
The pinkwashing movement, which has a particular hold among anti-Israel students and faculty on campuses, seeks to turn Israel’s positive gay rights record into something bad. The pinkwashing movement is nearly silent, at the same time, on the plight of Palestinian gays, who are relentlessly persecuted and often flee for their lives.
This latest effort to exploit the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade attack, however, is even worse. Call it “Reverse Pinkwashing,” seeking to use an isolated incident to deny the truth about Israel’s gay rights record in order to wash away the violent and pervasive persecution of LGBT individuals in Palestinian society.
Below I examine the crime, the Israeli gay rights record, the dismal status of gays in Palestinian society, and the Reverse Pinkwashing exploitation in the wake of the attack.
1. Murder at Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade 2015
Last Sunday morning (EST) Israel’s media reported that 16-year-old Shira Banki, one of six people stabbed in the horrific attack on the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade on July 30, succumbed to her injuries.
According to her family, she had gone to the march to support her LGBT friends.
The assailant was Yishai Schlissel, a so-called ultra-religious Jew. He had struck at gay marchers ten years ago, and had served time for the crime. For three weeks before the parade he was giving interviews to the media and disseminating letters in his neighborhood, making plain his intention to strike again.
Here’s a video of the attack. Many others are also available on the internet [warning: contains graphic material]:
For a decade there’s been no violence at a Jerusalem Gay Pride parade. The only other stabbing at a Pride parade in the holy city was back in 2005.
Then too Schlissel was the attacker!
His crime back in 2005 was identical to Thursday’s. Only in 2005 no one was killed when he rushed the Pride marchers and injured three of them (one man and two women). He was convicted of attempted murder, sentenced to twelve years in prison, and fined $30,000 as compensation to his victims.
But Schlissel received an early release from prison a month ago after a successful 2007 appeal lowered his sentence by two years.
Based on the facts, last Thursday’s attack on the Jerusalem march was an “utter fiasco”. As Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has said, “Clearly something went wrong here. The police will have to look into this deeply”.
On social media, some Israelis weren’t willing to put it so mildly.
היה כאן מחדל, לא של הרבנים והמנהיגים החרדים, אלא של המשטרה. עשר שנים אף חרדי לא תקף את הצועדים, רק שליסל, שוחרר וחזר למעשיו, יש שוטרים בי-ם?
— ישי כהן (@ishaycoen) August 2, 2015
[Ishay Cohen: “There was neglect here, not of the rabbis or the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) leaders, but of the police. For ten years no haredi attacked the marchers, just Schlissel, freed and then returned to his deeds. Are there police in Jerusalem? (translation mine)]”
A horrible tragedy occurred one week ago on Jerusalem’s city streets. So what’s the take home message?
Writing this weekend in the New York Post, David Kaufman thinks it’s this:
Yishai Shlissel’s stabbing spree must be considered for what it is: a relatively isolated incident in a nation that takes its LGBT citizens very seriously”.
2. A Colossal Failure of Law Enforcement
After being released from jail a month ago, Yishai Schlissel reportedly spent his time posting letters on the internet speaking of the “abomination” of the upcoming Gay Pride parade. Israeli television also broadcast extracts of an interview he gave to a radio station ten days before the parade, when he reportedly said that “the fight continues against those who defile” God.
Residents of his hometown of Modi’in Ilit, an ultra-Orthodox community in the West Bank, reported that he was also distributing hand-written pamphlets calling on Jews to “risk beatings and imprisonment” for the sake of stopping the parade.
On July 30 Schlissel managed to make his way to Jerusalem’s city center apparently without any police surveillance. There, roughly thirty minutes into the march, he succeeded in storming through a security cordon. At the scene, Jerusalem’s police chief Moshe Edri was accosted by marchers who shouted “You knew he was free and did nothing”.
Over the last few days, Israel’s police has come under fire for failing to initiate preemptive measures to prevent the atrocity. The Judea and Samaria Police District reportedly said after the attack that the crime was perpetrated in the Jerusalem district and that they weren’t supposed to track Schlissel outside the confines of their own jurisdiction.
According to media reports, Edri has accepted responsibility for failing to keep Schlissel away from the annual march, but he doesn’t intend to resign. Israel’s Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan said earlier this week that the attack could have “undoubtedly” been prevented. Erdan has now appointed a task force to investigate the police’s handling of the parade.
As of this writing the task force hasn’t released any further information to the public.
But other accusations have also begun to fly. Some are pointing fingers at Lehava, a right-wing anti-assimilationist organization that had been given a legal permit to protest at the march.
Lehava released a statement in advance of last Thursday’s parade stating that it would not allow it to “pass quietly” and that its members would be showing up. Some thirty were present at the parade.
Media sources report that only hours before the stabbings, a Lehava representative “accused homosexuals of harming the Jewish nation”.
In a prior LI post, I mentioned Lehava in connection to this year’s Jerusalem Day parade. Founded in 2009, the controversial group primarily invests its energy in protesting intermarriage. Earlier this year, Defense Minister Ya’alon was considering outlawing the organization after several of its members and its leader were arrested on the suspicion of inciting racial hatred. Three of its members have been indicted for allegedly torching an integrated Jewish-Muslim school in Jerusalem and spray painting anti-Arab graffiti on it. The group also made headlines recently for protesting a wedding between a Muslim man and a Jewish-born woman.
Now Israel’s Opposition chairperson MK Yitzchak Herzog is calling for the group to be outlawed and branded a terrorist organization.
Lehava has responded saying that its members came to the parade to “protest legally and democratically”. The group’s director, Bentzi Gopshtain also strongly condemned “what Yishai Schlissel did…We are very sad about what happened”.
Activists from extremist Lehava organisation protesting LGBT Jerusalem Pride March this evening pic.twitter.com/8uOBVYOlMC
— Jeremy Sharon (@jeremysharon) July 30, 2015
At the time of this writing there’ve been no media reports of any concrete evidence linking Lahava to Schlissel’s attack.
3. Israel’s Positive Gay Rights Record
One of the first large-scale public events hosted by Israel’s gay community was held in Tel Aviv’s Sheinkin Garden in 1993. Five years later, 10,000 people gathered in the city for Wigstock, a drag queen festival. Also in 1998 Israel’s first gay pride parade was hosted in Tel Aviv.
In Tel Aviv, the LGBT Pride Center, situated in the centrally-located Meir Park, is underwritten by the municipality. Israel’s first memorial to gay victims of the Holocaust, also located in Meir Park, was financed by the city. Over the years, Tel Aviv’s mayoral candidates have been described as trying to “out pink” each other. Gay clubs have long been a visible part of Tel Aviv’s thriving nightlife. Nor are LGBT confined to a “gay ghetto”. Tel Aviv has no specific gay neighborhood; gay-friendly venues are peppered across the city.
Since the mid-2000s, the municipality’s Association for Tourism has tried to attract gay tourist dollars through targeted marketing. A branding campaign (Tel Aviv Gay Vibe) was launched in the hope of enticing LGBT from across the globe.
It’s been a smart business plan that’s paid off. A 2011 poll commissioned by American Airlines rated Tel Aviv the “best gay city” in the world—more than tripling New York City, which came in second place.
Last month, 180,000 people (including 30,000 tourists) marched through the streets of the pink city’s 17th annual Gay Pride Parade—the largest gay pride event in all of Asia. According to CAMERA, Tel Aviv’s gay Pride parade is the only such event in the world that’s part of the official municipal schedule, is produced by the city, and is government-funded.
The emergence of Tel Aviv as the most gay-friendly city on the face of the Earth is all the more meaningful when set within the larger context of the recognition of LGBT legal rights in Israel, a country where personal status remains largely under the control of religious courts.
The LGBT civil rights movement has advanced further, and more quickly, in Israel than in almost any other country on the planet.
It’s even ahead of the U.S. in some respects.
For example, the Israeli military has long openly accepted gay and lesbian soldiers. There are dozens of high-ranking gay officers. It recently introduced a system to ensure that gay couples do not have to perform mandatory annual reserve duty at the same time. Government-funded universal health insurance now covers almost all transgender surgeries and hormone treatments. Israel’s strong workplace anti- discrimination laws now also cover transgender employees.
According to The Agudah, The Israeli National LGBT Task Force, and other advocacy organizations, since 1988 when the state officially decriminalized sodomy, Israel has:
- banned harassment and employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, including within the military;
- allocated survivor benefits for same-sex relationship widows or widowers;
- legalized same-sex parental adoption of non-biological children; and
- recognized same-sex marriages conducted abroad.
StandWithUS has recently produced a pamphlet which captures these extraordinary advances that LGBT in Israel have acquired through the judicial system:
Beyond those rights secured through the courts, there’s also an extraordinary degree of acceptance.
Journalist and prominent gay activist Gal Uchovsky noted back in 2011 that “It’s good to be gay in Israel…”
In schools, teens are required to learn about treating diverse sexualities equally. Back in 1998, when transsexual Dana International won the Eurovision Song Contest as Israel’s contender, 80% of Israelis polled called her an “appropriate representative”.
In Israel LGBT don’t have to live in terror or go into hiding. Certainly in its major cosmopolitan cities, gay people can celebrate their lifestyle openly, without any stigma or hindrance. As one gay rights activist noted last year, “Israel’s liberal and open society means it can have a culture where the concentration of gay people in politics, arts, and sciences is among the highest in the world”.
To be sure, like anywhere on the planet, various forms of discrimination in both the public and private sector still exist. Many of the basic rights for LGBT people have already been won, but formal legal equality, especially on the issue of marriage, remains elusive.
But this isn’t discrimination that’s specific to the gay community, since there’s no civil marriage at all under Israeli law. And even though same-sex marriages performed in Israel aren’t recognized by the state, the government provides gay couples the same socio-economic benefits to which heterosexual couples are entitled. Gay couples merely have to register as common-law partners.
More troubling is the fact that while LGBT people have been able to find their place in mainstream Israeli society, homophobia remains “broad and deep” within certain societal segments, including in the ultra-Orthodox (haredi) and Muslim Arab sectors.
In an excellent article published last year in The Tower, gay rights activists speak to these challenges. But as the article makes clear, LGBT confront these struggles in other Western democracies too. Israel isn’t unique in this regard.
Nor is discord inevitable, because socially conservative communities in Israel tend to resist interacting with the mainstream: “It doesn’t bother them what secular or mainstream society is up to, in theory, provided it doesn’t invade or encroach upon their ultra-conservative social space”.
For the most part, this live-and-let-live social contract works. As in any multicultural society, conflict can erupt in places where liberal and conservative sectors rub up against each other.
That doesn’t happen often in Tel Aviv. But in Jerusalem it’s a different story.
4. The Plight of LGBT in Gaza and the West Bank
Israel is the only country in the Middle East where people aren’t persecuted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In some of the region’s countries, homosexuality remains a crime punishable by death. In others, gays are subjected to jail time, or risk violence from honor killings. Discrimination and bigotry is tolerated by governments across the region.
At the societal level, there’s no atmosphere of acceptance. According to a Pew Research Center poll from last year, overwhelming majorities in the predominantly Muslim countries of the Middle East say that society should reject homosexuality: 97% in Jordan, 95% in Egypt, 94% in Tunisia, and 80% in Lebanon.
(By way of contrast, in Israel this Pew study records a 47% rejection rate—only a few percentage points higher than the percentage of Americans—41 percent—who said in 2007 that homosexuality should be rejected by society; today in the U.S. only 33% of respondents say it should be rejected).
In the West Bank and Gaza Strip the situation for gays is also dire.
In the West Bank, sodomy isn’t a criminal act. But that comes as cold comfort to the gay people who live there. The Palestinian Authority currently has no civil rights laws that protect LGBT people from discrimination or harassment. An article in the left-leaning Haaretz provided testimony from Palestinians who reported that they faced a “climate of fear” and endured widespread intolerance.
Last year, a new Pew Research Center study revealed extreme homophobia in Palestinian society. As these Pew graphs show, only 1% of Palestinian respondents believe that homosexuality is morally acceptable behavior (the other countries with the same result are Egypt, Pakistan, Ghana, Nigeria, and Uganda):
Indeed, some LGBT rights activists and organizations in Israel say that the country should accord West Bank Palestinian gays refugee status, and admit more of them. Recently the Israeli High Court ordered the state to take into consideration the degree to which a gay Palestinian man seeking asylum would be at risk due to his sexual orientation, should he be returned to the West Bank.
A recent Associated Press article reviews a new documentary film (the first to focus on gay Palestinian Israeli citizens) in which gay Palestinians report being “outcasts” in conservative Palestinian society. Those interviewed are critical of Israel over its policies toward the Palestinians, but also criticize “Palestinian society, where homosexuality remains taboo and where there is little tolerance for gays”.
In the West Bank, the struggle for gays exists “underground”. Tel Aviv is considered a “gay refuge”. Because it’s not safe for gays to congregate in public spaces in the West Bank, Palestinian gay and lesbian organizations, al-Qaws and ASWAT, are based in Israel—not Ramallah.
As noted last month by Christopher Scott McConnell, a member of the advisory board of A Wider Bridge, an organization that promotes connections between LGBT Americans and Israelis:
to be gay in the West Bank or Gaza is a very scary proposition for most Palestinians…Neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas recognizes LGBT rights and has maintained a hostile environment for gay citizens forcing them to flee their homes. Many of these gay Palestinians have found refuge in Europe and North America”.
A recent example of the hardships that gay Palestinians in the West Bank face involves an acclaimed Palestinian artist’s spur-of-the-moment idea to commemorate the US Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage: he painted a rainbow flag on Israel’s security barrier.
Construction on the security barrier began in 2002 as a counter-terrorism mechanism. Over the years, the barrier has saved lives. Indeed, security walls are popular across the globe. But only Israel’s security barrier is termed an “apartheid wall”.
The Palestinian artist, Khaled Jarrar, calls it that too. His mural, titled “Through the Spectrum”, was an attempt to draw attention to the plight of Palestinians living “under Israeli control, at a time when gay rights are in the news”.
But his neighbors were having none of that.
Perceiving the mural as support for homosexuality, the artwork ignited angry responses among Palestinians. Overnight, a group of Palestinian men decided to paint over it.
In an Associated Press article that covered the story, interviewed protestors said that “We cannot promote gay rights” and “It would be shameful to have the flag of gays in our refugee camp”. In the article, Jarrar also laments his countrymen’s homophobia. He told AP that the destruction of his art “reflects the absence of tolerance, and freedoms in the Palestinian society. People don’t accept different thinking in our society”.
But a couple of days later, in a blog that was featured in the anti-Israel website Electronic Intifada (EI), the artist recanted, lambasting AP for “hijacking and manipulating” his intentions for his work. In the blog Jarrar writes at length about Israel’s “racist and bigoted policies”.
He remarks on “Israel’s supposedly gay-friendly policies” and notes that they’re merely a “form of distraction…a smokescreen for the larger crimes of occupation”. Then he excuses the very Palestinian homophobia that he castigated in the AP interview—insisting that “questions of sexual practice…are matters of controversy” in Palestinian society just as they are “all over the world”.
It makes for a disheartening read. It left me wondering if Jarrar was coerced into writing it. Talk about “cleaning dirty laundry” and whitewashing the plight of Palestinian gays.
5. Reverse Pinkwashing the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade
Using pinkwashing accusations to cover up repression of gays in Palestinian territories is a longtime tactic to address the inherent contractions of the anti-pinkwashing movement.
A reminder to the anti-semites on Twitter: 99.9% of Israelis abhor this act, and Israel is the only country in the ME to support gay rights.
— Brits For Israel (@BritsForIsrael) July 30, 2015
When a group of anti-Israel gay activists visited Palestinian territories in 2012, “the delegation was told to hide their sexual orientation from their Palestinian hosts” and one of its leaders told an anti-pinkwashing audience upon return that “homophobia is irrelevant in Palestine as ‘it doesn’t take away from the fact that there is an occupation. We can’t judge a country by its attitudes towards homosexuals’.”
For Israel’s enemies, the country’s extraordinary tolerance of LGBT and its stellar record on gay rights shouldn’t be praised. It’s merely “pinkwashing”—an allegedly sinister and manipulative scheme of its leaders to cover up the abuses of the Palestinians by touting an “image of modernity signified by Israeli gay life”.
Meanwhile, what these people are actually doing is burying, or even excusing, the Palestinians’ “less than enlightened views” on the rights of gays in the Muslim world—and in the West Bank and Gaza too.
In many previous LI posts, we’ve discussed this absurd pinkwashing charge. See for example:
- Pinkwashing, Redwashing, Greenwashing—the multi-colored world of anti-Israel hate
- Anti-pinkwashing conferences whitewash anti-gay terror in Palestinian areas
- The demented Israeli “pinkwashing” charge
It’s one of the more bizarre aspects of the anti-Israel movement’s advocacy on behalf of Palestinians.
How so many gay (and straight) activists have been able to reconcile their liberal views on LGBT rights with the undeniable evidence attesting to “decidedly reactionary” values within Palestinian society probably requires a psychologist to examine it. Perhaps it has to do with resolving cognitive dissonance. It could be a way for gays and their supporters within the anti-Israel movement to smooth over the psychic pain and internal conflict that comes from siding with people who in fact despise them.
Suffice it to say that over the last few years the pinkwashing charge has featured prominently within the messaging of anti-Israel activists, particularly in the wake of the Jersualem Gay Pride Parade tragedy.
Not wasting any time, they bombarded social media on the day of the attack, holding up the parade stabbings as the latest instance in a pattern of Israeli anti-gay discrimination and abuse. The NY Times played up this line of attack giving prominent space to tweets advocating the reverse pinkwashing plan:
For years we’ve been hearing the opposite from the virulently anti-Israel camp: Israel has a stellar record on LGBT rights but is using it as a ruse to deceive gullible progressive Westerners into supporting the Jewish state.
It’s the charge that Israel touts its acceptance of LGBT citizens as a propaganda ploy to divert attention from its treatment of the Palestinians.
Basically, as Alan M. Dershowitz rightly remarks, the pinkwashing accusation “crosses the line into classic anti-Semitic tropes…namely that neither the Jews nor the Jewish state ever does good things without bad motives”.
But this week the Israel-bashers have done a 180.
Now they’re saying that the parade attack indicates how fundamentally racist and intolerant Israel really is. So now we’re being told that Israel’s leaders aren’t feigning concern for the rights of gay people, because there’s actually no excellent gay rights record for them to cover up or manipulate. Israel is in fact an unsafe place for LGBT.
A BDS anti-Pinkwashing group issued this statement, Jerusalem Pride: the reality behind pinkwashing PR:
“The attack on the Pride clearly exposes the lies at the basis of “pinkwashing” – the Israeli government’s claim that it heads a modern, democratic state exemplified by acceptance of LGBT people. Millions of dollars have been spent advertising Tel Aviv as a tourist destination, adverts aimed in particular at affluent gay men. But photos of good-looking men on the beach can’t divert everyone’s attention from the reality – such as Israel’s attack on Gaza last summer, which killed over 2,000 people, over 500 of them children. In fact, Israel is founded on violence and dispossession of Palestinians – including LGBT Palestinians – a process which continues today with the Israeli government’s endorsement of the settlements. The colonial nature of Israel means that it is not a “safe haven” for anyone – not indeed for Jews, including, as we saw on Thursday, LGBT Jews.”
Israel is going to have a hard time #pinkwashing the murder of Shira Banki. Its murderous homophobic face has been exposed
— Antifa Jerusalem (@antifa_jlm) August 2, 2015
— ilan halfon (@IlanHalfon) August 2, 2015
— Pauline Park (@paulinepark) July 30, 2015
And I thought Israel was so gay-friendly! #pinkwashing
— enter your real name (@repoliticize) July 30, 2015
— Jinjirrie ?⬛ (@Jinjirrie) July 31, 2015
You just can’t win with these people.
The reality is that, while commonplace elsewhere in the region, violent anti-gay hate crimes are extraordinarily rare in Israel.
In contrast to Israel, there are no gay Pride events in Gaza or the West Bank.
LGBT living in the Palestinian governed territories are subjected to constant bigotry and harassment, condoned by the governing authorities. The situation is dire in Gaza, where homosexuality is still a felony. But in the West Bank it’s not a whole lot better. Many Palestinians there are so desperate that they’ve tried to seek asylum elsewhere—even is Israel.
The terrible suffering of gays in much of the Arab and Muslim world, and their grim situation in Gaza and the West Bank, is either ignored by the Israel-bashers—or made to look a lot better than it actually is.
That’s the real whitewashing that’s going on.
And no one has been a fiercer champion of it than Ali Abunimah, the co-founder of ElectronicIntifada.net. Abunimah is influential in the BDS movement. In addition to his website, which serves as a clearing house for disseminating anti-Israel essays, reports, and other materials, he also has an active social media profile.
Here’s a sampling of what he re-tweeted on July 30, the day of the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade attack:
Today's violence is an extension of violence permeating Israeli society, and cannot be separated from everything else happening in Jerusalem
— Rebecca Pierce (@aptly_engineerd) July 30, 2015
After watching people bleed on the street today, I never want to hear about how Israel is a "haven" for queers ever again. It is an ugly lie
— Rebecca Pierce (@aptly_engineerd) July 30, 2015
On that day Abunimah also penned a post for his website. In it, he makes a big deal about notifying the Associated Press for mistakenly reporting that same-sex relations are illegal in the West Bank, and the AP’s subsequent correction. As if not having to worry about being killed or thrown into jail by the Palestinian Authority for sodomy somehow makes life marvelous for the gay people who reside there.
Then he objects to the fact that Israel doesn’t have a legal mechanism for granting persecuted gay Palestinians asylum, brushing aside any discussion for why they would be fleeing to Israel in the first place. In the remainder of his data-free analysis he accuses “large segments of Israeli Jewish society” of homophobia.
But the best part is where he situates last Thursday’s parade attack into a routine pattern of “killings and stabbings” of LGBT in Israel—unheard of in other parts of the Middle East. Specifically, he mentions a 2009 attack on the Bar Noah youth center in Tel Aviv, where a gunman opened fire, killing two people and wounding over a dozen others.
Tel Aviv…is…the only city in the region where an LGBTQ center was the target of an anti-gay terrorist attack that killed two people and injured 10 in 2009. Other regional cities, including Amman and Beirut, have establishments identified with gays and lesbians, but none, thankfully, has ever been subjected to such horror”.
Too bad Abunimah didn’t bother to check the facts. The suspect arrested and charged with the 2009 youth center murders was later released when the case collapsed. An article by BBC Watch from several days ago includes hyperlinks to the trial history, including one to the arrest of a state witness on charges of fabricating evidence and obstructing justice. As BBC Watch notes:
No further developments in the investigation have been publicized since then and no motive for that attack has been established in a court of law”.
Basically it means that Abunimah’s allegation that a link exists between the 2009 Tel Aviv youth center attack and the one that took place in Jerusalem on July 30 is no more than mere speculation.
But even with that speculation, attacks on gays in Israel are rare. That stands in direct contrast to the situation in the Palestinian territories.
6. The Truth Revealed: The History of Gay Pride in Jerusalem
In her masterful analysis of the history of LGBT parades in Jerusalem, Madelaine Adelman, an Arizona State University anthropologist and professor of justice and social inquiry, argues that unlike Tel Aviv which has grown into a global city in large part due to the embrace of gay men, lesbians, and transgender people, the “particularistic city of Jerusalem” has long been a contested site for those “who object to gay pride and those who support it”.
Adelman notes that leaders and activists in Jerusalem opposed to gay pride have “basically ceded Tel Aviv to the secular world in order to protect the sanctity of Jerusalem”.
She also points out that, out of respect for the holy city and in deference to the sensibilities of its sizeable religious community, many Israelis—even people who aren’t especially devout—have continued to question whether these sorts of public displays of gay pride are necessary in Jerusalem.
Adelman includes in her study, “Sex and the City: The Politics of Gay Pride in Jerusalem”, a fascinating discussion of how those Jewish Jerusalemites who “reject the legitimacy of homosexuality and stand in defensive posture against the threat of gay visibility on Jerusalem’s streets” have collaborated over the last decade with those Christians and Muslims who feel the same way. Together they’ve petitioned to have the Jerusalem gay pride parades banned.
In 2005, for example, Jerusalemite ultra-Orthodox Jewish leaders, a group of Muslim clerics, and the patriarchs of the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian churches joined other faith leaders from Israel and around the world to oppose the scheduling of the WorldPride festival—an international Pride event held every five years—in Jerusalem.
The interfaith coalition was supported by the Vatican’s ambassador to Israel and representative to the Palestinians, by Israel’s Sephardic and Ashkenazi chief rabbis (then Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger respectively), and then Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupoliansky (the city’s first ultra-Orthodox mayor). He said he would do “everything in his power” to stop the “parade of abominations”.
It was one of those rare instances of interfaith cooperation in the city.
Yishai Schlissel was certainly familiar with it. In the manifesto he circulated during the weeks leading up to his stabbing spree, he pointed to the need for another interfaith collaborative effort to shut down the “abominable parade”.
Jerusalem’s annual gay Pride parades have always been far smaller than Tel Aviv’s—a few thousands marchers as opposed to over a hundred thousand. As Adelman notes, many LGBT Israelis and their supporters simply avoid Jerusalem all together. Protests at the gay Pride parades in Jerusalem are routine; they’re virtually non-existent at Tel Aviv’s.
But for all this “non-negotiated stalemate”, those opposed to gay pride events in Jerusalem are fighting a losing battle.
As Adelman notes, the extraordinary growth of gay rights in Israel’s legal system, and ongoing calls for more inclusion of the LGBT community within Israel’s social fabric, works against those opposed to gay pride displays in the city.
Parade supporters have been helped by Israel’s courts. In 2005, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled against the municipality, requiring that the parade be held as planned. That year the Jerusalem municipal court also ordered the city to pay the organizers of the Jerusalem Gay Pride $77,000 for refusing since 2002 to recognize the event, which would have entitled the organizers to public funding.
Over the years, Pride parades have sometimes been postponed, canceled, or rerouted off the city streets.
But as Adelman notes, this has typically had nothing to do with parade protests.
Back in 2003 the parade was rescheduled “not because of any political or religious opposition, but in order to allow Jerusalemites to mourn the victims of a bus bombing in the city center, which killed seventeen people (including one of the Pride parade organizers) and injured more than one hundred”.
Then, in 2006 the WorldPride Jerusalem event, which had been cancelled the year before because it coincided with Israel’s disengagement from Gaza, was again cancelled due to Israel’s war with Hezbollah in Lebanon.
At the time, some felt that holding a Pride event during wartime would be inappropriate. Jerusalem’s police officials also argued that the war left them unable to ensure the parade’s security. That was also the year that the Jerusalem Pride march was transformed into a stadium rally. The decision to relocate was due to the need to protect marchers from anticipated Hamas retaliation to Israeli airstrikes in Gaza.
Adelman provides data showing that Jerusalem’s gay Pride parades have only grown larger. More and more Israelis are traveling to Jerusalem to participate in them, viewing doing so as a means for further advancing the visibility, legitimacy, and rights of the LGBT community in Israel.
In fact, each Jerusalem gay Pride parade has been considered a bigger and better event than the last by its organizers. The first parade in 2002 attracted 4,000 participants. Scheduled in the midst of a dramatically violent period in the city during the second intifada, many locals and tourists were deterred from going. But by 2005 there were over 10,000 participants.
Since 2006, when riots that broke out in ultra-Orthodox (haredi) neighborhoods over the planned WorldPride event were roundly condemned by local and national leaders, there haven’t been any large-scale public demonstrations. Most ultra-orthodox prefer to stay home, shielded from the event.
So in recent years, those few dozen who request the right to legally protest are given permits confining them to congregate in designated zones. From there, they shout obscenities and hold up signs. They’re also closely monitored by the police.
According to Lehava Director Bentzi Gopshtain, at last week’s Pride parade 200 police offers were monitoring the thirty members of his right-wing anti-assimilationist organization. Gopshtain says that the police officers were surrounding his group,
apparently to make sure we didn’t do anything, but Yishai Shlissel who said ‘I’m going to murder’—no one looked for”.
Adelman ends her analysis on a hopeful note:
The protracted contest over gay pride reveals the centrality of Jerusalem for both those who wish to highlight its timeless sacrality, and for those who wish to strengthen its multicultural or progressive political landscape…Should gay pride advance successfully, Jerusalem may become more like Tel Aviv. Or, the LGBT community in Jerusalem, perhaps in conjunction with a range of supporters, may be able to generate new ways to share the city with those who oppose LGBT rights…Whether this outcome is assessed positively or negatively depends upon one’s aspirational desires for the city…Its future is not unlike other cities where the place of gay pride continues to mark struggles among competing visions for the body politic”.
I wish that the “reverse pinkwashers”, who this week pounced on a tragic attack in Jerusalem as a convenient excuse for defaming Israel, would read Adelman’s study.
But they won’t.
They’re too busy turning last Thursday’s isolated tragedy into a fabricated case study of Israeli racism and intolerance.
For many of Israel’s virulent critics around the world, Yishai Schlissel’s fanatical anti-gay rampage isn’t the egregious action of “one violent nut-case”. Instead it’s the latest example of what I term “reverse pinkwashing”: Israel likes to see itself as the “bastion of tolerance in the region”, but guess what? Israelis really don’t like gays, so gays and those who support LGBT rights shouldn’t like Israel.
This kind of nonsense isn’t analysis or argument. It’s just propaganda.
The reality is that this past week the vast majority of Israelis rose up to stand against the horrific violence that marred this year’s Jerusalem’s Gay Pride Parade.
Schlissel’s stabbing spree was met with “universal disgust” and across-the-board condemnation from every Israeli politician—right, left, and center. Protests and demonstrations against homophobia this past weekend brought tens of thousands of Israelis into the streets.
Israel’s religious leaders have also spoken out condemning the attack, and have expressed deep sorrow.
Powerful: Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Stern visits a victim of the Jerusalem Pride Parade attack, prays for all victims. pic.twitter.com/tntZv17Cfw
— Avi Mayer (@AviMayer) August 2, 2015
— Avi Mayer (@AviMayer) July 30, 2015
A police investigation is still underway. At the time of this writing, all indications point to last Thursday’s tragedy in Jerusalem being the despicable actions of a deranged lone wolf, who slipped through the cracks of what should’ve been a much tighter police cordon. Indeed, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court is so concerned about the Pride parade stabber’s sanity that yesterday it ordered that he undergo a full psychiatric evaluation. Based on the results, the Court will decide whether he’s fit to stand trial.
But when have Israel’s global haters ever cared about the facts?
Purportedly pro-Palestinian activists who don’t actually care about the reality of gay people’s lives in Palestinian ruled territories, and who haven’t been bothered in the least by recent attacks in Jerusalem on innocent Jews by knife-wielding Palestinian terrorists, have this past week been suddenly terribly upset and outraged by the stabbing of Jews at a gay Pride parade.
Apparently for these people Jewish lives matter—but only if they can be put into service for an anti-Israel smear.
The five other people who were wounded in last Thursday’s Jerusalem stabbings are recovering. Shira Banki was laid to rest on Monday at Kibbutz Nachshon, about an hour drive from Jerusalem. Thousands came to pay their respects.
May her memory be for a blessing.
Nice: Ultra-Orthodox men go to memorial vigil for victim of Jerusalem Pride attack, hand out popsicles to attendees. pic.twitter.com/hgmcfT6t8d
— Avi Mayer (@AviMayer) August 3, 2015
Featured Image: Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem, 2010
Miriam F. Elman is an associate professor of political science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs at Syracuse University. She is co-editor of the book, Jerusalem: Conflict and Cooperation in a Contested City, published last year by Syracuse University Press.DONATE
Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.