Gay pride confronts Middle East shame

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background. Exclusive

It’s been a tough month for Middle East politics with Israel trying to secure its borders and stop Hezbollah rocket attacks while thousands of Lebanese citizens have been displaced, but beyond the diplomatic, democratic and ideological consequences of the current saga, the international gay community has also felt the brunt of the conflict.

It was hailed as an event to celebrate “Love without borders,” to unite the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in dialogue and tolerance, but last month’s World Pride in Jerusalem was just one of many gay events across the globe effected by fighting.

The WorldPride march had been cancelled because police and security forces were held up in the north of Israel, while many of the event’s organisers were called up as army reservists.

Gay tours from the UK such as synagogue and church groups found their programmes limited, cancelled or moved to the centre and the south of the country.

The New Israel Fund (NIF) was one of the more high profile charities arranging a tour from London along with its base in New York, Bruce Tempkin, director of the New York NIF told The Pink News, “It had a tremendous impact, a third of organisations cancelled, I was happy our group arrived.

“The focus of the tour became less about lesbian and gay issues and more about the conflict and concern about Israeli society.

“I wouldn’t say it was ruined, it changed the perspective, it was not done in a vacuum, everything was modified as a result of the conflict for citizens in both Israel and Lebanon.”

Daniel Lichman, a correspondent for The Pink News attended World Pride, he said there was a clear absence of people, “With the parade through Jerusalem cancelled because of security fears relating to the war in Lebanon there was no central rallying point to World Pride.

“The absence of so many owing to the situation in the Middle East cast a shadow over the World Pride celebrations. Not only was the parade, the planned centre piece of the event postponed but the events that took place were marred by the lack of participants.

“The organisers and many who had travelled there from a abroad however found events such as the faith day unique and moving as Christian, Muslim and Jewish clergy spoke on the same platform in the city that is holy to each of those faiths.”

Noa Sattah, chairperson of JOH said the conflict made the messages of “tolerance, pluralism and peace” more important, she told The Pink News: “The conflict affects everyone in Israel, we made modifications to the content and the tone. I believe messages of tolerance, pluralism and peace were even more significant.

“The event was not ruined but we were unable to hold the pride march as there were not enough police in Jerusalem to secure the march.

“Organising under war is incredibly challenging in making sure you are providing appropriate and relevant content, I am grateful for everyone who participated and co operated.”

Members of the National Union of Students (NUS) also attended the event, which was unanimously supported by the LGBT committee, although one member highlighted the irony of celebrating the event while fellow members of the community were stuck in northern areas of Israel, the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Lebanon either not allowed into Jerusalem or blocked by the fighting.

The fighting in Lebanon has also caused a gay group , usually ignored by most of the country, to extend its services to refugees of all sexual orientations who have been displaced or affected by the conflict.

Meanwhile closer to home the Irish Film Institute (IFI) cancelled the Israeli Embassy’s sponsorship of the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.

The IFI was screening Walk on Water, a film about a Mossad agent who befriends the gay son of a former Nazi officer who he is searching for, but informed the Israeli Embassy in Ireland that it didn’t want the film to be associated with the current crisis.

A statement read, “The decision is taken in light of the current activities of the Israeli government and prompted by the performance of your Ambassador in explaining these acts to the Irish public.

“It is important for us to separate the screening of an Israeli feature film from activities of the Israeli government. In allowing the screening to go ahead, this is not an act of artistic censorship, something we would be loath to do.”

Isi Yanouka, the Israeli Consul General told The Pink News: “I was annoyed that they mixed culture and politics and joined the anti-Israel bandwagon

“A gay and lesbian event is not just another festival, gays and lesbians have fought for their rights, events such as these should promote openness and dialogue, a boycott rules out dialogue.

“A boycott ignores the fact that that none of the other Mediterranean countries would even dream of offering sponsorship for an LGBT festival.

“They see scenes from Lebanon and think it means all Israelis are bad, you wouldn’t expect an arts festival to be so closed minded.”

This article first appeared in the September issue of The Pink News which is out now