Michael Lucas: ‘Poisonous’ anti-Israel lobby should not complain over LGBT meeting

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Michael Lucas is the best-known gay porn producer and director in the United States and a columnist for The Advocate. Now a US citizen, he was born in Russia to Jewish parents and has written before about gay rights in Israel.

Here, he responds to gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell’s argument that an LGBT youth conference should not be held in Israel.

England loves its monuments. There is Stonehenge, the great cathedrals, the pubs, the Queen – and there is Peter Tatchell. He bestrides the world like an ancient colonialist, telling other countries and people how they ought to behave. He goes to Moscow and protests the government for forbidding Gay Pride. And then he doesn’t go to Israel, which just held yet another of the world’s most vibrant and festive Gay Pride celebrations, but protests if people want to hold a meeting there. Logic and consistency aren’t his strong suit.

Peter’s latest target is IGLYO – the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Lesbian Youth and Student Organization, which decided to accept an invitation from its Israeli chapter to hold its general assembly in Tel Aviv. IGLYO is an international umbrella organisation of youth and student bodies, with member groups throughout Europe, and a charter to deal with specific issues around the emancipation of gay youth. The decision to meet in Israel was ratified by a vote of IGLYO’s members (something Peter doesn’t not tell us) – 55 per cent of member organisations in favour, 25 per cent abstains and only 20 per cent against. If that isn’t a clear democratic decision I don’t know what is.

But Peter, and the usual gaggle of anti-Israel fanatics, disagree.

Peter fears that Israel may not be accessible to delegations from Arab countries. But the General Assembly is a meeting of representatives of IGLYO’s member organisations and there is not a single member from the Arab world – and only one from a Muslim country, Pakistan. (Short exercise in independent thinking: Why might that be?) I have it on good authority that the Israeli government (and of course the entire Israeli gay community) will bend over backwards to facilitate the attendance of of any member who wants to attend. But that concern may just be moot.

Tatchell’s second point is a mantra of anti-Israel activists: “Human rights are universal and indivisible.” On the surface, that’s hard to argue with. But the way he and the anti-Israel lobby use this argument is manipulative and insidious. They deploy it as a smokescreen behind which everything that’s good about Israel and everything that’s problematic about Middle Eastern (and particularly Palestinian) society disappears into some mushy notion of “universal solidarity”. And so any praise of Israel and any criticism of other Middle Eastern countries is branded “politically incorrect”.

The anti-Israel clique has developed a completely new use of the concepts of human rights and universal solidarity: Only for them does “solidarity” require complete blackwashing of one party and whitewashing of the other. Think the unthinkable – an imaginary Iranian youth organisation would invite IGLYO for a meeting in Tehran. Would you call for a boycott? No, you wouldn’t? Of course you wouldn’t. There, you see – you are developing a canon which you apply only to Israel. Even the most unsavoury regimes get a hallpass.

Peter tries to deepen his point by linking it to an argument that’s become another calling card of anti-Israeli activists: the analogy between Israel and South Africa under apartheid. It’s an accusation that the anti-Israel lobby constantly repeats – but it doesn’t become any truer by repetition. Anybody who compares the situation of Arab citizens of Israel to SA apartheid – or, even more stupidly, the situation in the occupied territories to the systematic exploitation of the majority by a small white elite – is simply whitewashing the horrors of apartheid. Peter was there. He should know. It’s particularly disappointing to hear him of all people spout this non-sense.

He undermines his own point from another direction. He presents the alliance between the ANC and local and international LGBT groups during the fight for SA liberation as an example of how, in the good old days, LGBT groups respected the indivisibility of human rights. He conveniently forgets to mention that the white SA regime was virulently homophobic. Consensual gay sex was punished by prison up to eight years and the SA army practised conversion therapy with gay recruits well into the eighties. LGBT South Africans joined the resistance because they, too, were oppressed and shared objective interests with the ANC and others in the broader emancipation of all SA. And international LGBT groups, correctly, supported them. That’s quite different from the situation around Israel and Palestine where mostly outside activists without any direct connection to either side of the conflict try to bully the world into following a Palestinian agenda (we all know that “the” Palestinian agenda doesn’t exist). That’s not solidarity, that’s pure colonialism. And, for our community, a betrayal of who should be our closest friends an allies – Israeli LGBT activists.

Israel has created a uniquely nurturing environment for its LGBT community. If you portray this as a propaganda trick, you forget how difficult it has been and still is to establish true LGBT equality – anywhere in the world. No, the achievements of Israel’s LGBT community have nothing to do with “pinkwashing”. Israel was pink long before this term entered the vocabulary. The full emancipation of its LGBT community is a major achievement of Israeli civil society.

Obviously, that’s an inconvenient fact for Peter and co in their relentless drive to delegitimise Israel. But it’s a fact nonetheless and Peter betrays the international gay community by once gain deploying the smoke screen. Israeli activists are rightly proud of their achievements – and international LGBT activists must respect and celebrate these achievements, quite separate from any concerns they might have about other aspects of Israeli policies. Israel is a beacon of LGBT emancipation in an area that’s a very dark corner for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. If we care about gays and lesbians in the Middle East, we must let this beacon shine as a vibrant example of how their life could be and as an inspiration for them to fight for change in their own societies.

I salute IGLYO for its decision to meet in Tel Aviv and I admire it for standing up against the poison of the anti-Israeli lobby.