Peter Tatchell: Holding LGBT conference in Israel will inflame homophobia

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Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell says that holding the International LGBTQ Youth and Student Organisation general assembly in Israel will inflame homophobia, cause divisions and stop delegates from the Muslim world attending.

For an alternate view from gay porn producer Michael Lucas, who has written about LGBT rights in Israel, click here.

The decision of the International LGBTQ Youth and Student Organisation (IGLYO) to hold its General Assembly (GA) in Israel this December is divisive, exclusionist, mistaken and regrettable.

It will probably mean that some Palestinian, Arab and Muslim delegates will not be able to attend, because of travel restrictions between their countries and Israel.

I support the call by Palestinian LGBTI groups and individuals for IGLYO to reconsider its decision and to open up a genuine dialogue and debate with the wider LGBTI movement, especially with Palestinian LGBTI groups.

I endorse the demand that IGLYO and the Israeli GA host organisation, Israeli Gay Youth (IGY), should take a stand against the Israeli occupation and in support of the legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people, in the same way that the international LGBTI movement took a stand against South African apartheid. There can be no fence-sitting when it comes to human rights.

Since human rights are universal, we cannot divorce LGBTI rights from the national rights of the Palestinian people. These are two aspects of the same struggle for universal human rights.

It is true that on LGBTI human rights Israel is, by far, the most progressive nation in the region. However, human rights should not be viewed from a gayist perspective. LGBTI rights do not trump all other human rights.

LGBTI support for the long-suffering Palestinian people is the right thing to do. It is also the best chance we have of eventually securing the human rights of LGBTI people living in Palestine. If we support Palestinian national rights, the Palestinians are more likely to support the human rights of LGBTIs.

For four decades, I have been involved, as an openly gay man, in the Palestinian solidarity movement. So have other LGBTIs. We have, over time, helped win some Palestinians to support LGBTI human rights. Our example of solidarity led them to question and eventually reject their homophobia.

In contrast, holding the IGLYO conference in Israel is likely to increase and inflame the already existing homophobia in the Arab world. LGBTI people will, rightly or wrongly, be seen as supporting Israel. This will further jeopardise the precarious plight of our LGBTI sisters and brothers in the Middle East. Is this what we want?

Just as the international LGBTI movement boycotted apartheid South Africa and collaborationist South African LGBTI organisations, so we should avoid appearing to sanction Israel’s illegal occupation of seized Palestine territories and not cooperate with Israeli organisations that refuse to take a stand against an occupation that is illegal under international law.

Israel’s annexation and occupation of Palestinian land in 1967 has been repeatedly condemned by the United Nations and by human rights groups and humanitarians worldwide, including our great allies against homophobia, Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

I believe the international LGBTI movement should be committed to peace with justice, where Israelis and Palestinians live together in security, equality and harmony. This means national and human rights for all the Palestinian people, LGBTI and straight.

It also means an end to indiscriminate rocket and suicide attacks on innocent Israeli civilians by Islamist organisations, and an end to Israel’s indiscriminate blockade of Gaza, which amounts to an illegal collective punishment of innocent Gaza citizens.

It sounds hard to believe right now, but peace with justice could happen with sincere political will on both sides. Only a few years ago in Northern Ireland, most people deemed it impossible that that the DUP and Sinn Fein could share power and end discrimination and violence. But it has happened. The security barriers are gone and the sectarian killing has stopped. The communities are working together for the common good. Northern Ireland is a model for a potential just peace between Israel and Palestine.

Israel is, of course, just one of many states that have annexed and occupied other nations: Pakistan is occupying Balochistan, Indonesia is occupying West Papua, Morocco is occupying the Western Sahara, Iran and Turkey are occupying parts of Kurdistan and so on.

While I oppose Israel’s occupation, I find it strange that some people condemn Israel while remaining silent about these other equally (or worse) oppressive occupations. Many of Israel’s critics are also silent about the neighbouring Arab dictatorships. And where are the protests and calls for boycotts against the tyrannies in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Uzbekistan, Syria and elsewhere? Why the double standards?

To read a longer version of this article, click here.