Tel-Aviv. Apartheid. Boycott!
On 10-14 June 2009 an international conference for boosting LGBT tourism to Israel, called iPride, was held in Tel Aviv. Following it two iPride guests, Ed Walsh and Heather Cassell, published articles in The Bay Area Reporter (BAR), encouraging tourism to Tel Aviv. Ayala Shani, a transgender woman living in Tel Aviv, who met those reporters in person and was mentioned in one of the articles, would like to encourage people not to tour Israel - but instead, to support the Palestinian Call to boycott it.
This article was originally published in BAR, but after a while removed from their site.
How would you respond if South Africa’s then apartheid regime was to promote one of its “black-free” areas as a gay and lesbian tourism travel destination? Wouldn’t you be outraged if along with it, the apartheid regime’s advocates would launch a sophisticated racist propaganda presenting it as actually very liberal and open-minded? This is practically what happens these days with Tel Aviv and its promotion as a gay and lesbian tourist destination.
Apartheid’s New Clothes
Zionist propaganda has been engaged for years in promoting Israel as open and liberal through images of a flourishing gay and lesbian community as opposed to racist depiction of Palestinian society as flat and demonic. The subtext (and many times explicit text) of such propaganda refers to the Israeli society as western and enlightened in order to enable identification with it within the western world. Thus, it proceeds through ignoring Israel’s continuous violent assault, dispossessing and oppression of Palestinians within a racist segregation system (apartheid), whether they are gay or not - or otherwise referring to parts of it as “predicament” or “situation”.
StandWithUs (SWU), a US based Zionist organization affiliated to Israel’s Foreign Ministry, has taken this propaganda a step forward, combining it with promotion of gay and lesbian tourism to Israel. In June 2009 a Tel Aviv conference called iPride was launched by SWU, inviting “prominent figures” within gay and lesbian communities throughout the western world to participate in a three day seminar as well as in Tel Aviv’s pride parade.
Through the tight schedule of the seminar, iPride guests heard about tolerance towards gay and lesbian soldiers in Israel’s occupying military, marriage agreements, adoption and other liberal issues. They also had the chance to take part in what may be regarded as the most commercialized, establishment-leaning and Zionist-appropriated (with the help of iPride) pride parade in Tel Aviv so far. This parade was also accompanied by several gay, lesbian, queer and transgender parties.
So, doing a quick calculation, I guess it is safe to say that none of iPride’s guests had actually the time nor encouragement to go through one of the West Bank checkpoints and see how life is beyond the apartheid wall and settlements that annex Palestinian land and deprive Palestinians from access to water and natural resources. They did not learn how it is for the Palestinians to be subjected to state violence, deportation, restrictions on the freedom of movement and a whole separate legal system engaged in political silencing and imprisonment of Palestinian freedom activists or simply people “guilty” of being Palestinians. When they visited Jerusalem, they did not go to one of the Palestinian neighborhoods, like Silwan or Sheikh Jarah, where the city’s municipality is committing house demolitions. Nor did they find the time to learn about the cruel siege enforced on Gaza’s 1.5M population, many of them within refugee camps.
The approach that leaves these atrocities be and maintain a façade of “business as usual” is what enables the occupation and apartheid to persist and thrive. On the other hand, by joining the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, and in its framework, among other things, abstaining from touring Israel, people around the world can send a clear message that this will not be tolerated any more, just as South Africa’s apartheid regime was eventually replaced.
In recent weeks, two articles written by iPride’s guests have been published in the Bay Area Reporter, promoting openly Tel Aviv as a gay and lesbian tourist destination. One of them, by Ed Walsh, actually mentions the queer anti-Zionist protest against the iPride’s conference, which I took part in (including quoting me abruptly) – only to dismiss it shortly afterwards.
Walsh’s question – why don’t I “also go to the Palestinian territories to protest the absence of gay rights there” is wrong in so many ways, that an answer to it need more space than the one sentence he had allowed.
A good starting point would be Mike Hamel’s approach to the issue. Mike Hamel is the chairman of the Aguda, a GLBT Israeli organization that for some reasons (Zionist conviction along, perhaps, with funding) has taken on itself to promote gay tourism to Israel. When asked by me during the conference how he views solidarity with LGBT Palestinians, Hamel turned to mentioning so-called attempts to “help” (”save”) LGBT Palestinians from oppressing Palestinian society.
Hamel exposed his patronizing attitude, presenting LGBT Palestinians as silent “victims” in need of his “saving.” He contradicted any concept of true solidarity as one that should be based on joining LGBT Palestinians on their political lead, and he showed indifference to the fact that LGBT Palestinians are oppressed first and foremost by the Israeli occupation and apartheid regime.
If I was to participate in a protest for LGBT Palestinian rights within Palestinian society it would be only if I was invited to such a protest, organized and lead by LGBT Palestinians. This is what true solidarity means to me. This invitation to solidarity is less likely to happen under the present conditions of continued oppression enforced on the Palestinians by a government who claims to represent me, especially when such a protest is addressed to the Palestinian society. However, other paths to true solidarity are open to us today – such as supporting the Palestinian Call for BDS against Israel, which is also joined by Palestinian queers.
The other article published here, by Heather Cassell, engages in yet another kind of consumption of dissident voices. Cassell has chosen to present “political activity and roaming parties that remain underground” – much of it anti-Zionist and anti-authoritarian in content – as “nonetheless just as vibrant as Tel Aviv’s glossy gay and lesbian mainstream” - and hence itself worthy of touring?!
People who are interested in a political activity that involves coming to Israel\Palestine – shouldn’t take Cassell’s advice to look at a tourist guide, but rather check the websites of ISM (International Solidarity Movement), PSP (Palestine Solidarity Project), IWPS (International Women’s Peace Service) and many other organizations engaged in international solidarity. Otherwise, and in any case, they should join the boycott on Israel.