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Israeli PRIDE: A letter to Gender JUST

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What follows is a letter from guest blogger, Barak Gilor, founder of Club 1948, a non-profit organization providing “your alternative connection to Israel”, to Chicago-based Gender JUST, described on its  website as, “a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and multi-generational grassroots organization of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Allied (LGBTQA) young people, LGBTQA people of color, and LGBTQA grassroots folks developing leadership and building power through organizing…Gender JUST believes that you cannot fight against sexual and gender oppression without fighting against racism and poverty.  Because of this, it is especially important to Gender JUST to fight against racism, classism, sexism, ageism, and able-bodyism within LGBTQA communities.”

Dear Gender JUST,

We were recently dismayed and disappointed to hear that the organization Gender JUST has refused to support an LGBT-related event because it is being “co-hosted by a Zionist organization.”  In justifying their decision to avoid contact with Club 1948, Gender JUST described itself as an “anti-oppression organization,” and clearly indicated that it believes Club 1948 to be some kind of “pro-oppression” organization, merely because of our cultural connection to the state of Israel.  We are happy to report that the vast majority of LGBT organizations in Chicago do not share this view, and have enthusiastically welcomed the support of Club 1948.  Gender JUST’s position is saddening to us because Club 1948 is also an anti-oppression organization, and we believe that Gender JUST may have misunderstood the nature of oppression of homosexuality in the Middle East.

Club 1948 is a non-profit organization that supports education and cultural understanding between Americans and Israelis through community events.  We are named for Israel’s year of independence: “1948” is the Israeli “1776.”  We do not take specific political positions; we merely take pride in Israeli culture, and in Israel’s existence.

Israelis are a diverse and democratic people who work very hard to foster a safe and peaceful home for those of all sexual orientations.  Here are a few examples:

Israel has no sodomy or other disguised “anti-gay” laws, many thriving, Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender (“LGBT”) organizations, annual gay pride parades in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and even members of parliament who actively speak out on LGBT issues.  LGBT culture is proudly featured on television, in movies, and visible in the culture of daily life.  There was recently a tragic and highly unusual attack by a lone extremist against the LGBT community center in Tel Aviv, which resulted in a massive outpouring of support and emotion from hundreds of thousands of Israelis from all walks of life.  If anything, this attack is the exception that proves the rule: Israel and Israelis overwhelmingly understand, accept, and advocate the idea that basic human freedoms apply to LGBT people just as much as to any other person.  In fact, it is not uncommon for Palestinian LGBT people to escape TO Israel as refugees FROM their respective Palestinian governments.

In Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinian police ruthlessly enforce what those particular governments perceive as the Islamic principle that homosexuality is an offense of immorality, punishable by torture and death.  (There are many around the world who would disagree with this interpretation of Islam.)  These are just a few examples of LGBT life in Gaza and the West Bank over the last several years:

Gays who are caught by the Palestinian police are sent to jail and then forced to become undercover police agents, sent to "ferret out homosexuals."  One such 21-year old Palestinian gay man was caught by his own brother having gay sex, and turned over to the local Palestinian police.  He went through the following ordeal: "to stand in sewage water up to his neck, his head covered by a sack filled with feces, and then he was thrown into a dark cell infested with insects."  During one interrogation Palestinian police stripped him and forced him to sit on a Coke bottle (Chicago Free Press).  A 17-year-old gay youth recalled that he spent months in a Palestinian Authority prison "where interrogators cut him with glass and poured toilet cleaner into his wounds” (The New Republic).  A 33-year-old gay Palestinian man petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice asking it to grant him permanent residency in Israel so that he may live with his partner, who lives in the central Israeli city of Bat Yam. The man, a resident of the northern West Bank village of Tamon, claimed to fear for his life should he not be able to leave the West Bank and live in Israel (YNet News).

The peace process between Israel and Palestinians, like all peace processes, is a complex one.  It requires great understanding and also painful compromises by all involved.  To define Israelis, who are a real and complex people, as being “oppressive,” is just as narrow minded and naïve as the idea of defining all Palestinian people as “terrorists.”  Neither definition is accurate or conducive to the quest for peace, security and dignity for all peoples of the Middle East.  It is not our intention to address this broad and complex topic in a single letter.  Today, we are focused on a specific issue:

It is Club 1948’s position that all people, regardless of sexual orientation, are entitled to basic human rights, not the least of which is the right to live a life that is free from fear.  This is why Club 1948 sponsored a float in this year’s Chicago Gay Pride Parade, in commemoration of the Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade, which was proceeding during the same month.  There are no Gay Pride Parades in Gaza or the West Bank.  Perhaps someday there will be.  Perhaps we will all play a part in helping to bring that day closer.

We hope that the evolving landscape in the Middle East will bring to Israelis and Palestinians not only safety, prosperity, security and peace, but also that it will bring to the Palestinian LGBT communities the same basic human rights that LGBT communities enjoy in Israel today.  Further, we hope that someday the good people of Gender JUST will come to understand what most of the Chicago LGBT organizations already know: as Americans we have so much in common – with each other, with Club 1948, and for that matter the state of Israel, in our shared pursuit of the freedom from oppression.

Club 1948 will continue to support Chicago’s LGBT community with PRIDE, because that is part of what Israeli culture is all about.  We look forward to the day when Gender JUST will join us!

Sincerely yours,

Barak Gilor
founder, Club 1948

Lilac Epstein
director of public relations, Club 1948

Daniel Pomerantz
general counsel, Club 1948

For more information about Club 1948 visit their  website  or email  info@myclub1948.org .

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