Pride month is here, and if your idea of a good time is fuming on poppers while dancing on an IDF (Israeli Defense Force) soldier’s dick, you’re probably disappointed that Coronavirus has ruined your plans to go to Tel Aviv Pride. Tel Aviv is the pinnacle of LGBT destinations for drugged-out muscle queens from liberal hellscapes like LA and London, who return home to discuss how amazing Israel is for gay people, and how disappointing it is the rest of the Middle East hates the gays (if only, like, we could liberate them or something). Pride has become a popular tool for liberal imperialist powers to turn once severely marginalized Western LGBT people into complicit supporters of the oppression of the men and women (and yes, fellow LGBT people) in the Middle East.
Tel Aviv Pride consistently rates as one of the best Pride festivals on Earth, and whenever it is promoted by LGBT travel sites or media, we’re reminded how they are just better than the rest of the Middle East. Pride has become a major marketing tool for Israel—the propaganda outlet “Brand Israel” is primarily funded by the Israeli government—along with the extensive campaign of social media posts, and presence of the IDF soldiers, who are rated one of the top-ten most LGBT friendly militaries on earth (Yes, this rating is an actual thing that exists). So why does Israel get to claim to be so good on the gays, while its neighbors are so bad?
If it has somehow escaped your attention, I have the misfortune to tell you that the Middle East today is a bit of a mess. This pretty much started after the British and French colonized the shit out of the region, and enacted anti-buggery laws (no ass fucking, you lot), many of which remain in force to this day in former colonies, including several countries in the Middle East. As nation-states emerged and gained independence in the Middle East, some, like Bahrain, removed the old colonial penal codes, and many countries enacted anti-imperialist and secular governments. Sadly, through Western-backed regime change wars and the rise of Islamism and the gradual evolution of healthy, secular civil societies into ones fraught by greater obsession and concern for religion halted much of the early progress.1While many of the secular and anti-imperialist governments were far from perfect, they managed to pass many progressive policies like nationalizing natural resources, expanding access to health care and education, and the abolition of harmful practices towards women like FGM. They also played a central role in the birth of the Non-Aligned Movement and global Third Worldism. As a result, we have Middle Eastern states that are fighting Islamist militants, failing completely, or playing host to proxy wars ignited by the American invasion of Iraq. For countries that have somehow escaped all of these fates, there’s still a possibility to have brutal economic sanctions to kill their populations slowly from lack of food or health care. Not great for LGBT people, sure, but not great for anybody else, either.
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On the other hand, Israel was created by a long string of acts of colonization. The waves of Jewish migrants to the region began while Palestine was under Ottoman rule. After World War II (and the horrific genocide of Jewish people in the Holocaust), the long-standing idea of Zionism gained new popularity2Zionism predates the events of World War II, though it never gained popular momentum until after the tragic persecution of Jews in the Holocaust. and eventually—there’s a lot of fascinating history here—significant parts of the British-controlled Palestinian mandate were given over to European Jews to create a Zionist state. Since 1971, Israel has received a total of $142 billion dollars in aid from the US to invigorate its economy and to finance a substantial military. This has allowed for a relatively long period of stability, as long as we ignore the open-air prison of Gaza or the increasingly fragmented West Bank, where there are regular flare-ups due to incursions by violent, Israeli settlers and the subsequent confiscation of homes and land. While Israel is a stable and prosperous country with few worries of an Imperialist invasion (on account of the unflinching support of the US military), the apartheid regions of Gaza and the West Bank are heavily militarized by the IDF and residents are tightly restricted in their ability to obtain even the most essential goods. The people of Gaza are predicted to run out of potable water this year, and the restriction on industrial imports and building materials has severely limited the availability of jobs (unemployment rate in Gaza is 45%). The lack of building materials has hampered the ability of the people of Gaza to rebuild infrastructure destroyed by repeated Israeli military incursions and bombing campaigns. All this is exacerbated further by the fact it’s extremely difficult for the people in Gaza to leave in order to access necessary material needs like healthcare—travel permits are granted at the whim of the Israeli government.
In spite of all the attempts at pink-washing Israel as a whole, it’s worth considering the situation in the rest of Israel (outside of Tel Aviv), where conditions for LGBT people aren’t as obviously rosy. Israel continues to restrict many rights to the LGBT community, even as they promote and exploit the tolerance and equality narratives for their apartheid agenda. Israel does not allow gay marriage, surrogacy laws exclude gay men, and there’s still plenty of widespread homophobia from religious and conservative segments of the population. We also hear very little of the right-wing violence faced by LGBT people in Israel, because that is rather off-brand and not sexy. In 2015, Pride in Jerusalem was attacked by an ultra-orthodox Jewish extremist who stabbed six people, which is only more stunning because the same man had previously stabbed three people at Pride 10 years earlier. The statistics on violence against LGBT people are stark in many places, but it’s important to contrast official narratives with the reality of the situation.
As the Western gay establishment ignores the deep contradictions of Israel’s marketing, the Western world continues to destroy the Middle East and to weaponize Pride (and LGBT rights) against nations in the region. As a result, the ideas of LGBT liberation are increasingly associated with the imperialist West throughout the Middle East. Israel, on the other hand, prides itself on its close cultural and political ties with Europe (as shown by their participation in Eurovision Song Contest) and an important aspect of this is appearing gay-friendly to the West to ensure a steady flow of military support, aid, and protection from some hostile neighbors. As Western liberals continue to advocate for regime change and a “transition” to globalized neoliberal societies in the region, the resentment only increases, harming the very people they are purporting to help. Tying together LGBT liberation with a perceived Western imperial project endangers local efforts to build tolerance and acceptance along culturally-relevant lines. It didn’t always have to be this way, though.
Earlier in the history of the LGBT movement, Western groups like the Gay Liberation Front once supported third-world liberation struggles and aimed to build solidarity with the struggles of oppressed people across the world. Naturally, this radicalism fell away, to be replaced by the likes of the HRC (Human Rights Campaign) and their ilk—a self-perpetuating non-profit machine that represents the interests of a gay community that keeps voting for warmongers, tweet about how excited they are to fuck liberated Iraqis or Iranians, and shame the entire Middle East as a backward, evil region, the people of which just consciously chose to be officially homophobic. It’s all too easy to accept their framing, which implies that the abolition of all cultural and religious traditions is somehow the fastest route to achieving the kind of liberal “LGBT rights” that are commonplace in the US and Europe.
As the dominant liberal forces of the gay community and media continue to scold and shame the people and governments of the region, glimmers of hope continue to emerge. There is an increasing number of LGBT groups fighting against Israeli pinkwashing (used to describe attempts to mask misdeeds or crimes using a shallow commitment to rights for LGBT people) and more frequent displays of solidarity with the plight of Palestinians. There has been more attention given recently to boycotts of Tel Aviv Pride (and the 2019 Eurovision) as a part of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) campaign. We’ve also seen greater visibility for groups seeking LGBT liberation and acceptance across the Middle East, such as the Palestinian LGBT group alQaws or the pan-Arab LGBT magazine My.Kali based in Amman, Jordan, driven by the increasing prevalence of internet access, and more socially-permissive attitudes among young people. Lebanon’s parliamentary elections featured an astounding 100 political candidates in 20183It took around a year for the government to form in Lebanon, only to brought down as a result of the political crisis whose platforms included the repeal of article 534 (the removal of which would decriminalize homosexuality in the country). These advances are all but ignored by the gay media as it contradicts the narrative that only Israel can be good on LGBT issues, and that the rest of the region is hardwired to hate LGBT people and will only change through shaming and sanctions (and your continued donations to human rights NGOs). Any improvements in societal conditions for LGBT people by Israel’s neighbors erodes the case that it is somehow special, and makes it less easy to justify partying it up with the gays while the government of Israel continues to terrorize Palestinians and its neighbors. If conditions improve, it gets harder to continue to dehumanize these populations, and the need for professional Western LGBT activists to “speak for” LGBT Palestinians starts to sound more hollow when they can instead just speak for themselves.
Just like Disneyland, which has homeless encampments just outside its shining, magical walls, Tel Aviv Pride is a dreamland that doesn’t tell you anything about the ugly truths of the world outside. Instead, it offers a spectacle for the global community to paint a simple picture of rainbow-flagged Israel and its evil, barbarian neighbors who just need some democracy and liberal freedoms (by force, if necessary). The reality is that the comparison between Israel and the rest of the Middle East is as illogical as comparing life in the US to Papua New Guinea. Israel is a Western-backed client state, while the rest of the Middle East is being ravaged by both the West and theocratic Gulf States like Saudi Arabia (yep, the US funds them too, despite our deep ‘concern’ for freedom). LGBT people in the US—who until very recently were denied agency and self-determination—should know best what it’s like to be under an American authoritarian boot (not in a sexy way, you kinky fucks) and should return to solidarity with the people who are suffering throughout the Middle East. There is no Pride in apartheid, regime change, or the denial of self-determination. LGBT people in the Middle East already show signs of hope, and if we want them to grow in strength and win we need to oppose the weaponization of gayness to disguise the crimes of imperialism. Most importantly, we need to stop going to vulgar Israeli Pride festivals where we end up complicit in the pinkwashing of brutality, and instead support our suffering brothers and sisters in the Middle East—even if their governments aren’t as democratic, tolerant, or woke as we might like. If the LGBT community doesn’t end its uncritical support for the liberal hijacking of LGBT rights in service of imperialist goals, then we will have become the mere image of our own historical oppressors.
|↑1||While many of the secular and anti-imperialist governments were far from perfect, they managed to pass many progressive policies like nationalizing natural resources, expanding access to health care and education, and the abolition of harmful practices towards women like FGM. They also played a central role in the birth of the Non-Aligned Movement and global Third Worldism.|
|↑2||Zionism predates the events of World War II, though it never gained popular momentum until after the tragic persecution of Jews in the Holocaust.|
|↑3||It took around a year for the government to form in Lebanon, only to brought down as a result of the political crisis|