February 13, 2019 at 2:22 pm PST | by Joe Goldman
To liberate Palestine, embrace LGBT Israelis

Joe Goldman (Courtesy A Wider Bridge)

We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.” –Robert Jones Jr.

Protestors interrupting a plenary of the Creating Change is hardly surprising. After all, a culture of protest and disruption on behalf of multiple causes run the gamut at the Creating Change Conference, part of its reputation.

But disruptions chanting “From the sea, Palestine will be free!” is a whole new level. It goes against the very values of inclusion, rejection of binaries, and embrace of complexity that Creating Change and the broader movement for LGBT equality stands for.

“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” is a rallying cry for Israel’s destruction. The call brings shivers to Jewish Israelis and the vast majority of global Jewry, especially since genocide that wiped out one-third of our people remains in living memory and just months after the worst anti-Semitic attack against us in American history at the hands of an armed right-wing extremist in Pittsburgh.

This mindset fails to honor the need for self-determination and security for Israelis and Palestinians alike. Anti-normalization de-legitimizes Israelis’ identities in ways that no other nation would ever be treated in LGBT spaces. I can’t fathom fellow activists telling an LGBT person who identifies as Saudi Arabian, Chinese, Palestinian, or Iranian that their identities or countries shouldn’t exist.

The offensive battle cry only emboldens extremists in Israel and their supporters abroad towards embracing anti-democratic norms, pushing for full annexation of the West Bank and leaving millions of Palestinians there as unrecognized, second-class citizens.

I’ve witnessed firsthand how anti-normalization gets used to silence legitimate critique, having been told I’m “not a real Jew” for my anti-Occupation activism and fear of the Occupation’s impact on Israeli society for the past half-century. To me, ending the Occupation and creating the momentum for an eventual two-state solution is the only way to secure Israel’s existence as a truly Jewish democratic state. Acknowledging that the nation of Palestine exists only enhances my Zionism; they are not mutually exclusive concepts.

So you want to end the Occupation and liberate Palestine? Get to know LGBT Israelis, many of whom have been leading progressive movements in Israel.

Israel’s LGBT community is on the front lines of the very anti-democratic, xenophobic, illiberal sentiments that are pervasive throughout the current Israeli public. They need our partnership, not our scorn.

Perhaps LGBT activists everywhere should get to know the legendary Hagai El-Ad. He once ran the Jerusalem Open House, which is perhaps the most intersectional organization on the planet, serving the needs of wildly diverse LGBT people straddling the geopolitical and religious faultlines from secular Jews of West Jerusalem to religious Muslim Palestinians in West Bank cities under the Occupation. El-Ad went on to run the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the country’s ACLU. And despite ongoing threats from the Israeli government (including to lose his citizenship) and its supporters, he now runs B’Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.

There’s also Avi Buskila, a candidate in the upcoming progressive Meretz party primary and the former executive director of Peace Now, Israel’s indigenous peace movement. Look at Chen Arieli, who is a scion of Israel’s progressive movements as the co-chair of the Aguda – the Israel National LGBT Task Force and a former aide to proudly anti-Occupation MK Merav Michaeli. And there’s my dear friend Mickey Gitzin, who runs the Israel office of the New Israel Fund, which has provided over $300 million to progressive Israeli civil society since 1979.

Progressives would love my friend Anat Nir, who is also running in the Meretz party primary on an inspiring platform of optimism to bring disengaged Israelis to the polls. Labor MK Itzik Shmuliis challenging Israel’s entrenched wealth inequality and strengthening its weakened social safety net. The centrist Yesh Atid party just added activist Idan Roll to its Knesset list and launched a massive LGBT policy plan.

LGBT leaders are challenging the Israeli political system to cease the downward spiral of dehumanizing the other, which gets to the very core of resolving the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Boycotting Israelis only creates a larger vacuum for extreme right-wing forces to scare the moderate center, which doesn’t want to keep ruling over another nation in perpetuity. Boycotts deny much-needed political and financial support for our progressive partners on the ground who need us now more than ever.

There are countless ways to help liberate Palestine and empower progressive Israelis without boycotts. Support groups like NIF its grantees (including Association for Civil Rights of Israel and B’Tselem). Take a look at A Wider Bridge’s capacity-building programs for LGBTQ civil society that include everything from Israel’s LGBTQ refugees programto Ma’avarim, which focuses on empowering Israel’s trans* community. At home, get involved with J Street, which played a decisive role in flipping Congress in 2018 with fearless leadership demanding pro-Israel, pro-two-state solution foreign policy. And simply acknowledging that LGBT Israelis are worthy of existing along the lines of their nationality and sexual orientation and gender identity/expression doesn’t cost any financial or political capital.

Ending the Occupation requires more than being against something, it requires a vision for a future in which self-determination for both peoples is a reality. What we saw at Creating Change – and in too many progressive spaces – is a denial of the right to exist for one group at the expense of liberating another, which is simply a non-starter.

Joe Goldman, a former Point Foundation scholar, is based in Los Angeles.

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