Once an ally, not always an ally

Though Israel supports the LGBTQ community, we cannot condone its oppression of Palestinians based solely on its progressivism.

By Jonathan Katz

Let us talk about a state where LGBTQ rights are very good, but where others’ rights are not so well maintained. A state that simultaneously allows some young women to love one another while imprisoning and knocking down the homes of other young women. A state where two young men enjoy rights to love and play in one place, yet, 50 miles away, under that same state’s authority, two other young men could be told that their hometown is now a military “firing zone” and be forced to leave.

That state is Israel.

Admittedly, I can only speak for myself when I write this. I am an openly gay man, a practicing Conservative Jew, and the son of an Israeli mother. I am against the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement; I support two states, side by side. Israel does hold a certain place in my heart, but I think that, at the very least, I should point out that Luke Brinker’s analysis is dangerously flawed.

I will acknowledge that Israel, compared to the rest of the world, does fairly well on the spectrum of LGBTQ rights, as well as in other areas of rights that Brinker enumerates. For LGBTQ persons in Israel, there exist rights to adoption and quite stellar protections. And what happens far too often to LGBTQ folk in the Palestinian territories is not exactly savory.

But that doesn’t undo the horror of the occupation. No amount of pride parades and rainbow condoms will undo the fact that, 50 miles away, Palestinian villagers are kicked out of their ancestral home when, on a whim, it’s deemed an Israeli Defense Force “firing zone.”

For many in the LGBTQ community, oppression is a daily reality whether we are forced to hide our lives or we face grievous harm for living them. That bias and the knowledge thereof is never far from our minds, even for those like myself and many others on this campus who are lucky enough to live in environments where we are affirmed and supported.

I feel that both the LGBTQ community and its allies—who may well be sympathetic to others’ experiences with oppression—could do better than blindly side with our “supporters” no matter what. Should we not use our own memory and compassion to advocate for and support those who also face injustice? Shouldn’t they serve to motivate us to support a struggle for basic human rights, for recognition, for a right for Palestinians to live how and where they choose? Should we, based on one plane of rights, really turn away from advocating for another plane of rights?

Tzedek tzedek tirdof: “Justice, justice you shall pursue,” we are told by the Torah in Deuteronomy. I believe that this timeless command of the Holy Scripture commands us—not as LGBTQ people or as Jews, but as compassionate humans—to never stop in the pursuit of said justice. As fervently as we seek to advance justice for ourselves, we must also seek to advance justice for others.

As LGBTQ people, this does not mean simply internalizing our sense of oppression, but also enlivening it, allowing it to serve a purpose beyond ourselves and to foment advocacy for all those stamped down. As Jews, this means that our chesed—grace—ought not to be confined to the Jewish community; rather, we are told by scripture to work beyond our borders to achieve that command of tikkun olam—repairing the world. Repairing a world in which a child in the West Bank might die because the roadblock won’t let her ambulance through—a world in which a family’s generations-old olive grove could be burned down and declared the property of someone from far away who only arrived six months ago.

The Talmud reminds us that it was not Romans alone who destroyed the Second Temple in 70 C.E., but indirectly the sinat chinam—senseless hatred and lack of justice—of Jews themselves that ultimately brought destruction. Should such reactions, such sinat chinam, follow from our command toward justice—as queers, Jews, both, or neither? I think not.

What I want to say is this: Yes, as people who support the rainbow spectrum, we should honor Israel for what it has done. But that does not mean in the slightest that we should use this to whitewash—or, dare I say, “pinkwash”—what happens in the occupied territories. Rather, merely from our sense of obligation as human beings—as members of a species that should share in our collective burden of past oppression—we should be able to criticize Israel and to say unequivocally, “This occupation must stop.”

Jonathan Katz is a third-year in the College majoring in history and geography.