Badly Aimed Boycott

A Town Square Opinion: Boycott of Jerusalem World Pride 2006 is misdirected radicalism

In a Jan. 9 email to members of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission’s International Advisory Committee, IGLHRC Executive Director Paula Ettelbrick and her board liaison for IAC, Adrian Coman, asked for input on whether IGLHRC should join the LGBT World Pride celebration scheduled this summer in Jerusalem. They stated that the consensus of their staff and their board’s program committee was not to participate.

”While IGLHRC sees as its mandate the promotion of human rights everywhere, and would typically wish to support local organizations and activists, and participate in any world conference where the discussions and goals included LGBT rights,” they explained, “as a human rights organization, we do not feel it is appropriate to participate in a ‘world pride’ event in the middle of an occupation and in a location where our colleagues from the region could not travel to Israel to participate.”

Helpfully, the e-mail, which was forwarded to me, includes a couple of Internet links for further information. One of them — www.boycottworldpride.org/ — reveals that the boycott effort is spearheaded by a group called QUIT, for Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism.

Given IGLHRC’s stated commitment to promoting human rights everywhere, you might suppose that they have also boycotted notoriously oppressive countries like China and Cuba. You would be wrong. In 1995 in Beijing, IGLHRC was represented by Julie Dorf and Rachel Rosenbloom at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women. And in 1998 in Havana, IGLHRC’s coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean, Alejandra Sardá, presented a paper at the Third International Women’s Solidarity Meeting.

So totalitarian capitals like Havana and Beijing are fine, but the sole democracy in the Middle East, which happens to be the place to which gay Arabs in the region flee, is the target of a ”queer” boycott effort, essentially because it has dared to defend itself from neighbors bent on wiping it off the map and driving its Jewish inhabitants into the sea.

As Barrett Brick, the former executive director of the World Congress of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Jews, observes, ”I am most amused by the comment about Israel being a location to which regional colleagues could not travel. It is the Muslim countries that ban entry by Israelis and people with Israeli stamps in their passports.”

Contrary to leftist propaganda, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank was not the result of expansionist greed by Zionist imperialists, but a response to an attack against Israel. The occupation is therefore entirely justified. The same cannot be said of Israeli settlements in the occupied territory, but on the other hand several democratically elected Israeli governments have sought in vain to trade land for peace with neighboring tyrants. If more Arab leaders emulated Anwar Sadat of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan in choosing peace, the region could be the focus of rebuilding instead of destruction. But as Israeli diplomat Abba Eban said after Geneva peace talks with Arab countries in December 1973, ”The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

The foolishness of the queer left’s boycott of Jerusalem World Pride 2006 is nothing new. In May 2002, QUIT participated in a pro-Palestinian rally at UC Berkeley. A Palestinian objected, saying, “Gay people have no place in society, whether in Palestine or in the U.S.” When someone took issue with him, he replied, “You are a cultural imperialist.” How’s that for solidarity?

This is the left’s idea of gay pride: Demonizing Israel, which protects gay rights, while romanticizing a homophobic Palestinian culture that teaches its children no greater aspiration than to murder people by blowing themselves up.

The justifications for various boycotts aside, I generally oppose them because they tend to hurt the wrong people, and I believe that engagement works better than disengagement. When singer Paul Simon broke the ANC cultural boycott of South Africa with his Graceland tour in the 1980s, he was widely denounced. Yet his collaboration with South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo inspired millions and catapulted Ladysmith to international acclaim and success.

With the voices of Ladysmith director Joseph Shabalala and his colleagues gracing numerous television commercials, members of QUIT would no doubt say this only proves that Ladysmith has sold out to the global forces of capitalist oppression. But if you prefer the misdirected radicalism of spoiled American leftists to the enchantment of Ladysmith, you are more than tone deaf.

My own partner is a refugee from another part of Africa, and our travel budget for this year may not take us to Israel for World Pride. But I know where my heart will be, regardless of what decision the folks at IGLHRC make.

I’m going to Graceland.

Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist whose work has appeared on Salon.com and the Independent Gay Forum (www.indegayforum.org). He can be reached at rrosendall@starpower.net.

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