Sarah Schulman, Palestinian Activist

Bruce Bawer is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center and the author of “While Europe Slept” and “Surrender.” His book "The Victims' Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the Liberal Mind" is just out from Broadside / Harper Collins.


It’s been almost a year since I wrote here about Sarah Schulman’s inane New York Times op-ed on “pinkwashing.” Schulman, a longtime “queer” (gay-left) activist, argued that Israel cynically uses its positive record on gay rights to put a human face on its brutal treatment of Palestinians – who, moreover, she maintains, aren’t as intolerant of homosexuality as you’ve been led to believe.  Now Duke University Press has published an entire book by Schulman celebrating her efforts, in collaboration with a group of “queer” Palestinians, to promote a boycott of Israel designed to force it to change its policy.

That book, Israel/Palestine and the Queer International, is meant to be a stirring account of the growth of a social-justice campaign.  But it’s most effective as a psychological self-portrait which illuminatingly answers the question: what kind of Jew, woman, or gay person (or, in Schulman’s case, all three) ends up colluding with the enemies of Israel and friends of Hamas?

Here’s the story.  Schulman grew up, she tells us, “surrounded by Holocaust survivors” who “yelled at each other for no reason and didn’t know how to be happy.”  Her parents distrusted and looked down on gentiles, hated gays (they kicked her out for being a lesbian), and supported Israel reflexively.  Schulman’s reaction to this legacy is mixed: she makes it clear that she considers gentiles, or at least Christians, dumb (she uses, without irony, the term goyishe kopf) and that she views all Christian Americans and Christian Europeans as anti-Semites.  She regards herself, in fact, not as an American but as a New Yorker, and identifies not with Israel and the Hebrew language but with the diaspora and Yiddish.  (She approvingly quotes Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Nobel speech, in which he noted that Yiddish has “no words for weapons, ammunition, military exercises, war tactics.”)  The adult Jews of her childhood were all tragic victims and members of a scattered minority, and for her this “was a normative, natural part of being a Jew”; Israelis, by contrast, have chosen “to be dominant,” to carry guns and be soldiers – chosen, more specifically, to be “a colonial settler state in relation to Palestinians, and a semicolonized project of the Christian West, the very people who caused the Jews’ suffering to begin with.” Israel, she insists, “does not represent ‘the Jews,’ only some Jews.” Israelis have “all served in the army, and they feel an ownership of their government, police, and military,” and they subscribe to a “supremacy ideology.” American Jews, by contrast, “see ourselves as separate from our state, as diasporic.” This is why she likes living in New York City, where “[y]ou can be culturally normative without keeping other people down and still be a healthy remove from identifying with the army, the cops, or thinking you can win the presidency.” In short: “I am still emotionally diasporic, and they [Israelis] are emotionally nationalistic.”

This “emotionally diasporic” feeling – this sense of alienation from her own country – was at the root of the radical-left politics that Schulman and other queer activists pursued in the 1980s and 90s.  Her goal was not to win a place for gays at the American table (to borrow from the title of my own 1993 book on gay rights) but to anathematize America while clinging to marginality.  This “emotionally diasporic” feeling is also the key to explaining why Schulman identifies not with Israelis, whom she perceives as gun-toting bullies, but with Palestinians, whom she perceives, romantically, as innocent, displaced victims.  (That the IDF is committed to preventing another Holocaust, while all too many Palestinians are determined to perpetrate one, would appear to be thoroughly lost on her.)  Not that this sense of identification came easily: she needed, she tells us, to overcome a “visceral Jewish identification” with Israel, and to liberate herself from the “racism” that made her at first uneasy about working with Palestinian leaders.

Schulman does her best to make her insane choice sound reasonable.  She devotes most of a page to rationalizing her decision to march alongside members of Hamas in a protest against Israeli attacks on Gaza. After all, she says, “I have marched in the same gay pride parade with gay Republicans for decades.” Similarly, apropos of a Palestinian leader’s dim view of gays, she reflects: “He couldn’t be worse than a U.S. theater producer who refuses to do a lesbian play or a U.S. publisher who refuses to publish lesbian novels.” The naïveté here is through the roof.

So is the self-celebration: “rarely had I done something this bold when I was not sure of what I was doing….I have spent my life being simultaneously afraid and yet going forward anyway.” And as impressed as she is with herself, that’s just how impatient she is with those who aren’t as, um, “bold” as she is – such as the two gay men she meets in Berlin who are “so ‘concerned’ about the Muslims and how they don’t assimilate” and who complain “about women wearing the veil.” She dismisses their concerns as “crap,” saying that this “was the millionth conversation I had had with Christians who want me to bond with them around some unexamined assumption that their own culture is neutral and that Muslims are threatening.  I am threatened by Christians so I will never feel this way.”

More than once she mentions people who have asked her why Israel should be judged by a higher standard than other countries.  She rejects the premise: “Israel was not being judged by a higher standard.  In fact, both Israel and the United States were judged constantly by a lower standard.” In her worldview, the U.S. and Israel are not beacons of democracy but rogue states of the first order: “As an American I have insight into the Israeli conundrum, as I have spent my life as a citizen of a country that consistently violates international law, defies standards of human rights, and financially supports oppressive regimes (including Israel) while regularly killing civilians in different places on earth without justification or reason….If anyone should have practice understanding what it is like to be an Israeli, it would be an American.” Gradually, the reader of Schulman’s book realizes that in some sense, the appalling human-rights offenses that are being committed right this very minute by dozens of horrific regimes around the globe just don’t exist for her, because they have no place in her personal psychohistory.  Talk about denial: when an Israeli friend asks her “What about honor killing? What about women?  What about feminism?” she replies that “right now, that is not my job.” She’s an expert at blocking out all those aspects of reality that might halt her advance on what she sees as her progressive journey.

And what a journey it is!  Here she is entering Israel: “There is something about the sight of young Jewish people in these military, police, and security positions that repulses me.  It makes me feel afraid, not secure.  In fact, I realize perhaps again, that Jewish authority, Jewish police, Jews in uniforms, Jewish governments, all these things bothered me.  I am truly an American Jew in this way.  I prefer to be one of many.” No, Sarah, it’s not about being an American Jew.  It’s about the fact that you’ve never grown up.  It’s about the fact that your whole professional life has been a childish show of rebellion in the name of “queer” activism – a noisy, obnoxious, angry, pointless display that never helped anybody and that ended up on the ashheap of history because real activists came along and actually helped bring about things you despise, such as the right of gay Americans to serve openly and proudly in their country’s military.  It’s about your terror of mature responsibility, Sarah – a terror awakened by the sight of courageous young members of the IDF, Jews much younger than you, taking with deadly seriousness the job of guaranteeing their country’s survival in the face of those who would annihilate it.

Schulman’s obtuseness about the world beyond her East Village walk-up leads to occasional inadvertent humor.  For example, she’s surprised, and disquieted, to discover that Israeli gay groups receive government funding – she considers this compromising.  “ACT UP never asked for government funding,” she complains.  “This was just not my mind-set.” She seems not to realize what she’s witnessing is socialism in action – the very socialism she’s been agitating for all her adult life.  Then there’s her rants about being oppressed.  She’s published a dozen-odd books, bears the title of Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at the City University of New York, and is a Fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU – yet when a publisher doesn’t reply right away to a manuscript submission, she goes into a rant about how she’s “experienced this kind of harassment all of my adult life for being out as a lesbian in my work and for articulating critiques of power.  I had been censored, blacklisted, fired, demeaned, marginalized, and shunned.  That’s the price we pay for asking for structural change of power.” She contrasts her terrible situation to the “entrenched…entitlement and privilege” that she appears to imagine is enjoyed by all “American or European straight Christians.” All this over a publisher that didn’t get back to her fast enough – a situation that any professional writer can identify with.  It’s staggering to see someone so utterly clueless about how much more power and privilege she enjoys than the average American – and who doesn’t seem to grasp that, with her résumé (her only degree is a B.A. from Empire State College), she’d never have been made a Distinguished Professor anywhere if she weren’t a big-name minority-group militant.

Full disclosure: Schulman mentions me in her book – repeating the charge, made in her Times op-ed and refuted here last year, that the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik claimed to be influenced by my writings on Islam.  For Schulman, I’m an example of what she calls “homonationalism”: as she explains, when gays win widespread social acceptance and legal rights, some of them start to identify with “the racial and religious hegemony of their countries,” and end up “construct[ing] the ‘other,’ often Muslims of Arab, South Asian, Turkish, or African origin, as ‘homophobic’ and fanatically heterosexual,” instead of identifying with them as fellow minorities.  Schulman seems sincerely unable to process the plain and simple fact that Islam is intrinsically anti-gay – not to mention anti-Jew and anti-woman.  Reading this book, I kept wondering: has this woman ever so much as glanced at a Koran?  There’s no evidence whatsoever that she has.  And why should she?  When you get right down to it, Schulman’s passion for her new cause has nothing to do with the larger realities of Islam and Israel; no, just like the impotent, narcissistic politics of “radical social transformation” that she pursued back in what she fondly remembers as “the heyday of ACT UP and Queer Nation,” her newfound enthusiasm for a boycott of Israel is all about satisfying her own deep-seated – and deeply disturbing – psychological needs.  And this time around, like last time, it’s just plain bad news.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/daniel.teeboom Daniel Teeboom

    "Yiddish has “no words for weapons, ammunition, military exercises, war tactics.”"
    http://www.hagalil.com/jidish/klezmer/sp/still.ht

    Schpajr, Nagan, Pistojl. 3 words for gun. One song.

  • Advocatus

    Great piece. Special kudos to Mr. Bawer for managing to read Schulman's book cover to cover as I doubt I would be able to get past the blurb. So what we have here is another ill-informed self-righteous "progressive" spouting the usual hooey of moral relativism. Of course, Ms Schulman is not really interested in gay rights for people in the Middle East. What she wants rather is flaunt her own contrarian courage and wonderful humanism in a pathetically obvious self-serving manner.

    By implying that there is no difference between a producer on Broadway refusing to stage a gay-themed play and Islamic fundamentalists publicly hanging homosexuals, she seeks to play up her courage in the face of "discrimination" even as she continues to enjoy all the benefits, rights, freedoms and privileges of living in the West. And if some less fortunate gay Muslims are beaten up and murdered now and then across the Middle East.

    I wonder if she spends much time to discuss the fate of Italian pro-Palestinian "activist" Vittorio Arrigoni, who was murdered last year in Gaza apparently for being gay.

    • objectivefactsmatter

      "By implying that there is no difference between a producer on Broadway refusing to stage a gay-themed play and Islamic fundamentalists publicly hanging homosexuals, she seeks to play up her courage in the face of "discrimination" even as she continues to enjoy all the benefits, rights, freedoms and privileges of living in the West. And if some less fortunate gay Muslims are beaten up and murdered now and then across the Middle East."

      It's just another bizarre but common brainfarted example of moral equivalence that isn't even close.

      But gays don't have utopia yet anywhere, so therefore no civilization can claim moral superiority. This is their idea. The West should have arrived already, so the West is the worst. Also a common implication of their idiotic beliefs.

      Therefore we need more socialism. This is why we need frontpagemag,com and like-minded folk to bring some sense back to the discourse.

      Bitch, you would die there if they didn't believe they could get more out of you by manipulating you. They are obviously correct.

    • objectivefactsmatter

      "I wonder if she spends much time to discuss the fate of Italian pro-Palestinian "activist" Vittorio Arrigoni, who was murdered last year in Gaza apparently for being gay."

      I don't even know if Muslims care about "gay" women, but if you allow yourself to be penetrated or you act too feminine, you will get in trouble if they can't use you. Where's that picture of the crane in Iran? How about being thrown off cliffs and high buildings? I've seen more Islamic snuff films featuring the execution of gays than any other "criminal" class punished.

      • Advocatus

        Yes, those Iranian execution videos are highly instructive, but I doubt self-proclaimed "gay rights activists" like Schulman would ever watch them. Even if they did bestir themselves to watch the videos, I'm sure they would dismiss them as Zionist propaganda or some such.

        People like her revel in identity politics because of the perennial victimhood and implied moral superiority it bestows on them. That obviates their need to learn about the real world and so they can carry on blithely spouting the same tired old PC nonsense while posturing as original thinkers who speak truth to power.

        I invariably find people like Schulman to be pathetic monomaniacs whose entire worldview consists of bashing convenient targets like white males, "capitalists" and "Zionists." They are essentially cowards who dare not address such causes of widespread oppression in the world as Islamic supremacism and Arab chauvinism lest they be accused of being "racists" — just what, of course, they routinely accuse others of being.

  • reader FPM

    I can't believe how this big mouth non-person gets honors, books published, media attention etc. she should really be getting a spanking Oh yes, alas! Jewish as well as other parents back in the 60s and 70s famously read too much Spock. One last comment – either SS (that was done on purpose) is the metaphor for the loony bin she represents, or she is one hard edged number with an eye on the endless supply of cookies in the liberal cookie jar. er… has anyone asked SS the extent of her wealth?

  • objectivefactsmatter

    Crude but very funny.

  • Chezwick

    No amount of therapy could re-connect this pathetic soul to reality. Her infatuation with victim-hood and separateness has taken such proportions that the re-establishment of the Caliphate would likely be her masochistic wet dream.

    • Elliott

      Self-hatred transferred to the Jews, unfortunately nothing new here.

  • Left_Coast

    I wonder if she believes that, because she's carrying water for terrorists, she will get a pass on the homosexuality bit. I don't see it happening quite that way, based upon histories ancient and recent. As homosexuality has been around the minute people realized those body parts aren't just for elimination, there have been hoards of card carrying crazy people on a mission to wipe them off the face of the earth- like they would Jewish people. Learn from the past. To think otherwise is delusional.

  • Kevin

    Queers. I remember when even Democrats, the enemy, hated homosexuals. How far this country has fallen.

    • Kufar Dawg

      If someone's beliefs and practices are no threat to you, why bother hating them?

  • zalukas

    NYU…That's all needs to be said.

    Drain bramage lasts long, long time.

  • Mo_

    I have heard this type of viewpoint quite often, but this woman is the most extreme case I've ever seen.

    How does a woman with such serious psychological issues even function in life, much less become a professor and a published author?

    It's bad enough she's a traitor, but now she's influencing countless others! I say drop her off in Gaza and revoke her American citizenship.

    • Surak

      "How does a woman with such serious psychological issues even function in life, much less become a professor and a published author?"

      The answer to the question in the main clause of your sentence is provided by the adjectival prepositional phrase modifying the subject.

      • Chiggles

        I.e. question asked, question answered.

  • Kufar Dawg

    How do people like this explain away the charter for Hamas which cites a holy, authoritative hadeeth of islam that calls for the extermination of Jews?

    • objectivefactsmatter

      "How do people like this explain away the charter for Hamas which cites a holy, authoritative hadeeth of islam that calls for the extermination of Jews?"

      Like this: "Look how much violence is in the Bible." Or some other distracting superficial statement.

  • Indus Valley

    That was awesome !!!!!!!

  • Omar

    Obviously, Schulman doesn't appreciate the freedoms she has in the free world. Perhaps, she like to live in the Islamist countries, where she will be treated like chattel.

    • Kufar Dawg

      Or perhaps gang raped by muslimes to cure her of her non-doctrinaire sexual preferences.

  • Drakken

    I really have to laugh at this things openly siding with muslim jihadist who will kill her given the chance, right now she serves the jihadist cause as a useful idiot, when she has outlived her usefullness she will meet the same fate as that other useful idiot and Darwin Award winner Rachel Corrie. I say good riddance to this traitor. When you dance to the fiddlers tune, sooner or later you have to pay the fiddler.

  • bkopicz

    When I was in Canada a few years ago I read in the newspaper about a march called “Queers for Palestine” and thought it had to be some kind of joke. How can the gay community be so vehement against Evangelicals who may speak or write critically of the gay lifestyle yet embrace Muslims who would literal execute them if given an opportunity? I have never understood the left’s love affair with the Islamist. You would think somewhere down the line self-perseveration would kick in but it doesn’t. Maybe Sarah is mentally ill or more likely she holds to the philosophy of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and therefore anything that threatens Western culture or America she will support, which is driven by childish blind hate. It would be a true act of justice if her eternal soul dwells in the kind of world she wants to make for my children.

  • Omar

    It is so sad that Schulman prefers a society where homosexuals are lynched from cranes for being homosexual over a society that respects everyone's rights regardless of characteristics. I still don't understand why she would openly side with people who would not like her.

    • UCSPanther

      Its the same with people who knew they had Jewish backgrounds, but ran ran with ideologies that openly despised their race.

      Prime example was William Potter Gale, who ran with the white supremicist crowd and became a leader within that movement until his death in the 80s. He did that despite the fact that his own father fled Russia at the beginning of the 20th century to escape the waves of persecution that were unleashed by he dying Russian Monarchy.

  • g_jochnowitz

    When I read Sarah Schulman's op-ed in the New York Times a year ago, I thought it was a parody–a way of mocking leftists for the rigidity of their anti-Israel views. Now that I hear she has written a book on the subject, I suppose she must have been serious.
    Andrei Markovits, writing in the Winter 2005 issue of Dissent, which straddles the border between liberal and left, equated progressives with leftists when he said, “A new European (an American) commonality for all lefts—a new litmus test of progressive politics—seems to have developed: anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism (though not anti-Semitism, or at least not yet).” Noted feminist writer Phyllis Chesler, in her 2003 book The New Anti-Semitism, writes, “Islamic reactionaries and western intellectuals and progressives who may disagree on every other subject have agreed that Israel and America are the cause of all evil.” The persistent power of anti-Zionism and the remarkable fact that people on the left have formed a de facto alliance with jihadists when it comes to the issue of Israel are both amazing and idiotic.

  • R.C.

    What else can be expected from a self hating, God hating, homosexual!

    Furthermore–Israel's record on homosexuality–is an abomination–and has only hurt Israel!

  • R.C.

    narcissistic politics of “radical social transformation”

    This is cultural Marxism–and Schulman is a mentally ill useful idiot!

  • Phil

    The most pathetic thing about this deranged soul is that she has virtually no insight into her psychopathology. Unfortunately, so much of the media is made up of simple-mindednarcissists thata loseer like her is embraced.

  • YetWave

    It is easy pickins to focus on Sarah Schulman and her ilk. These inhabitants of some inverse universe have only the freedoms of the nation they disparage to thank for the forums where they can voice their perverse opinions with only ridicule as consequence. Among the regimes whom they support, the freedom gluttons like Schulman or her compatriot in pink, Medea Benjamin, would be schmear for crows on the gibbets. It's those of the kvetching class who take the gift of our freedoms and offer nothing in return to sustain them.

  • Bonnie

    Is she really and truly a lesbian, I have to wonder. What a perfect guise lesbianism would be for this woman to adopt that would (in her mind) only add to her self aggrandizing, suffering spirit. Those refugees from the ovens that she had to suffer whilst growing up should be put to death for the abuse their suffering inflicted on her development! Furthermore: why hasn't the country of her birth, that she so distains, not put her in charge of MidEast peace negotiations….how could her insight go unrecognized. Perhaps we can also manage to have her awarded a Nobel Peace Prize as she ascends unto her throne…..wherever in hell that may be in this young woman's very twisted mind.

  • Ghostwriter

    I'll put it simply. Ms. Schulman is a naive fool. Maybe she should have listened to her parents a little more.

  • Infovoyeur

    Fascinating to me, as I reviewed her book Ties that Bind: Familial Homophobia, and said I found that simply in re Writing Style 101, esp. overall structure of longer text, it was like an embryonic logical Problem-Causes-Solutions framework was blown utterly apart and scattered piecemeal . A stylistic "Trane Rekk." And she being a literature professor, right? does this suggest that (1) no book publishers edit anything any more, but worse, (2) education in basics (logical literacy etc.) has declined so far that her education let her "get through" thus. Who knew. All part of our Quasi-Logic Now, perhaps.

  • jzsnake

    Bruce you are my hero!

  • Michael Garfinkel

    Kudos to bkopiczs for getting to the heart of the problem.

    Sarah Schulman is not the first, nor will she be the last damaged Jew who, finding no transcendent worth in herself or her family, has gone over to the enemy.

    Recently, John Podhoretz objected to an article in Tablet by Anna Breslaw, in which insults were directed against holocaust survivors in Breslaw's own family.

    This sort of thing seems to be going around.

  • Michael Garfinkel

    Schulman's identification with the Arabs, and by extension their genocidal project towards the Jews is a serious threat.

    Otto Weininger, (1880-1903) made an earlier appearance in a similar fashion although Weininger was, as Wittengenstein said, a veritable genius. Like George Soros, Weininger grew up in anti-semitic, Jewish family in Europe, and his book, Sex and Character, was a powerful indictment of the Jewish character.
    In many ways it expanded on themes in Wagner's 1850 attack on the jews, " Das Judenthum in der Musik."

    Weininger took pains to insist that he did not wish theJews harm. Like Marx, he looked hopefully to a world in which Jews would be freed from Judaism.

    Unfortunately, twenty years after Weininger's suicide, his work became a seminal influence, certainly for Herman Goring, who acknowledged this, but for other top Nazis as well.

    So bkopiczs's concern for his children is not misplaced; the Sarah Shulmans of the world really do present a clear and present danger.

  • BS77

    I feel sorry for her. She is lost in delusion. No doubt a true believer…but as they say, "those who are truly brainwashed never know it"

  • P.B.

    only the dumbest lambs choose their butcher. what she think, that under palestininan regime gays would have fun??? no, the only ones who will have fun are the people who stands in front of a crane to watch how gays are hanging there. and look how the arabic culture behave to their women, they put them under niqabs which looks like a garbage bag and thats what the women in the islamic world are – garbage in the eyes of their men.

    • Kufar Dawg

      Maybe she can host a gay pride parade, along with Rachel Maddow and Anderson Cooper, in Tehran, Cairo, Damascus, Mogadishu, Islamabad or Gaza! I'd like to see it happen, from a safe distance of course, a safe distance of 5000 miles of more.

  • footballhistorian

    Talk about convoluted…

  • g_jochnowitz

    Now Israel has appointed an Arab woman to be a combat commander. She is probably the first Arab woman in history to hold such a position. http://www.israeltoday.co.il/NewsItem/tabid/178/n
    Sarah Schulman must be saying that this proves just how bad Israel is. It does something good to deflect world opinion from its evil.

  • Andy Gill

    Sarah Schulman is a terribly disturbed person, and obviously deeply unhappy. She is clearly projecting all her inner conflict and rage onto Israel. She ought to undergo a course of psychotherapy, but it may be too late for that. I suspect she will only get worse as time goes by, and may have to be institutionalized.

  • cjk

    Sadly I think the only possible hope for such evil, rotten, spoiled, brats like this fiend is to be uprooted from her life of ease and privilege in NY and sent to subsist as some sadist's property in a Mohammedan paradise like Saudi Arabia for the greater part of a decade or so.

  • Deeb

    This woman spins out delusions so fast she has to be setting a world's record for speed in stating falsehoods, and not just false beliefs, but big, huge, whoppers. My gawd, what drugs is this chick using? I read two sentences and instantly saw that she not only is lost in a never never land of perception, but she uses words and phrases that aren't even remotely appropriate to describe reality, unless that 'reality' is the unreality confined strictly to the space between her ears. In any case, it bears no resemblance to any objective reality a reasonably sane person perceives. She's mentally ill, and what's worse is, she's apparently a very bright mentally ill person.

  • FlaGuy954

    Suppose Israel lost the next war with the Arabs and Iran. Schulmann's progeny, should she have any children, will be sitting around yelling and arguing about the latest Holocaust and the destruction of Israel. What an idiot she is!