On November 22, the New York Times ran an op-ed by the radical leftist lesbian Jewish playwright Sarah Schulman which did a great public service – it provided a perfect illustration of the utter lunacy of the anti-Israeli, pro-Palestinian queer left.
Schulman opened her piece, entitled “Israel and ‘Pinkwashing,‘” by quoting a line from William Butler Yeats (a writer who, incidentally, would have found both her work and her politics utterly vile). The line, also the title of a famous short story by Delmore Schwartz, was this: “In dreams begin responsibilities.” Schulman maintained that Yeats’s words “resonate with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who have witnessed dramatic shifts in our relationship to power.” She meant by this that while gay people have won rights and respect in various countries around the world, “these changes have given rise to a nefarious phenomenon: the co-opting of white gay people by anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim political forces in Western Europe and Israel.”
Schulman went on to express her revulsion at the enthusiasm of some Dutch gays for the late Pim Fortuyn and for the very much alive Geert Wilders, and at the fact that the English Defense League has over a hundred gay members. She also took me on: “In Norway,” she wrote, “Anders Behring Breivik, the extremist who massacred 77 people in July, cited Bruce Bawer, a gay American writer critical of Muslim immigration, as an influence.” (In fact, Breivik made it clear in his writings that I was not an influence on him – he considered me too much of a libertarian. But no matter.)
The “depictions of immigrants” by people like me and Wilders “as ‘homophobic fanatics,‘” wrote Schulman, “opportunistically ignore the existence of Muslim gays and their allies within their communities.” On the contrary, I and many other anti-jihadists have written extensively about gay Muslims. What Schulman “opportunistically ignores” is that gay Muslims in Western Europe tend to live in terror of being found out by their families and communities. Their very lives are at risk. So dire is their plight that until recently there was not a single “out” gay Muslim in all of Norway, where I live. I am now personally acquainted with the country’s first openly gay male Muslim and its first openly lesbian Muslim, and I can inform Schulman that their lives have been made exceedingly difficult by the Muslim communities that Schulman is so eager to defend.
To depict Muslims as antigay, Schulman further maintained, is to “render invisible the role that fundamentalist Christians, the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Jews play in perpetuating fear and even hatred of gays.” Yes, there’s hostility to gay people all over the place. The difference is that even the most famously gay-hating Christian on the planet, Fred “God Hates Fags” Phelps, doesn’t call for the murder of gay people and, as far as I know, has not killed any gays himself. By contrast, sharia law prescribes the death penalty for homosexuality – a punishment that has been carried out innumerable times by the governments of several Islamic countries as well as by countless Muslim families both in the Muslim world and in the West.
But does Schulman care about that? Apparently not. She is the kind of leftist for whom ideology will always trump reality. What she is exercised about is the fact that Israel is, according to her, marketing itself as gay-friendly: Tel Aviv’s tourism board, for example, is spending about $90 million “to brand the city as ‘an international gay vacation destination.‘” Also, Benjamin Netanyahu told the U.S. Congress in May “that the Middle East was ‘a region where women are stoned, gays are hanged, Christians are persecuted.‘”
Never mind that all this is true. For Schulman, it’s all “’pinkwashing’: a deliberate strategy to conceal the continuing violations of Palestinians’ human rights behind an image of modernity signified by Israeli gay life.” In the sentences that followed, Schulman actually seemed to be trying to get away with implying that Palestinian “gay life” is comparable to “Israeli gay life”: “Homosexuality,” she wrote, “has been decriminalized in the West Bank since the 1950s, when anti-sodomy laws imposed under British colonial influence were removed from the Jordanian penal code, which Palestinians follow.” I would encourage Schulman to open a gay bar in Ramallah and see what happens.
Though “some people of good will…mistakenly judge how advanced a country is by how it responds to homosexuality,” insisted Schulman, things like “the relative openness of Tel Aviv are incomplete indicators of human rights.” Perhaps not, but they happen to be of a piece with every other single indicator of human rights in Israel relative to human rights in the territories now governed by Hamas – or, for that matter, in every Muslim country in the region. How about women’s rights, Sarah? Is the status of women in Israel, as compared to their status elsewhere in the Middle East, also an “incomplete indicator”?
Schulman, it should be noted, is a relic – sorry, veteran – of the Gay Wars of ancient times, which is to say the 1970s and 80s. Back then she was one of the shining stars of the minuscule but then powerful radical gay activist subculture, which subordinated the real interests and convictions of the overwhelming majority of gay people to its own far-left, anti-capitalist ideology. Back then, in its heyday, Schulman and her Marxist confrères called the shots in gay political activism; today, except in the academy (where they reign over the inane discipline known as “Queer Studies”), they’ve dwindled almost to utter irrelevance in society at large. Indeed, if Schulman singles me out for special obloquy, it may be because my 1993 book A Place at the Table: The Gay Individual in American Society helped spell the beginning of the end for her own brand of anger-driven, ideology-obsessed, and terminally counterproductive gay politics.
Which is not to say that Schulman is a lone voice. If only. That there exists a group with the grotesque name Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (under the auspices of which Schulman apparently gave a talk earlier this year) shows that the sick old strain of self-destructive gay politics is, in some quarters, not only still alive and kicking but more twisted than ever. To be sure, it never stops being remarkable to me that anyone who professes to care about human freedom – especially someone who is gay and a woman and a Jew! – can be anything but a fervent supporter of Israel, a small free country surrounded by Jew-hating, woman-oppressing, gay-killing neighbors that are intent on destroying it. But then this is what happens, alas, when a mind is so besotted with ideology as to blind itself to even the most obvious of realities.
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