The Israel Lobby’s Gay-Rights Hypocrisy
Mareeg.com-LONDON – One of the few liberal victories in a conservative age in the United States has been the formal acceptance of homosexuality. Same-sex marriage is now recognized by the federal government and is legal in 35 out of 50 states.
The US is not alone. Nineteen other countries (or regions of countries) – mostly in Europe and North and South America – now allow gay couples to marry legally. South Africa is the only African country where same-sex marriage is permitted, and it is not legal anywhere in Asia or the Middle East, where to be openly gay can still be extremely dangerous. Last year, Uganda enacted a law – attributed partly to the influence of well-funded evangelical missionaries from the US – mandating a life sentence for people caught in homosexual acts. In Iran, sodomy can lead to a death sentence, as is true in Saudi Arabia, Hamas-controlled Gaza, and, of course, under the lash of militant groups like the Islamic State.
So there is nothing untrue about the headline of a paid advertisement that ran in the New York Times on December 23. Placed beneath a picture of a vulnerable-looking young American male, it read: “Hamas, ISIS and Iran kill gays like me.” And the last line of the advertisement is at least fairly true: “In Israel, I am free.” That he is – but not to get married, owing to the opposition of Israel’s powerful Orthodox community.
There is something not quite right about this ad. It was paid for by the Orthodox Rabbi Shmuel “Shmuley” Boteach, a popular media performer also known as “America’s Rabbi,” who presides over an advocacy group called This World, which promotes Israel and “Jewish values.” Another major figure in the group is Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas casino magnate who donates millions of dollars to Republican politicians who most actively support Israel. Favored speakers at This World galas include the right-wing Republican former governor of Texas, Rick Perry, who once compared homosexuality to alcoholism.
Neither traditional “Jewish values,” nor Perry, are naturally friendly to gays. Homosexuality is considered an abomination in Jewish law, and Texas tried to ban gay marriage. Still, gay people are not executed in Israel or Texas, and it is good to be reminded of such horrors where they exist.
But hypocrisy is not what is most disturbing about this particular campaign. It is the insinuation that people who criticize the Israeli government are therefore guilty of condoning violence against homosexuals in other parts of the Middle East.
A snippet from the ad: “To those who scapegoat Israel…yet remain silent about the oppression and violence Hamas, Iran and other countries inflict on the gay community: Shame on you. You are letting them murder us, literally.”
First of all, not all people who criticize, say, Israel’s treatment of Palestinians are indifferent to violence against gays or anyone else. Moreover, the two problems are hardly related. The Israeli government is not driving Arabs off their land on the West Bank to protect gay people in Palestine, let alone in Iran. And no one is criticizing Israel for its treatment of gays.
By stressing real human-rights abuses in Iran and Arab countries, this lobby group for Israel is suggesting that criticism (“scapegoating”) of Israel is not only wrong but immoral: “Your misguided actions ensure that LGBT people in the Middle East continue to live in hiding under constant threat of death.”
If the lobbyists had simply wished to point out that Western critics often consider Israel more harshly than its Middle Eastern enemies, they would be right. But their ad wrongly implies that those double standards lead to the oppression of Arab and Iranian gays. Calling on people to pay more attention to such oppression is no reason to pay less attention to problems in Israel/Palestine. Abuses in one place, no matter how grotesque, should not be used to stifle criticism in another.
The ad shows the extent to which the language of human rights has become politicized. As was true of religious zealotry in the past, the ideology of human rights is being invoked to defend or obscure the oppression of others.
Right-wing populist parties in Europe regularly whip up popular sentiment against Muslim minorities by condemning their treatment of women. There is no doubt that many Muslim men treat women in ways that most modern people in the West would no longer condone. (The same is true of men in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities.) But this is no reason to exclude them as fellow citizens.
More serious in terms of its consequences is the way in which human rights have been used to promote wars. The idea, now accepted by the United Nations, of “humanitarian intervention” to save people from extreme human-rights abuses, sounds moral and high-minded. And there may indeed be cases where armed intervention is the only way to stop mass murder.
But most “humanitarian” wars make things worse for the people they are supposed to be saving. They tear societies apart, destroy the livelihoods of millions, and cause even greater conflicts, as we have seen in Iraq. This is why, until recently, wars could be justified only if they were fought in self-defense, or in defense of allied nations.
The temptation to embark on wars that cause more harm than good is not the only danger of using the language of human rights to justify military intervention in political conflicts (which usually involve many other interests that have nothing to do with human rights). Those who invoke human rights to promote wars or, as with This World, to make political propaganda, degrade the very ideals for which they claim to be fighting.
Ian Buruma is Professor of Democracy, Human Rights, and Journalism at Bard College, and the author of Year Zero: A History of 1945.