No LGBTI conference in Israel – Gay rights don’t trump other rights

It is likely to stir homophobia in the Arab world
Some Palestinian & Arab delegates may be unable to attend
LGBTI support for Palestine could help undermine homophobia

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell writes:

The decision of the International LGBTQ Youth and Student Organisation (IGLYO) to hold its General Assembly (GA) in Tel Aviv Israel this December is divisive, exclusionist, mistaken and regrettable.

It will probably mean that some Palestinian, Arab and Muslim delegates will not be able to attend, either because of travel restrictions between their countries and Israel or because they could be at risk of reprisals from their government or extremist groups if it became known that they had visited Israel.

This is how the Board of IGLYO explained its decision to hold its GA in Tel Aviv:

I support the call by Palestinian LGBTI groups and others for IGLYO to reconsider its decision and to open up a genuine dialogue and debate with the wider LGBTI movement, especially with Palestinian LGBTI groups. The recent consultation was not adequate.

IGLYO does fine, commendable work. I salute its members.

Equally, I applaud the equality achievements of Israeli LGBTI groups, and the support they offer to LGBTI Palestinians. Their efforts are remarkable and have done much to improve the lives of LGBTI people. Disagreement on the IGLYO conference issue does detract from the good work they have done.

Nevertheless, I endorse the appeal for IGLYO and the Israeli GA host organisation, Israeli Gay Youth (IGY), to take a stand against the Israeli occupation and in support of the legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people, in the same way that the international LGBTI movement took a stand against South African apartheid. There can be no fence-sitting when it comes to human rights.

Since human rights are universal, we cannot divorce LGBTI rights from the national rights of the Palestinian people. These are two aspects of the same struggle for universal human rights.

It is true that on LGBTI rights Israel is, by far, the most progressive nation in the region. However, human rights should not be viewed from a gayist perspective. LGBTI rights do not trump all other human rights.

LGBTI support for the long-suffering Palestinian people is the right thing to do. It is also the best chance we have of eventually securing the human rights of LGBTI people living in Palestine. If we support Palestinian national rights, the Palestinians are more likely to support the human rights of LGBTIs. Expecting others to show solidarity with our struggle, places a moral duty on us to show solidarity with their struggle.

For four decades, I have been involved, as an openly gay man, in the Palestinian solidarity movement. So have other LGBTIs. We have, over time, helped win some straight Palestinians to support LGBTI human rights. Our example of solidarity led them to question and eventually reject their homophobia.

Now is the time for the whole international LGBTI movement to lead by example.

If the IGLYO conference goes ahead in Israel, LGBTI people will, rightly or wrongly, be seen as endorsing Israel. This could increase and inflame the already existing homophobia in the Arab world, potentially putting the freedom and lives of LGBTI people at risk and profoundly damaging the emerging LGBTI movements in the Middle East and North Africa. Is this what we want?

Just as the international LGBTI movement previously boycotted apartheid South Africa and collaborationist South African LGBTI organisations, so we should avoid appearing to sanction Israel’s illegal occupation of seized Palestine territories and not cooperate with Israeli organisations that refuse to take a stand against an occupation that is illegal under international law.

Israel’s annexation and occupation of Palestinian land in 1967 has been repeatedly condemned by the United Nations and by human rights groups and humanitarians worldwide, including our great allies against homophobia, Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

I believe the international LGBTI movement should be committed to peace with justice, where Israelis and Palestinians live together in security, equality and harmony. This means national and human rights for all the Palestinian people, LGBTI and straight.

Peace with justice also means an end to indiscriminate rocket and suicide attacks on innocent Israeli civilians by Islamist organisations, and an end to Israel’s indiscriminate blockade of Gaza, which amounts to the illegal collective punishment of innocent Gaza citizens.

It sounds hard to believe right now, but peace with justice could happen with sincere political will on both sides. Only a few years ago in Northern Ireland, most people deemed it impossible that that the DUP and Sinn Fein could share power and end discrimination and violence. But it has happened. The security barriers are gone and the sectarian killing has stopped. The communities are working together for the common good. Northern Ireland is a model for a potential just peace between Israel and Palestine.

Israel is, of course, just one of many states that have annexed and occupied other nations: Pakistan is occupying Balochistan, Indonesia is occupying West Papua, Morocco is occupying the Western Sahara, Iran and Turkey are occupying Kurdistan and so on.

While I oppose Israel’s occupation, I find it strange that some people condemn Israel while remaining silent about these other equally (or more) oppressive occupations. Many of Israel’s critics are also silent about the neighbouring Arab dictatorships. And where are the protests and calls for boycotts against the tyrannies in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Uzbekistan, Bahrain, Syria and elsewhere? Why the double standards?

Why is there no mass campaign against the racist regime in Iran? Tehran is forcibly relocating its Arab population and building settler towns in the Arab south-west of Al-Ahwaz with the aim of outnumbering Iranian Arabs in their own homeland. Read here:

Iran’s abuse of its Arab population is at least as bad as Israeli’s mistreatment of the Palestinian Arab peoples. Again, why the double standards?

Israel does oppress the Palestinian people. But it is not the only oppressor nation. It is wrong for Israel to be singled out for special, unique demonisation and protests. All oppressor nations should be challenged.

Here, in detail, are three important issues to consider:

Travel exclusion of Palestinian, Arab and Muslim delegates

Holding the General Assembly of IGLYO in Israel is likely to prevent the participation of some Palestinian, Arab and Muslim delegates. LGBTI delegates from countries that Israel regards as “enemy” states (such as Iran, Lebanon and Syria) will have great difficulty getting into the country. Moreover, some Arab states do not allow travel to Israel and LGBTI delegates from these countries who covertly travel to Israel for the IGLYO conference will, if they are discovered, be at risk of harassment and reprisals on return to their home countries. It is unfair to hold an IGLYO conference in a country that some delegates may be unable to access or may face retribution for visiting. This is de facto discrimination against Palestinian, Arab and Muslim delegates.

Human rights are universal

For those of us who take the view and that human rights are universal and indivisible, LGBTI rights cannot be separated from national and ethnic rights. Both are important and valid. If we say that the Palestinian national struggle has nothing to do with LGBTI rights, we have no right to complain when Palestinians tell us that LGBTI rights have nothing to do with their human and civil rights agenda. It is only through the reciprocal recognition of rights that universal human rights can triumph.

South Africa analogy

During the apartheid era in South Africa, those of us involved in both the LGBTI rights struggle and the anti-apartheid movement took a decision to oppose the holding of international LGBTI conferences in South Africa. We also took a decision to not work with the Gay Association of South Africa (GASA) because it refused to take a clear stand against apartheid and failed to support one its own members, the prominent gay and anti-apartheid activist, Simon Nkoli, when he was framed on treason charges and faced a possible death sentence. Our decision was also the view of many members of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA). Instead, we worked with South Africa’s anti-apartheid LGBTI groups, such as the Organisation of Lesbian and Gay Activists (OLGA), the Congress of Pink Democrats (CPD) and the Gay and Lesbian Organisation of Witwatersrand (GLOW). This international LGBTI alliance with the anti-apartheid movement was a significant factor in later encouraging the ANC to support LGBTI equality in its post-apartheid constitution and laws. Surely, these same principles should apply in the case of Israel and IGLYO? There is, I believe, a compelling argument for saying that the international LGBTI movement should not hold conferences in Israel and not work with Israeli LGBTI organisations that do not oppose Israel’s occupation and do not support an independent Palestine. If we support the Palestinian right to national self-determination perhaps, like the ANC, the Palestinian people and leadership will, eventually, support LGBTI rights.

Background – Peter Tatchell adds:

I was a founding member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign UK in 1982, and a keynote speaker at the launch conference, alongside Ken Livingstone.

Before that I worked with other independent activists doing Palestinian solidarity campaigns for 10 years.

In 1973, I proposed the first Boycott Israel campaign, in a bid to pressure Israel to withdraw from its illegal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. This boycott campaign was targeted at Israeli financial interests and state institutions. It was agreed that there should be no boycott of independent civil society organisations – such as human rights groups, trade unions, women’s organisations, peace movements and so on – that supported the national and human rights of the Palestinian people. In others words, it was not a blanket boycott campaign. With this same qualification, I support the current boycott of Israel and the call for disinvestment and sanctions. However, I reject those who demand boycott, disinvestment and sanction (BDS) against only Israel and not against other oppressive regimes. Appropriate, selective and targeted versions of the BDS campaign should apply to all states that violate human rights, not just Israel. Singling out Israel alone is wrong and hypocritical.

In protest at the occupation and in solidarity with the Palestinian people, I have three times refused expenses-paid trips to Israel, offered via the Israeli government and via Israeli LGBTI groups – including a trip to Tel Aviv Pride.

I currently support those Palestinians who seek to unilaterally declare an independent Palestinian state in the territory they now have and to use this state as the foundation for the attainment of a fully self-governing nation based on the pre-1967 borders. The international community should fund the new state, building hospitals, schools, houses, roads and agricultural and industrial projects. Creating a successful independent Palestinian state is the most effective way to secure justice for the Palestinians and to also undercut support for the anti-Semitic fundamentalists who want to destroy the Jewish people. It would wrong-foot and marginalise the jihadists.

A two-state solution has the downside of maintaining division and separation between Israelis and Palestinians. For this reason, ideally it might be preferable to have a confederation of self-governing Jewish, Arab and mixed communities, within a single democratic, secular state – neutral and without an army, with peace, equality and guaranteed human rights for people of all ethnicities, faiths and national heritages. This is probably the best ultimate solution – in the interests of both the Palestinian and Israeli peoples.

But it is not going to happen in the foreseeable future. The two sides are too entrenched.

A two-state solution is the only realistic option right now for the security of Israelis and for peace with justice for the Palestinians.

The precondition for progress for the Palestinians is their own viable independent state. This is the first step. No matter how imperfect, some form of Palestinian state is the urgent priority. This seems to be the view of the majority of Palestinians too. They support a two-state solution. I agree and support the Palestinian quest for nationhood.

I would urge IGLYO to stand in solidarity with all Palestinians – LGBTI and straight. And to show solidarity with the many Israelis who also want peace with justice for the Palestinians.