Gay Liberation Network ( GLN ) hosted a "No LGBTQ Cover for Israeli Repression of Palestinians" forum Dec. 9 at Chicago Public Library's Uptown branch.
Ahead of the discussion, GLN Co-founder Andy Thayer ( who also served as the moderator ) explained the reasons behind this forum. He noted that GLN approaches their Palestinian support through an intersectional lens.
"[Intersectionality] is a buzz term that is turned around very much on the progressive left today unfortunately with respect to issues of war and specifically Palestinian issues are often totally ignored," said Thayer.
Thayer said the 2016 LGBTQ Task Force's Creating Change conference held in Chicago was an example where intersectionality regarding Palestinian issues was ignored. He said the attempts to elevate Palestinian issues in an intersectional way during this year's Chicago Dyke March and Slut Walk were criticized by some individuals and groups.
This forum, Thayer explained, was crafted to have a civil discussion about the issue, describe pinkwashing, outline why the LGBTQ community should practice intersectionality regarding Palestinian issues and talk about U.S. support of repressive regimes. He noted that for decades Israel has been the number one recipient of U.S. military aid.
Thayer said young activists, including Black Lives Matter, have supported Palestinians and their issues and he hopes that the LGBTQ community writ large will follow suit. He also denounced the Trump Administration's decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Thayer said Israel has stolen land from the Palestinians for years and because of this the Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated places in the world.
Panelists included longtime Chicago LGBTQ activist and Chicago Dyke March Collective member Alexis Martinez, Jewish Voice for Peace Chicago chapter leader Stephanie Skora and Samer, co-host of Olive Oil and Time podcast ( Palestinian-focused ) and community organizer.
Samer spoke about the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions ( BDS ) Movement against Israel. He said BDS is a global campaign to put political and economic pressure on Israel for its violations of international law regarding its treatment of the Palestinians. Samer explained that the BDS movement wants people to boycott Israeli-made products, have private entities pull their financial support and pressure governments to apply sanctions on Israel.
More generally, Samer said for the past 70 years Palestinians have not been granted the same political equality from the rest of the world as Israel. He explained that the issue of Palestine and Israel transcends human-rights campaigns because those campaigns do not combat capitalism or colonization. Samer said an example of a constructive political project would be a one-state solution with Palestinians having the same political, social and economic human rights as Israelis. He said Israelis have to dismantle the Zionist political structures, institutions and rhetoric within the state of Israel. Samer said reparations for Palestinians have to be a part of this human-rights discussion.
Skora explained that based on her calculations the U.S. sends eight times more financial aid to Israel than it does to the Palestinians. She said one of the issues facing LGBTQ Jews today is pinkwashing.
"Within the context of the Palestinian struggle, pinkwashing means the intentional use of Israel's supposed positive record on LGBTQ rights to cover up the crimes they commit daily on Palestinians," said Skora.
Skora said pinkwashing came out of the Brand Israel campaign during the early 2000s when tourism was down due to people's fears about Israel. She said the campaign was designed to change the image of Israel from a negative to positive viewpoint. Skora said one of the ways they did this was to target white gay men in the U.S. and European countries with ads that said they were friendly toward gay people in order to extract tourism dollars from them. She said the campaign was built on a stereotype of what LGBTQ life is like and they have been successful despite what, according to her, is the historical homophobia and transphobia of the Israeli state.
Martinez noted that she is a Mexican and White Mountain Apache. She explained that the situation in Israel can be compared to the continued negative treatment of Native Americans by the U.S. government going back to the colonial days. Martinez said she refuses to accept any anti-Semitism and believes God has a special relationship with the Jewish people. She explained that she cannot ignore what she calls the abuses by the Israeli government toward the Palestinians including reducing their borders over the years.
Among the many queries during the Q&A session was why there was no one on the panel to defend Israel.
Thayer explained that the event was organized around a pro-Palestinian message and used the example of having a panel about LGBTQ equality and also inviting an anti-LGBTQ person to speak. He explained that in the mainstream media one does not hear Palestinian voices so this event was for them to be able to get their message across.