Today, we are witnessing an odd phenomenon: some LGBT activists are jumping on the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement bandwagon (BDS) though its goal is the demise of one of the world’s most progressive LGBT countries, the only gay-friendly country in the Middle East, and the world’s only Jewish nation—Israel. It’s one thing to advocate for Palestinian rights, but what would turn a Jewish, “hard core” radical lesbian into an anti-Zionist leader?
Meet Sarah Schulman, noted for her combativeness, lesbian and AIDS activism, 17 books, and for co-founding the “fire-eating” Lesbian Avengers, which other LGBT organizers criticized as “extremist.” In 2010, Sarah suddenly turned her wrath on Israel though she admits she had never paid any attention to the Jewish state before. The catalyst was an invitation to speak at a Tel Aviv University LGBT conference. When a friend objected to her violating the boycott of Israel, she responded, “Never heard of it.” She asked her political cohorts for information and was directed to BDS leaders, and went on a brief trip to Israel and the West Bank. That was her research on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict—information from only one side.
Within a year, she was calling for BDS, indicting Israel, and calling for the end of the Jewish state. She praised the “one state solution” and glibly claimed that New York City is “the best place in the world for Jews and I think they should all move here, and forget about Israel.” She attempted to bridge the non-sequitur of her new found cause and gay issues in a convoluted New York Times op-ed that accused Israel of “pinkwashing,” that is, highlighting its progressive gay policies to distract attention from its alleged violation of Palestinian rights. In 2012, she described her journey to anti-Israel activism in her book “Israel/Palestine and the Queer International,” and in 2013 she organized an Israel-bashing conference on “homonationalism.”
New information clearly did not cause Schulman’s transformation. Though she is a professor at City University of New York (despite never earning any post-graduate degrees) her book has no reliable facts and context is systematically distorted. Schulman simply regurgitates anti-Israel propaganda. She frequently admits, in almost giggly tones, how little she knows, and even confesses that she had never looked at a map of Israel until after she had committed to BDS.
For example, Schulman claims that in 2010, Israel still had settlements in Gaza when in fact, all Jewish settlements and even cemeteries had been uprooted in 2005. She argues that Israel’s administration of the territories after 1967 was a “detriment” to the Palestinian economy when in fact Israel helped modernize the area and turn it into the 4th fastest growing economy in the world in the 1970’s and 1980’s. She doesn’t understand Zionism, writing that Herzl was right that Jews would never be safe in Europe, but faulting him for “missing” the fact that “Muslims would never be safe there either.” The obvious difference is that before the reestablishment of Israel, no Jewish-majority state existed where Jews could seek refuge. In contrast, the Ottoman Empire then ruled over vast Muslim territories, and today there are 22 Arab Muslim states. Schulman writes that “People never claim that Israel’s action does not violate international law. That’s a given.” The only given is that Schulman did not research the many legal scholars who disagree.
Schulman erases context. She ignores the long history of wars and terrorism against Israel, claiming that its security fears are “manufactured.” The Palestinian terrorism campaign of suicide bombing known as the 2nd Intifada which murdered over 1,100 Israelis and wounded over 8,000, and the over 13,000 rockets that Palestinians have fired from Gaza into Israel’s southern communities are not mentioned. Consequently, she can write that Israel “decided” to build the security barrier for no reason and that the only purpose of the checkpoints is to humiliate Palestinians—not to protect Israelis.
The real “washing” is by Schulman who consistently whitewashes those most guilty of violating progressive and LGBT principles. She whitewashes Hamas, claiming she can’t judge the group because all she knows “was fed to me on American television” though she could have looked at Hamas’ founding document and leaders’ statements which call for the murder of Jews, obliteration of Israel and establishment of an Islamist caliphate, and liberally quote from the anti-Semitic forgery, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” She justifies participating in demonstrations with Hamas supporters because, she explains, she had also participated in gay parades with Republicans and Orthodox and Hasidic Jews, equating these groups with an internationally designated terrorist organization notorious for its suicide bombing and rocket attacks on innocent civilians. She attributed her concerns about Hamas to her “prejudice.”
Schulman told one interviewer that she wrote the book “mostly for Jews” so they would overcome their own prejudices and stop supporting the Jewish state. But to convince audiences that their concerns are “prejudice,” she consistently distorts reality and becomes an apologist for people, policies and views that are diametrically opposed to the values that have propelled her life’s work. She denies the reality of Arab homophobia, writing that “I caught myself internalizing ridiculous false stereotypes that depict whites as more pro-gay than Arabs,” ignoring the homophobic government policies and societies that have inflicted so much suffering on gay Arabs. She praises two Palestinian lesbian groups, sliding over the fact that they have had to make their base in Israel, not the West Bank where they could not function. Exquisitely sensitive to anti-Semitism, she writes that her belief that Europeans and Christians were fundamentally anti-Semitic was constantly reaffirmed, but she turns a blind eye to the pervasive anti-Semitism in the Arab world. When questioned about the incompatibility of her feminist values and Palestinian subjugation of women and honor killings, this ardent feminist simply dodged the issue, answering, “right now, that’s not my job.” She should have answered, don’t bother me with facts that conflict with my propaganda campaign.
Nor is Schulman above peddling her own prejudices against Jews and Israelis. The Israeli cousins she met as a child were “arrogant” and “did not identify with other people;” when she visited Israel, a religious Jew tried to help her “in that awful way I remember from my childhood.”
Despite her progressive values, Schulman does not encourage open debate. She rejected several papers submitted for her “homonationalism” conference that challenged her views of Israel , such as one that argued Israel was promoting itself as gay friendly to increase tourism, not to hide its treatment of Palestinians.
What made Sarah turn on Israel? Perhaps, in part, it was a reaction to her own bitter family experiences. Her Jewish family kicked her out when they learned she is a lesbian. Perhaps, too, she realized that advances in gay rights do not mean the progressive agenda has been achieved. Or perhaps the very success of the LGBT movement drove her. As she admitted, LGBT people are increasingly accepted by mainstream society. Indeed, the whole concept of “homonationalism” is that gays who have been integrated now identify with the “racial and religious hegemony of their countries.” Sarah, who had devoted her life to LGBT, may have been in search of a new cause, one with the same energy and defiance, and one that would keep her relevant.
BDS and the anti-Israel movement are now the chic radical cause for some. Unfortunately, it is destructive, anti-Semitic, and the antithesis of progressive values. Many prominent LGBT leaders understand this. Perhaps one day Schulman will be among them.