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In Defense of Israeli Drag Fans

Ambassador Shapiro attended the Gay Pride Parade on Friday, June 8, 2012.  In Gan Meir park, he met with several groups working for LGBT rights and answered questions from media about LGBT Human Rights.   Prior to the kick-off of the parade, the Ambassador took to the main stage.  Speaking to a crowd of thousands of marchers he emphasized the recent work of the U.S. government to raise awareness of LGBT rights around the world and acknowledged the achievements of the Israeli LGBT community to gain equal rights.  After the speech, he met Embassy personnel marching in the parade with diplomats from other missions in Tel Aviv and joined them along the parade route.
Tel Aviv Pride [Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/usembassyta/7179990585]

Surprising to no one that knows me, I am a huge fan of the art of drag, specifically the RuPaul’s Drag Race franchise. The show, which began in 2009, is basically America’s Next Top Model but for drag queens. Since its premiere over a decade ago, it has amassed a huge global fanbase and has launched spin-offs in various countries including Thailand, the UK, Canada, France, Italy, and Spain.

Online rumor has it that a potential version of Drag Race is being filmed in Israel. While this is unconfirmed, it has already led multiple Drag Race fans to sound off against it on social media. A great deal of this online backlash to a show that’s not even confirmed yet came from Biblegirl, an American drag queen and founder of the online retailer Drag Queen Merch. While Biblegirl is reportedly Jewish, you won’t see her standing up against antisemitism in America anytime soon. Instead, she uses her platform of over 19,000 Twitter followers to threaten World of Wonder, the production company behind the Drag Race franchise, in case they even consider allowing Israeli queens to showcase their talent to the world.

Other fans have threatened to boycott Drag Race and cancel their subscriptions to WOW Presents Plus, the streaming app which hosts the various Drag Race spin-offs. They accused World of Wonder of participating in “pinkwashing,” the idea that Israel is only LGBTQ-friendly (and by extension, that LGBTQ+ Israelis only exist) to cover up for the abuses Israel has committed against the Palestinian population. I’ve written about this ridiculous accusation before, as well as the problem many in the LGBTQ+ community seem to have with Jews generally.

Unfortunately, this is not the only time I have been disappointed with Drag Race fans and even some of the queens themselves due to their reactionary and ill-informed statements regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I was even blocked on Twitter by season 12 queen Kandy Muse for criticizing her tweets about the conflict, where she accused the only Jewish nation on earth of genocide. The irony? She performed in Tel Aviv just a few weeks prior to these statements. Needless to say, many Israeli fans felt slighted by her sudden change of heart once the check cleared.

Then there’s Tayce and A’Whora, two queens from the second season of Drag Race UK, who recently canceled their performances in Israel due to the conflict. And fellow “fans” of the show dragged me on Reddit for opposing these statements as well.

The idea that Israel and Israelis, uniquely, must be punished in boycotts that target individuals reeks of the xenophobia those on the Left are always rallying against. Why is it okay to deny queer Israelis – who are probably against the actions of their government, as many on the Israeli Left are – a chance to showcase their art just because of the country they happen to be born in? Some may argue it’s because Israel has a conscription military, making all Israelis fair targets for a boycott. If that’s the case, then why are there no boycotts of say, South Korea, where there is also a conscription military? Why is it specifically for the Jews? Why is it okay to punish Israeli drag queens and fans because of a war that started decades before they were even born?

The fact this visceral form of hatred is coming from the LGBTQ+ community and the Drag Race fanbase, both of which I am proud members of, is hurtful, to say the least. The idea that queer Jews, queer Israelis, and Jewish Drag Race fans aren’t welcome into the community of the good lest they denounce the existence of the only Jewish safe haven should sound alarms. But unfortunately, the world never hears them… or they just plain don’t care.

Ultimately, I hope World of Wonder does go through with an Israeli version of Drag Race. Let the Israeli queens shine bright despite the fact haters want to keep them down. Celebrate the only country in the Middle East with LGBTQ+ rights. Introduce the world to the beautiful diversity which exists in Israel. And remind people that cultural boycotts, which only work to harm individuals and not government entities, have no place in progressive spaces.

About the Author
Rafaella Gunz is a writer and social work student living in NYC. She is passionate about Jewish cultural identity, LGBTQ+ rights, and feminism. Her work has appeared in Bust Magazine, Hey Alma, Jewish Journal, Gay Star News, Deadstate, and more.
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