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LGBTQ Pride 2024: Confronting my community for complicity in antisemitism

Since June 1999, I have spoken at 42 LGBTQ Pride Shabbat services in the United States and Israel. This year, for the first time, I’ve hesitated to accept invitations.  My pride in the leadership of my LGBTQ community is at the lowest point of my life. Antisemitism is spreading like a Stage 4 cancer throughout the LGBTQ community, and many LGBTQ leaders are causing it or condoning it through their silence. This is not a year for celebration. This is a year for condemnation.

To have to tell you that destroys me emotionally. I’ve spent a good portion of my own career as a leader in the LGBTQ community. In New Jersey, I founded and led Garden State Equality, and helped build it into a powerhouse that passed more than 200 laws for LGBTQ equality, including marriage equality, transgender equality and the country’s strongest state law against school bullying. Several of our laws in New Jersey became templates for similar laws nationwide.

In 2007, I was in a film about my activism that wound up winning the Oscar for Best Short Documentary. And the movie was made at a time when the world was brutal.   When my colleagues and I went door to door seeking equality, we were spit on, kicked at and cursed, yet we still stood tall and proud. My gay pride was forged during tough times, and that kind of pride never leaves you.

At the same time, my Judaism, intertwined inseparably with Zionism, has always been my number-one identity. And it always will be. I have been a gay man for 62 years but a Jew for 4,000 years, since Abraham. And I have been a Zionist for 2,500 of those years – longing to come home to Israel – ever since 587 BCE, when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and our Temple, and exiled an indigenous people.

Today in the LGBTQ community, I see a denial of Jewish history that veers deeply into Antisemitism. Today in the LGBTQ community, I see proof of the overlap between anti-Zionism and the pathological hatred of Jews no matter where in the world we live.

At some LGBTQ pride marches, organizers have tried to ban not only the flags of Israel, but also rainbow pride flags that have the Star of David on them. You heard me correctly. I’m talking about official community marches organized by powerful grassroots activists in the movement.

Why? They say that Jewish stars, whether on the flag of Israel or standing alone, represent oppression.

What a cruel inversion of history. And it inflicts such pain given how we Jews have been at the forefront of LGBTQ equality.

The world’s first organization for LGBTQ equality was founded in Germany by Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld in 1897 – the same year as the first Zionist Congress at which he was a major force. In the United States, Harvey Milk never shirked from his Jewish pride. At the University of Albany, he went to Shabbat dinners at Hillel and was an activist in the Zionist organization.

The founding father of the movement that brought marriage equality to America, Evan Wolfson, is proudly Jewish. So was Edie Windsor of blessed memory, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that helped pave the way for marriage equality across America. And at one time simultaneously, the statewide LGBTQ organizations in California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Massachusetts all had Jewish leaders.

What kind of thanks do we get? Antisemitism. My God, it hurts.

Across social media and in progressive political circles, LGBTQ activists, with some calling themselves “Queers for Palestine,” viciously attack Jews who stand up for Israel as the new Nazis. The Holocaust inversion doesn’t stop, and since last October 7, it’s been all over the comments on my Twitter page.

According to “Queers for Palestine,” we who support Israel are champions of colonialism, racism, apartheid and genocide.

What hurts more than the accusations by fringe extremists are the mainstream LGBTQ leaders who know better yet say nothing.

If they won’t speak out, I must. Let’s talk about colonialism, racism, apartheid and genocide.

The State of Israel is not the result of a colonialist movement invented by white Europeans at the end of the 19th Century. Theodor Herzl didn’t create a sudden Jewish dream. He re-instilled in Jews the belief we have the right to our ancient one.

Colonialism, you say? Well, let me ask you: Is Arabic really a language indigenous to vast parts of Africa? It wasn’t us Jews who were the conquering foreign power.

Racism, you insist? “Queers for Palestine” and their allies in progressive communities fall far short in fighting racism. When I talk about progressive communities, let me say, parenthetically, I’m a liberal, but now avoid the term “progressive” given its hijacking by anti-Israel hatemongers.

My liberalism has inspired me to fight for racial justice my entire career. I didn’t see “Queers for Palestine” organizing against the genocides in Darfur or unspeakable oppression by China of its Muslim Uyghur community.

Why not? Because “Queers for Palestine” is animated by animosity toward Jews. And yes, I include the Jewish members of “Queers for Palestine” who disregard the subjugation and mass murders of the Jewish people for thousands of years before we returned home.

Sometimes it really is this simple: “Queers for Palestine” and their allies don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. They call Israel a colonial state in which white Europeans have displaced Black and brown people. But today, 68 percent of Israelis are Sephardim, Mizrahim and Ethiopian Jews. Only 32 percent are Ashkenazi.

As for apartheid? Muslims and Christians have served alongside Jews throughout Israeli society and government, including in the Knesset and on the current Supreme Court. Which of Israel’s neighboring countries allow Jews to do the same?  Absolutely none. And LGBTQ activists against Israel don’t care.

What about genocide? Genocide requires intent, and Hamas, not Israel, has publicly declared its intent to wipe out millions from the face of the Middle East and beyond. On October 7, Hamas, not Israel, began to implement its intent.

Some have asked, “Isn’t the promise of ‘Never Again’ supposed to apply to everyone?” If that’s the case, where were you, “Queers for Palestine,” in declaring “Never Again” on October 8, when another genocide of Jews had begun and Israel had not yet entered Gaza in self-defense? You were nowhere, proving your interpretation of “Never Again” is Never Again to any people but the Jews.

The fact is, “Queers for Palestine” and their allies don’t give a damn about LGBTQ people under Palestinian rule.

The Palestinian lesbian advocacy group Aswat moved its headquarters from Ramallah to Haifa because the group could not operate safely in the Palestinian Authority. For the same reason, the Palestinian LGBTQ group Al-Qaws put its headquarters in West Jerusalem.

News organizations have reported countless cases where LGBTQ Palestinians have been beaten mercilessly by Palestinian authorities, sometimes with the approval of their families and sometimes not. In one case, a young gay Palestinian who had run away to Israel after his parents beat him decided to visit them in the West Bank.  There he found Palestinian police giving him an ultimatum: Spy on other LGBTQ Palestinians or be tortured. And indeed he was.

In another case, Palestinian police dragged a young man from his home because he was gay. Then he was submerged in sewer water by a rope up to five hours at a time every day for three weeks. An investigation by a human rights think-tank at Tel Aviv University, which hardly takes a party line, revealed this the common pattern of torture for countless of other LGBTQ Palestinians.

Where have you been, “Queers for Palestine”? Where have you been, you mainstream LGBTQ leaders across America?

Are you people in whom I am supposed to feel pride?

Here’s my real source of LGBTQ Pride: The State of Israel.

Israel abolished its law against sodomy in 1988, 15 years before the US Supreme Court did. Israel banned employment discrimination against LGBTQ people in 1992, 28 years before the US Supreme Court did. In 1993, Israel formally allowed openly LGBTQ soldiers to serve, but the IDF had rarely enforced the ban before then. The United States didn’t allow openly LGBTQ people to serve until 2010.

Israel granted spousal benefits to same-sex partners in 1993 and recognized same-sex marriages performed abroad in 2006, years before US Supreme Court mandated marriage equality. And in 2022, Israel banned the devastating practice of so-called “conversion therapy” that seeks to change the sexual orientation of LGBTQ minors.  Today only 22 of the 50 US states, plus the District of Columbia, have banned it.

Imagine if “Queers for Palestine” ever succeeded. Imagine what would happen to LGBTQ people in Israel if LGBTQ people had to live in the Palestine of many LGBTQ activists’ dreams. LGBTQ people would be tortured and murdered en masse.

Again, mainstream LGBTQ leaders across America say nothing.

This year, they don’t deserve my pride or yours.

Whether through antisemitism by action or in silent complicity, America’s LGBTQ leaders are in my view, with a few notable exceptions, at the lowest point of their integrity.

None of us is free until all of us are free. And until the LGBTQ movement is free of its Antisemitic hatred and until all our hostages from October 7 are free, I can only celebrate my pride through my pride in being Jewish, my pride in Israel as beacon for LGBTQ equality, and my pride in those of you willing to hear the truth.

For all those things, my pride is as strong as ever.

About the Author
Steven Goldstein is a civil rights lawyer and pro-Israel organizer who worked as a senior staffer in the US House and Senate. A former television news producer with 10 Emmy Awards, he is the author of the HarperCollins book "The Turn-On: How the Powerful Make Us Like Them."
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