Queering Palestinian Solidarity Work
Israel/Palestine and the Queer International
Duke University Press, 2012
“But Israel is the only country in the Middle East with gay rights.” I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard this response to any criticism of Israeli policies over the last few years. Several years ago at a public discussion about a proposal to boycott Israeli products at the local co-op, an elderly and—from all appearances—straight gentleman awkwardly mumbled something about how “homosexuals” were being treated in the “rest of the Middle East.” At the time I recognized how disingenuous this concern seemed, but I didn’t recognize where it was coming from. Sarah Schulman’s new book provides an extended exploration about the origins of this reasoning, how to respond to it, and why queers should become involved in Palestinian solidarity by taking us through Schulman’s own journey to politicization around Israel and Palestine.
Uneasy about being invited to give the keynote address at the 2010 Israeli Lesbian and Gay Studies Conference at Tel Aviv University, Schulman strives to find out more about the academic and cultural boycott of Israel called for by Palestinian civil society. Her research into the boycott deepens her understanding of the Occupation and propels her to turn down the invitation to speak at an Israeli government-funded university.
Instead she goes on an alternative solidarity trip to Israel and Palestine where she meets with queer and straight Israeli and Palestinian activists and learns about the brutalities of the Occupation in person. Bringing with her a long history of queer activism and a desire to bring together queer issues and the movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS), Schulman experiences Israel’s discriminatory policies, which include separate laws, roads, and water sources for Jews and Palestinians. Her deepening understanding of the Occupation and her meetings with queer activists motivate her to imagine a “variety of disenfranchised communities” around the world coming together to advocate against the Occupation and join the BDS movement.
Schulman returns from her trip excited and determined to organize a U.S. tour of queer Palestinian activists, including Ghadir of Aswat (a group for Palestinian gay women) as well as Haneen Maikey and Sami Shamali of alQaws (a group focused on sexual and gender diversity in Palestinian society). Creating a structure for understanding this tour, Schulman proposes the idea of a queer international “movement that brings queer liberation and feminism to the principles of international autonomy from occupation, colonization, and globalized capital.” The queer international movement combats Israeli “pinkwashing”—a term used to describe attempts to divert attention from the Occupation of Palestine by focusing on LGBT rights in Israel—by exposing pinkwashing for what it really is: Israeli government-sponsored propaganda.
Somerson, Wendy Elisheva. Queering Palestinian Solidarity Work. Tikkun 28(3): 58.