Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Strange … um … Bedfellows? (Pun Intended)

This past weekend was the largest gay pride event in Indiana. It included a parade, artistic performances, street vendors, and all sorts of other activities. I regret that, due to family commitments, I wasn’t able to attend to show my support for gay rights in Indianapolis and across the state (and country).

If you were brave enough to wade into the comments section of the newspaper or read what some local conservative and “family values” groups had to say about the pride festival, you would think that armed gangs of drag queens were marching throughout Indianapolis stealing children to indoctrinate them into the “gay lifestyle”. And you would probably have “learned” that all of these “deviants” were going to burn in Hell. Finally, I’m sure that you would have also been led to believe that tolerance for homosexuality is one of the reasons for a perceived decline in America’s status and influence (not to mention hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and who knows what other ills).

Now, obviously, I think that’s all a load of horseshit. But here’s what I find interesting: I suspect that if you were to ask those most vocally against gay rights generally or the pride festival in particular to identify the one other country on the planet that they most respect besides America, many of them would say Israel. Now some, if they were being really honest, would acknowledge that their fondness for Israel has little to do with Israel’s democratic values; rather, they would point to the “Second Coming”, the battle of Armageddon, the Rapture, and the part that Israel and the Jews will supposedly play in those events. But far more, I suspect, would point to Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East and other similar positive elements as the reason that they respect (and support Israel). And that’s fine.

But here’s what’s weird. The same week that saw a gay pride festival here in Indianapolis also witnessed a truly massive gay pride parade in Tel Aviv. In fact, Tel Aviv is known, in part, for trying to make itself one of, if not the, most “gay friendly” cities anywhere. Gays serve openly in Israel’s military. Gays are allowed to enter into the equivalent of civil unions (marriage itself is a religious matter). Gay Palestinians flee the West Bank and Gaza to seek refuge in Israel.

I wonder what those homophobic American supporters of Israel would have to say about that?

But that’s not the end of the weirdness. For I also suspect that if you were to ask many of the participants in the pride events what they thought about Israel, you’d encounter very negative reactions (at least among the most left-leaning). They would point to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, civilian casualties in Gaza, and the “wall” (never the “separation barrier”), and you’d hear terms like “occupation”, “colonial”, “apartheid”, and maybe even “Nazi”. And I suspect that many of those who espoused anti-Israeli views would either be wholly ignorant of how gays are treated in the Arab and Muslim world (remember Iranian President Ahmedinajad famously claiming that there are no gays in Iran) where homosexuality is often punishable by death or they would ascribe the disparate treatment to “cultural differences” or “religious traditions” for which we should have a degree of understanding and respect. I wonder what would happen if a few hundred gays decided to parade in downtown Cairo, Damascus, or Ramallah? And what would happen to a soldier in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard or the Saudi Arabian army who told his comrades and commanders that he was gay? Before answering, don’t forget that in places like Saudi Arabia, women can’t drive cars and some crimes are punished via public executions or amputations.

So, we have the far right homophobes who love Israel despite the respect that Israel affords its gay citizens (and, for that matter, the respect it affords to its 20% Muslim population while here in America the far right worries about the influence of sharia or applauds as politicians suggest unconstitutional loyalty oaths for Muslims). And the far left anti-Israel crowd demonizes Israel despite the fidelity to gay rights (and civil rights generally) in a democratic system in which all minority groups are able to participate (did you know that there are Arabs on Israel’s Supreme Court?) and speak freely all while being threatened with violence or extermination and with its very right to exist being challenged.

It seems that those on the right need to come to terms with … and start being honest about … why they support Israel so strongly.* And it seems that those on the far left need to comes to terms … and start being honest with themselves … with the fact that Israel, not the Palestinians or the rest of the Arab or Muslim world, represents the highest and best values that those on the left favor, even in the midst of violence, terror, and the constant threat of aggression.

Somehow religion and propaganda have found strange bedfellows when it comes to expressions of civil rights. It’s as if black is white, night is day, and gay is straight.


*Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad for any help and support Israel can get. However, I try to keep in mind that a love for Israel is not the same thing as a love for Jews. Moreover, I worry about support for Israel that is premised upon prophetic versions of the future and which may, because of the perceived need for a “Greater Israel” actually work at cross-purposes to a peace that Israelis may choose.

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