Guest Blogger

Michael Lucas's Desecration Porn and Silencing Queers on Palestine

Filed By Guest Blogger | April 15, 2011 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement
Tags: Gaza, israel, israeli apartheid, lifta, Michael Lucas, palestine, queer, toronto, West Bank

Editors' note: Savannah Garmon is a physics researcher and queer and trans community activist presently based in Toronto. She studied both physics and creative writing in her birth state of North Carolina and later received her Ph.D. in physics at the University of Texas at Austin in 2007.

Savannah_Garmon-pic.jpgOn a humanitarian delegation tour of historic Palestine in the summer of 2005 I had the opportunity to visit the remains of Lifta - a Palestinian village on the outskirts of West Jerusalem whose inhabitants were driven out in 1947 by Israel's proto-military forces. Our delegation was guided by Yacoub Odeh who was born in Lifta and whose family was forced to flee when he was still a young child. Like some 750,000 other Palestinians, Yacoub's family was not allowed to return to their homes once hostilities ended, despite UN Resolution 194 that demands precisely that.

It was touching to observe Yacoub walking among the ruins of his childhood home; he showed us the house where his family had lived, the mosque where they prayed, the bakery where bread was made, places where he used to play with his friends. At one point he showed us a house in which there remained beautiful ceramic tiles along the floor, still mostly intact, although many had been taken by scavengers.

Yacoub told us that through the years he had resisted the temptation to take one for himself; still holding on to hope that some day he would be permitted to return to his village he had not allowed himself a keepsake. I remember it as a somber moment when, after he related this story, he bent down, reached out with aged hands and took one of the tiles, carefully wrapping it in a cloth he had obviously brought for the purpose. In this act, Yacoub acknowledged that he might never return to rebuild and live in the village of his childhood. These fears are only furthered by the Jerusalem Municipality Planning Committee's decision to destroy what remains of Lifta in favor of a Jewish-only luxury neighborhood.

Unfortunately recent events demonstrate that the disrespect for those like Yacoub who were driven from Lifta does not end with a denial of justice under International Law.

Yacoub_Odeh-Garmon.jpg

In late February, New York City's community-oriented LGBT Center canceled the "Party to End Apartheid," a fundraiser planned for March 5th by the Siegebusters Working Group in conjunction with Israeli Apartheid Week. This cancellation followed a brief threat of boycott from a rightwing extremist and gay pornographer Michael Lucas - a man with a substantial history of inflammatory statements against Muslims including the following statement from his website: "I have a problem with people separating terrorists from the world that breeds them, from the world that they were derived from, which is the world of Islam," essentially claiming that any Muslim should be considered a potential terrorist. The decision to cave in to Lucas's threat resulted in a backlash from the NYC local queer and social justice activist communities; this included a protest by over 130 people at the LGBT Center on the night originally planned for the party.

It was during this backlash that Max Blumenthal called attention to the fact that Michael Lucas has previously shot pornography in Israel in a depopulated Palestinian village. Indeed, watching this video excerpt of a conversation between Lucas and one of his actors I couldn't help but feel sick on my stomach when I recognized the village to be Lifta - the village that Yacoub was driven out of is somehow the perfect scene for an on-camera sex romp for Lucas and his buddies. The damage is only furthered by Lucas's promotional statements for the film:

...we went to an abandoned village just north of Jerusalem. It was a beautiful ancient township that had been deserted centuries ago [sic.]...however, that did not stop our guys from mounting each other and trying to repopulate it. Biology may not be the lesson of the day but these men shot their seeds all over the village. [emphasis added]

It is a strange thing to attempt to "repopulate" a village whose original inhabitants are simply prevented from returning under the threat of state force. Hence here we have perhaps the first example of what some have termed "desecration porn."

Lifta_village-Garmon.jpg

At this point it's difficult not to ask the obvious question - as others have - what if somebody made a sex tape on the location where an anti-Semitic pogrom had been carried out? Further, what if the videoed sex act happened to be queer in orientation? How fast would LGBT organizations act to condemn such a thing? I don't think anyone would accept it for a moment, nor should they.

Yet here we are. A man who has filmed LGBT-themed porn on the site of an act of ethnic cleansing is not only given a voice in discussions of what social justice in LGBT spaces should look like, he is given absolute authority in this case to decide who is and who is not allowed to even participate in that conversation.

It is worth noting that the decision by the LGBT Center to ban Siegebusters is reminiscent of last year's attempt to push Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) out of the Toronto Pride parade by banning the phrase "Israeli Apartheid" - a decision that was ultimately overturned. This attempt to ban followed a similar formula to that applied in NYC: a gay lawyer Martin Gladstone teamed up with heteronormative Israel lobby groups (including some with connections to queerbashers) who pressured the Pride board to kick QuAIA out. Fittingly, this failed attempt at censorship was given voice in the actual 2010 parade by a pro-Israel contingent that many in the local community noted to be hyper-nationalistic but didn't seem to be particularly queer.

Recently, after a long bureaucratic process, the claim by the Israel lobby that the phrase "Israeli Apartheid" constitutes hate speech claim was directly refuted by Toronto's city manager.

The events in New York City and Toronto mimic the larger issue of Israel's attempt to pinkwash its human rights abuses against the Palestinians by changing the subject to the achievements that Israeli LGBT activists have achieved for themselves in recent years. These achievements are laudable but they do nothing to excuse or change the fact that a line can be drawn from Israel's history of ethnic cleansing in Lifta to its modern-day policies of house demolitions and land confiscation in the Negev, East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Nor do they excuse the fact that Palestinian queers themselves have stated that they often feel unwelcome in mainstream Israeli LGBT spaces.

Having boxed themselves in with their own pinkwashing politics, Israel's allies and lobby groups in the Diaspora also seem to have set themselves at odds with the presence of Palestinian LGBT and allied voices in queer spaces. Indeed, a March 13th community consultation forum at New York's LGBT Center, primarily attended by those in support of Siegebusters' right to access the Center, merely served the director and board members an opportunity to reinforce the fact that the Palestinian narrative (and perhaps even Palestinian queers themselves, if they chose to project that narrative) would not be welcome. The consultation further provided Michael Lucas the opportunity to gloat over his ability to push those voices out.

Taken together, the events in NYC and Toronto leave pro-Israel forces in the dubious position of attempting to police the access of queer Palestinians and their allies to LGBT spaces in the Diaspora. Further it seems these forces should be granted absolute authority to discuss LGBT issues in the Middle East while Palestinian queers must be denied the right to respond.

I would propose that these developments in fact mirror Israeli state policy itself: while Israel occupies and colonizes Palestine, its allies colonize queer spaces and, indeed, even the queer liberation narrative itself, corrupting and twisting this narrative to the point that it is unrecognizable to many who are still fighting for their rights and freedoms in a homophobic, transphobic and misogynistic world.

Instead of allowing for the queer and trans community to be represented to the world in this manner, or, even worse, in association with the attempt to 'repopulate' an ethnically cleansed village through desecration pornography, I would call on my queer and trans sisters and brothers to join the growing call for a queer BDS movement, including the demand for the right of return that would allow Yacoub and his family to simply return to Lifta and rebuild their homes.


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Thanks for this. Really necessary analysis.

The acronym "BDS" does tickle me though, especially in a queer context. I keep thinking it needs an "M".

Did not know about Michael Lucas shooting the film there.

Also, am I the only one who's getting tired of Michael Lucas's constant "Israel is better for gays than Gaza" line as if that justifies anything? Why does he assume that we all equate supporting Israel with supporting Israel's far right? It's like saying that someone hates America if they didn't support the war in Iraq... oh, wait, that's exactly what the Fox News set was saying.

Steve Collier | April 15, 2011 7:10 PM

Michael Lucas is an ugly individual on both the inside and the outside.

Anyone who gives him a platform is giving a platform to racism and neo-conservatism.

The reputation of NY's LGBT Center has been badly damaged by their buckling under pressure from this prostitute |(while I have no moral objection to prostitution, I think it is appropriate to label Michael Lucas as a prostitute in the he sells sex for money).

dharmapupil | April 16, 2011 1:45 AM

Great article! Everybody needs to hear about these policies and how the US supports the Israeli occupation forces.

Further news from Toronto:
The group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid announced today that they are withdrawing from this year's Toronto Pride Parade. They did this to thwart attempts to de-fund the parade by critics on the City Council if they were allowed to participate.
You can find them on FaceBook (how I got the news) or go to their website for more info.
Here is the link to the announcement as reported in the Torontoist:
http://torontoist.com/2011/04/quaia_withdraws_from_pride_parade.php

"a pro-Israel contingent that many in the local community noted to be hyper-nationalistic but didn't seem to be particularly queer." By the same token, the pride parade here in Minneapolis is hijacked every year by a "Free Palestine" contingent, none of whom seem queer.

The use of this much ink to trash Michael Lucas, both by the guest blogger here and others in recent commentary, seems kind of pointless to me. If he is, as one reader pointed out, simply a pornographer and a prostitute...a fair assessment, perhaps...then why bother? The fact that he's Jewish and gay and runs his mouth on these issues in no way makes him any sort of spokesperson for LGBT Jews. I don't know of anyone who considers him as such. Using him as a straw dog to attack the LGBT Center in New York and its decision vis-a-vis Siege Busters simply obfuscates the real issues involved.

There is no evidence that the LGBT center "caved" to Lucas. Nonetheless, many progressive LGBT Jews and non-Jews (I'm one of the former) support Palestinian rights but are repelled by the BDS movement, by the constant use of the term "apartheid" to describe Israel, and by the use of the term "Zionist" as if it were an obscenity. These are all aspects of Siege Busters' agenda. Should a substantial portion of the membership of the LGBT Center be forced to host a group whose views it considers repugnant? The LGBT Center decided it should not.

Does this decision constitute "silencing" Siege Busters? Hardly, since they and their supporters have been blabbing incessantly about it ever since. It simply forces them to seek a more amenable venue.

What's implicit in all this brouhaha is the assumption on the part of many considering themselves to be progressive LGBT activists that the only acceptable position regarding Palestine for other progressive LGBT people is one that is utterly and uncritically hostile to Israel and one that often challenges Israel's legitimacy as a state altogether. Many progressive LGBT people rebel at being forced to accept this construct.

The controversy also raises the issue of reciprocity. Many criticising the decision of the LGBT Center made the argument that LGBT people, as an oppressed minority, must support the cause of other oppressed minorities, even when represented by more extreme groups like Siege Busters. It is therefore fair to ask in return that all members of Siege Busters and of the larger Israel Apartheid Week movement vocally support LGBT rights, both here and in Palestine. Was there such an expression of universal support from the Israel Apartheid Week orgnizations for LGBT rights? If so, I must have missed it.

The use of this much ink to trash Michael Lucas, both by the guest blogger here and others in recent commentary, seems kind of pointless to me. If he is, as one reader pointed out, simply a pornographer and a prostitute...a fair assessment, perhaps...then why bother?

He has a regular column in The Advocate and gets a lot of queer media attention in support. That doesn't necessarily make him a spokesperson for LGBT Jews. If anything, it makes him a spokesperson for LGBT people, generally.

There is no evidence that the LGBT center "caved" to Lucas.

Well then it's weird that the center didn't set the record straight when Lucas was sending out press releases and doing interviews saying that he got the meeting canceled. He also wrote a column about it in The Advocate. Why didn't the center say anything if their decision was independent of him?

What's implicit in all this brouhaha is the assumption on the part of many considering themselves to be progressive LGBT activists that the only acceptable position regarding Palestine for other progressive LGBT people is one that is utterly and uncritically hostile to Israel and one that often challenges Israel's legitimacy as a state altogether.

Where are you getting that in this post? Or even most of what's been written on this topic? Not a few cranks, but the actual gist of the discussion?

It is therefore fair to ask in return that all members of Siege Busters and of the larger Israel Apartheid Week movement vocally support LGBT rights, both here and in Palestine.

Are you saying that they're opposed to LGBT rights? That they're secretly voting for Republicans and for marriage bans when they come up for votes?

More importantly, is your argument that LGBT Palestinians are somehow benefiting from the violence and blockade while straight Palestinians are suffering massively? I would imagine that the blockade and violence are doing nothing to help LGBT Palestinians and are in fact hurting them along with everyone else, but "what about the LGBT Palestinians?" is the weird non-sequitur usually brought up in favor of further violence in Gaza and colonies in the West Bank.

And, no, saying that these organizations must have every member sign a pro-gay oath doesn't let anyone off the hook here, as much as saying that since HRC has members with various opinions on Palestine that LGBT people can't expect people to support our cause.

This is an act of silencing since the meeting was planned and then cancelled. It's a statement on the group's message. While it's perfectly legal for the center to not host this group's meeting, but it's also perfectly legal to shut LGBT people out of all sorts of media. When that happens, we usually complain. Should we be doing it to others ourselves? The fact that censorship often backfires against the censor doesn't mean that the original censorship didn't happen.

"Well then it's weird that the center didn't set the record straight when Lucas was sending out press releases and doing interviews saying that he got the meeting canceled... Why didn't the center say anything if their decision was independent of him?"

Lucas can say what he likes; it feeds his ego and sense of self-importance. But while he may have been the catalyst for what transpired, I continue to believe that it was the feelings of a broad base of the Center's membership that pushed the decision. The Center's choice not to get into a pissing match with Lucas over his claims does not establish that his version of the affair was accurate.

"This is an act of silencing since the meeting was planned and then cancelled."

Right. And the Boy Scouts have been dis-invited from numerous public venues around the country at which they were formerly welcome. Are they being silenced? Not at all, but in many localities, they are no longer welcome to indulge their particular prejudices on the public dime. They can rent a neutral space like anyone else. Ditto for Siege Busters and the larger Israel Apartheid Week movement. There are countless venues in New York which would have been more than happy to rent to them, but it turned out in the end that they were not welcome to piggyback their particular political agenda onto the membership of the LGBT Center. So? What's sauce for the Boy Scouts is sauce for Siege Busters. I don't see the difference.

"Are you saying that they're opposed to LGBT rights?"

Yes, I am. Many elements within the larger Israel Apartheid Week and BDS movements (not including Siege Busters, it's true) are hostile or indifferent to LGBT people and their rights.

And as I understand it, it was a not a mere meeting that was cancelled. It was a fund-raising ball for the larger Israel Apartheid Week movement (pardon me if I'm incorrect here). It was this fact that pushed many of the members of the Center over the edge on the issue.

"More importantly, is your argument that LGBT Palestinians are somehow benefiting from the violence and blockade while straight Palestinians are suffering massively? I would imagine that the blockade and violence are doing nothing to help LGBT Palestinians and are in fact hurting them along with everyone else..."

No, that is not my argument. I didn't raise it or mean to imply it. But since you bring it up, it's almost certainly the case that LGBT people involved in any of the world's hundreds of nasty conflicts suffer doubly for being both victims of violence and of LGBT oppression. But it seems uniquely to be the more hostile advocates of drastic anti-Israel positions and measures who attempt to piggyback their agenda onto the progressive LGBT movement as a whole. For example, you will not find BDS marchers against the stupendous and continuing Russian violence and ethnic cleansing in Chechnya participating in Pride Parades. I am not being facetious here. There are any number of heartbreaking conflicts in the world just as deserving of our sympathy as the Palestinian cause, yet their advocates, including their LBGT advocates, seem fully capable of making their case independently without attempting to co-opt the LGBT movement as a whole.

Advocates of this unique linkage frequently attempt to justify it by claiming that Israel's alleged "pinkwashing" campaign in itself creates the linkage. "Pinkwashing" is a now-ubiquitous term that has been jumped on like a dog on a bone by those activists wishing to posit a natural link between BDS and other radically anti-Israel measures and the progressive LGBT community. Dr. Garmon does it in her post above. Many of us are simply not buying it. Whatever Israel does or doesn't say regarding the situation of LGBT Palestinians does not justify an automatic connection between agendas like BDS and the larger progressive LGBT community.

"Where are you getting that in this post?"

Well, I guess from the first sentence of the post right down to the last one. The bulk of Dr. Garmon's post does not concern Gaza at all, but rather the displacement of a Palestinian family in the Arab-Israel war of 1948, what Israelis call the War of Independence and Palestinians call the Naqba. Israel could lift the blockade of Gaza in its entirety tomorrow (something I heartily wish she would do), and she would still be illegitimate in Dr. Garmon's eyes, because her very existence is tied up with the displacement of another people. This is Israel's "original sin," and it will never be expunged, according to Dr. Garmon, until everyone like Yacoub Odeh is allowed to return to his or her original home. Yet if Dr. Garmon is educated on the history of this conflict...and I presume she is...then she well knows that this will never happen. So it's a Catch-22: do what she might regarding Gaza and the West Bank, Israel will always be illegitimate, always be attackable for her original sin. Much like the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, countries which stole a combined 10 million square miles of territory from their original inhabitants and then carried out genuine campaigns of extermination to secure it, Israel will never be morally pure. Yet there's a remarkable lack of BDS activity directed against those nations, including the one of which most of us are citizens, and whose drones continue to kill civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan on a regular basis.

By the way, Alex, I would be remiss if I did not express my genuine appreciation for the respectful tone and serious attempt at engagement that characterizes your long response. Most likely, we will never agree on some of these issues, but it's a pleasure "crossing swords" with you.

Hi Eli,

I don't usually comment under my own articles, but I did want to make a few points in response to your comments and the factual basis on which my argument is based.

1. First, I do not for one moment believe your claim that "it was the feelings of a broad base of the Center's membership that pushed the decision [to ban Siegebusters]." As I noted in my article, the public meeting to discuss the issue with the Board of Directors at the NYC Center was overwhelmingly attended by those in favor of Siegebusters' right to access the Center. This is backed up by a report from the Village Voice.

From my experience here in Toronto, this is not at all surprising. With regards to the banning of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, there were numerous ensuing public events, at all of which the overwhelming majority of attendees were opposed to the ban. In fact, a number of the original founders of Pride Toronto (back in 1981) came out to publicly say that in 2010 there was no basis or precedent for ejecting QuAIA, especially when you consider that many of our activists are longtime core members of local LGBT organizations -- including Pride itself in fact.

When I say in my article that the Pride Board was caving in to outside pressure, I really mean that. Back in 2009 a couple of Israel lobby groups started to complain about QuAIA's presence in the parade. The problem was that many of the people in that effort had relationships with hardline anti-queer evangelical Christians. So finally they did some recruitment and convinced Martin Gladstone (a gay lawyer) and a Jewish LGBT social group Kulanu to go along with it (several previous Kulanu members even left the group over this) and be the face of the move to ban QuAIA.

Attend any grassroots political event in Toronto's queer community these days and you will be surrounded by QuAIA supporters, if not allies. In NYC I doubt the situation is much different.

2. As for the claim that Israeli Apartheid Week activists are not supportive of LGBT rights, again I don't see basis for that claim. Sure, I cannot vouch for every Palestine solidarity group in North America but I can say that in Texas (where I started this work), here in Toronto (the hub of IAW) and the group I worked with from San Fran (the group I went to Palestine with) all have been supportive. In fact, it was my Arab friends from the Palestine solidarity group in Texas that supported me in the process of coming out and transition.

3. Participants in the BDS campaign do support human rights struggles in other countries, they are not just "singling Israel out." No we do not necessarily march against what Russia does in Chechnya, but then again a bunch of activists in Canada don't have the same connection to it or responsibility to answer for it. I suspect you are aware of that in fact and you are choosing your example accordingly.

Israel is different. It is supported by the West, very explicitly, through what is called in the United States a 'special relationship' that includes massive economic and military subsidies.

We did not pay for the missiles that Russia uses on the Chechens. However, we built those that Israel uses in Gaza.

4. Pinkwashing is real and Israel has invested heavily in it. Attend any lecture in North America by one of Israel's PR team (more like an army at this point though). You will never miss the argument that we should sympathize with Israel against the Arabs because it supports LGBT rights. Not only is this falsely painting Israel as a 'queer utopia', it also undermines LGBT activists in the Arab world in a number of ways. Rather disingenuous.

StandWithUs (an Israel advocacy group) has harped on this note particularly hard, going so far as to have planned a 'workshop' on the issue of homophobia in the middle east at last year's U.S. Social Forum:

http://www.pinkwatchingisrael.com/arab-queers-say-no-to-pinkwashing-at-the-ussf/

Only once actual queers in Palestine and Lebanon got wind of it, they vocally complained and it was shut down pretty quickly.

Also, have a quick look here at some of the initiatives Israel is considering on this issue:

http://sizedoesntmatter.com/blog/tel-aviv-wants-to-host-international-gay-pride-parade/

A "gay bus" to Europe with the intention to "promote Israel’s international image." Seriously? And take special note of the fact that "Since the project is estimated to cost several hundred thousand dollars, the municipality has turned to the Foreign Ministry for funding support." What city in the world has the foreign ministry of that country to support their LGBT tourism campaign??

Brad Bailey | April 16, 2011 5:16 PM

Well-said, Eli.