Rev Irene Monroe

LGBTQ Communities Divided on Israel-Palestine Conflict

Filed By Rev Irene Monroe | July 24, 2014 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Alice Walker, Bayard Rustin, Gaza, Israel, Israeli/Palestinian conflict, James Baldwin, Middle East, Palestine, West Bank

As Secretary of State John F. Kerry flies to the Middle East to broker an Israeli- Palestine cease-fire, the tensions of this conflict have also divided Boston's LGBTQ communities.

Israel-Palestine-flags.jpgIn a recent protest rally -- one of the many on the streets of Boston that I've seen, watched and read about -- members of our community go at each other's throats, demonstrating not only how we're not a monolith when it comes to passion and politics, but also how LGBTQs are inextricably tied to world events.

"You're a traitor to your people," Malkah Feldman of Cambridge shouted in a heated exchange with a Jewish Zionist protester at a pro-Palestinian rally outside the Boston Public Library that the Boston Herald captured both in a photo and on video. "This is what's come to the Jewish culture in Israel -- we've lost our ground. We've lost our morals. We've lost our values and our humanity. I will do everything in my power to restore that humanity to the Jewish community."

Feldman, a bisexual feminist activist, has recently returned home from her trips to both Israel and Palestine. She traveled with the Health and Human Rights Delegation, a project of American Jews for a Just Peace. On her journey from Ramallah to Jerusalem, Malkah dropped me a line that she gives me permission to print:

"As my time in Palestine is closing out this week, I am hoping that I will find ways to integrate these experiences into my life. I think that I must re-evaluate and begin to have a deeper appreciation for the unearned privileges that come along with being white in the USA, and being Jewish and part of a community that has colonized the land of Palestine. I hope and pray for the ability to take constructive action and to use my privileges in ways that will help bring about the downfall of racism and other oppressions, as well as the underlying systems keeping them in place."

To pro-Israel activists, however, Feldman's pro-Palestinian passions are viewed not only as anti-Semitic but also as traitorous.

"What they're trying to do is demonize Jews, demonize the Jewish state. They don't really care about justice. They don't really care about these dead children," 21-year-old Brandeis University student Daniel Mael told the Herald while holding a photo of the three Israeli teens -- Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah -- purportedly murdered by Hamas.

And Brett Loewenstern, a Berklee College of Music student, feels similarly. Loewenstern, a former contestant on American Idol, is a Zionist, and he proudly demonstrates his love and passion for the state of Israel with every chance he can. In 2011, for example, he sang the Israeli national anthem at the Florida Marlins-New York Mets baseball game for Jewish Heritage Day.

In another recent example, Loewenstern and his Israeli-born boyfriend Avi Levi flaunted combined Israeli and gay rainbow flags at a Boston Common "die-in" protest rally to remember the names of Palestinians killed recently in Gaza. Sadly, the display ignited a torrent of anti-Semitic epithets.

rustin-bayard.jpgNo doubt the tensions and passions on this issue run deep. While pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian activists have queried the perceived silence among African diaspora communities, black LGBTQs have always spoken out and demonstrated their solidarity on both sides of the conflict. While the May issue of Ebony featured a piece titled "Why Black People Must Stand with Palestine," three iconic LGBTQ activists -- Alice Walker, James Baldwin, and Bayard Rustin -- illuminate the community's divide.

In solidarity with the pro-Palestine struggle, novelist Alice Walker will not permit an Israeli publisher to release a Hebrew-language translation of her best-seller The Color Purple. Walker also didn't permit the film adaptation of the book to be shown in South African until apartheid was dismantled.

In solidarity with the pro-Israel cause was Bayard Rustin. Although Rustin advocated for the rights of the "Black Hebrews" to settle in the southern Israeli town of Dimona, and knew well of the injustices perpetuated on the Palestinians, Buzz Haughton wrote that "he nonetheless contended that the vituperative clamor on the part of Middle Eastern states to destroy Israel had provoked many of the excesses of the Israeli government" (Quaker Studies, Fall 1999; Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, 2000).

Baldwin took a stance by not taking one. During Baldwin's expatriate years in the 1940s he wrote an essay, "Take Me to the Water," where he discussed why Israel was never a consideration:

"And if I had fled, to Israel, a state created for the purpose of protecting Western interests, I would have been in a yet tighter bind: on which side of Jerusalem would I have decided to live?"

There are so many fault lines in our LGBTQ communities, and unfortunately this is another one showing no cease-fire anytime soon.

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