The downtown writer and activist Sarah Schulman finally broke down the creepy right-wing censorship imposed on her work at the New York LGBT Center by insisting that her critical posture toward Israel was legitimate expression and not anti-Semitism, loud threats from porn empresario Michael Lucas notwithstanding. Schulman [inset] spoke at the Center [above] last night.
Lucas had a major cow two years ago when the Center rented space to a group called Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QAIA) to hear Schulman read, which was too much for the owner and frequent star of Lucas Entertainment, who threatened to pull major donors away from the Center’s always tenuous operation. Center leadership buckled on its core principles, which was a shame although one can imagine the unattractive alternatives they were faced with: submit to pro-settler intimidation or lose big bucks.
Lucas was particularly indignant because Israel had been so open-minded not only about gay issues but also his business activities, including filming, in contrast to its neighbors. He’s certainly right on that score—no one can imagine popular gay porn emerging from, let’s say, Egypt these days. But ironically perhaps, Schulman has a term for precisely this sort of homophile apologetics: pinkwashing.
Schulman, a veteran of ACT-UP and a prolific novelist and playwright, had the credibility to face down the bullies although it took a while. Apparently, the two-year-old controversy has blown over enough to enable her to win back the right to state her case. Lucas growled that he had ‘no time to be fighting with the spineless LGBT Center’ which given the circles he moves in, sounds about right. It’s yet another example of how much less room for critcism of Israel there is in New York than in Israel itself because anyone who dares do so is immediately labeled a ‘hate group’, in Lucas’s words.
As soon as the ban was lifted, our probable future mayor, lesbian Christine Quinn, promptly denounced the Center for ending its censorship, saying it opened the door to actions that might ‘delegitimize Israel and promote an anti-Israel agenda’. Other local pols, either openly gay or popular in the LGBT scene, joined in. New York’s famed liberalism does have its limits, you see.
It also reminds us how comfortable some sectors of the gay scene are with things as long as they can go about their business and enjoy their sexual and personal lives without interference. If one can have an interesting gay life in Tel Aviv, who cares what goes on in the dusty territories with the religious fanatics?
It’s admirable that other parts of the diverse New York gay scene is able to produce something as edgy and challenging as QAIA, and of course there are also Palestinian gays who could tell us plenty about not just the settler oppression but the dangers of ostracism and worse back home with the Arab homophobes. It’s by no means a simple and clear-cut issue, but at least the Center has returned to its mission of providing a space for everyone to state their gay case, even when there’s furious disagreement in the ranks.
Meanwhile the London Review of Books carries a neat piece this month from Yonatan Mendel, a despairing Israeli leftist who notes that the big and hugely surprising virtual winner of the latest Knesset elections there was a bland faux-centrist grouping led by a TV personality who has nothing much to say about anything except to repeat the crudest forms of default racism rampant among his countrymen.
Another candidate, Naftali Bennett, used Obamanoid, hold-hands-and-sing language, which sounded almost credible if you suspend your critical faculties. Mandel writes:
Bennett said that he was calling on voters to “join the new house we established in Israel . . . all you of you, including men and women, religious and secular, Sephardi and Ashkenazi, Druze and Arabs”. It was hard to say what was more bizarre: the distinction he was making between Arabs and Druze or his notion that Palestinian citizens of Israel would vote for a party called Jewish Home, one of whose candidates suggested a couple of years ago in a Florida church that it would be “incredible” if the Dome of the Rock were blown up. You can see it on YouTube.
Kind of like calling on black Mississippians to vote for the White Citizens Council.
Mendel points out that no Israeli government in its entire history has had a single Palestinian cabinet member, and with current trends the very idea is laughable. Given that Arabs make up 20% of the population, I’d like to hear Lucas’s explanation about why that doesn’t constitute ‘apartheid’ and why raising issues like these make one part of a ‘hate group’.