Israel/Palestine and the Queer International – A Book Review by Gilad Atzmon
Israel/Palestine and the Queer International, a new book by writer/professor Sarah Schulman, tells the story of Schulman’s transformation from a “Jewish, lesbian New Yorker” into a “Cosmopolitan queer and avid BDS advocate.” Her book is a must read—and not because it offers original ideological or political outlook, not at all. Schulman actually provides us with a unique and invaluable window into Jewish secular progressive thought. It unveils the structure of LGBT politics and its operation within the Palestinian solidarity movement. Schulman also provides the reader some crucial and juicy references to the direct involvement of George Soros’ network in promoting a gay rights revolution in the Arab world in general, and in Iran and Egypt in particular.
Schulman is a fluent writer, her narration is smooth and flowing. But more than anything, she is astonishingly honest in her attempt to describe her journey. Indeed, her genuine openness is almost suicidal at times. This fact alone may explain why, despite its sensational title, her book has received little attention from the usually loud Jewish progressive network.
In the very beginning of the book, Schulman provides us with an amazing confession most Jews would prefer to shove far under the carpet.
“We were raised with two Yiddish concepts about Christians: kopf and punim. Yiddishe kopf and Goyishe kopf. To say that someone had a Yiddishe kopf (A Jewish mind) was to say admiringly that he was a genius, that he was analytical and conceptual and an original thinker. To say that someone had a goyishe kopf was to say that he was dull-witted, conformist and slow” (p. 2).
One must admit that only rarely do Jews volunteer such intimate information that confirms the depth of racism and supremacy embedded within Jewish culture.
A few pages later Schulman is honest enough to admit that she also is immersed in some deep biological determinist thinking.
“Of course, like many Jews, I do think of myself in biological terms, despite how convenient that is for anti-Semitism. There is after all, a genetic component, since Jewish Identity—from the Jewish point of view is biologically essentialist, dependent on having a Jewish mother” (p. 10).
It goes without saying that evolutionary psychologist Prof. Kevin MacDonald and Right Wing author David Duke are hounded relentlessly by the ADL and the progressive Jewish network for basically agreeing with Schulman.
Interestingly enough, despite her honesty, Schulman rarely thinks for herself on her path toward universal justice. Instead she always consults with such progressive luminaries as Judith Butler, who is ‘on the top’ of her “list of credible LGBT people.” As an activist and campaigner, Schulman always builds fronts and forms leagues. She always seeks advice, she always consults with someone who knows better. These facts are actually very significant: Schulman is telling us a story about someone who thinks and operates “as a Jew,” “as a lesbian,” “as a Queer International,” “as a progressive,” etc. The truth of the matter is that people who “think” and “act” “as a something” hardly think for themselves. Instead they operate within the parameters set by an imaginary political and ideological collective (the gay, the Jew, the progressive, the Queer International’ the Black, the Muslim) instead of thinking authentically and operating autonomously.
To a certain extent Schulman’s extended monologue helps us grasp marginal politics as a powerful attempt to reduce the individual to a mere “pile of signifiers.”
Jewish Victimhood and Homo-centrism
Two years ago Jewish pro-Palestinian blogger Philip Weiss was brave enough to admit to me in an interview that it is Jewish self-interest that motivates his pro-Palestinian activism. For Weiss it wasn’t an “altruistic” concern for the oppressed—he actually believed that his activism was ‘good for the Jews.’ Schulman reminds me of Weiss. Like Weiss she is brave and honest to say it all. But she is also interested in promoting her ‘queer political agenda’. For Schulman, Palestinians are simply a means toward her sacred progressive end. “If people like me are going to turn our backs on [Israeli] queer events in support of the boycott [BDS], then we must be assured that the boycott both recognizes queer support and acknowledges Palestinian LGBT organizing,” she writes.
In short, it is the primacy of “queer and LGBT interests” that determines Schulman’s commitment to a battle for “universal justice.” As one would expect, Schulman’s solidarity has a clear price tag—one attuned primarily to the benefit of the LGBT movement. To my mind the meaning of this is simple: Schulman has managed to successfully transfer her Jewish tribalism into a form of sexually oriented political affinity.
Schulman isn’t just a “boring gay” activist. She is also an Ashkenazi (European) Jew, with all the necessary victim paraphernalia which she waves proudly in the very beginning of her book. “I was born in 1958, 13 years after the end of the Holocaust” begins the third paragraph. “I was born only three years after my maternal grandmother finally confirmed that her two brothers and two sisters had been exterminated by the Nazis and their collaborators 10 to 15 years before,” she continues (p. 1). Her choice of words leaves no room for speculation: Schulman is a traumatized Ashkenazi Jew. She is an adherent and follower of what Israeli philosopher Adi Ophir defines as the Holocaust religion. Her entire universe is codified in reference to the “primacy of Jewish suffering.” Needless to say, this amalgam of Jewish suffering and gay victimhood translates in Schulman’s case into a solipsistic political argument.
I guess at this point I should admit that I have never been convinced that “the personal is political,” as many marginal ideologists insist. I’ve always been certain that the personal is actually personal—and, as such, consider an individual’s sexual orientation to be his or her own business—and that when it becomes political it stops being personal. But for Schulman, as for so many other political activists within her milieu, the ‘personal’ certainly is ‘political.’ She celebrates each of her symptoms publicly and politically and, if this is not enough, she is kind enough to share it all with us.
Homonationalism, the Queer International and Joseph Massad
Schulman’s political universe is divided into binary oppositions: Homonationalism vs. the Queer International is one example.
Homonationalism describes a contemporary phenomenon most prevalent in some liberal Western countries where “white gays, lesbians and bisexuals won a full range of rights…they become accepted and realigned with patriotic or nationalistic ideologies of their countries” (p. 104).
The notion of Homonationalism is particularly relevant to Israel, for the Zionist state has been very successful in mobilizing its patriotic gay community. It has managed to recruit the vast majority of its gay population in order to convey the perception that it is way ahead of its neighbors as far as gay rights are concerned. Being a “progressive Jew” and committed to the notion of “Tikkun Olam” (fixing the world), Schulman is very upset by Homonationalism in general and Israeli Homonationalism in particular. She would prefer that gays and lesbians be primarily committed to a universal political discourse defined by their sexual orientation. This is precisely where the notion of “Queer International” comes in. Schulman is aiming at a “worldwide movement that brings queer liberation and feminism to the principle of international autonomy from occupation, colonialism, and globalized capital.”
And yet, one question remains: How is it possible that so many gays prefer to identify with their national and patriotic environment rather than with a ‘universal’ sexually oriented ideology? Apparently most people, including gays and lesbians, accept a clear dichotomy between their sexual orientation and their political identification. It also seems natural to me that a country’s LGBT citizens would be thankful to a society or culture that liberates them and respects their needs and rights.
From a heterosexual perspective (as if that exists), the above observation seems very natural. Since the vast majority of healthy people spend most of their time out of bed, it only makes sense that one’s sexual orientation is not a primary focus of one’s civil and political life. Furthermore, Schulman’s so-called ‘progressive’ expectation of homosexuals that they be devoted primarily to queer ‘universal’ issues is in itself a form of oppression that borders on abuse, since it imposes on the individual an ideological collectivism and epistemological mantra.
As an enthusiastic advocate of Queer International, Schulman is up against Palestinian academic Joseph Massad. According to Massad, the heterosexual/homosexual binary opposition is itself foreign to the Orient – it is basically “a Western apparatus imposing concepts of homosexuality on Palestinian sex between men” (p. 66). For Massad gays and lesbians are not universal categories, and the attempt to universalize them is the direct outcome of human rights activists who project their own symptom at the expense of their ‘solidarity subject.’
I am far from being an admirer of Massad, yet his argument here is coherent and deserves attention. Like Heidegger and other developed minds, Massad considers the human subject to be a product of his/her culture, language, rituals, geography and so on. Schulman’s approach, on the other hand, is the outcome of the most simplistic phenomenological anthropocentric and Judeo-centric school of thought. Like many others, she naively believes that people are actually the authors of their own biography, and that this biography is somehow universal, transferable and translatable.
This ideological clash obviously is crucial, for if Massad is correct then the “universalization” of the queer condition suggested by Schulman and the Queer International is obviously a form of interventionism. It imposes Western liberal categories on the oppressed. As we will soon see, this exact agenda is far from being kept secret; to be precise, it is actually funded largely by the liberal Zionist George Soros and his Open Society Institute.
Schulman clearly views Massad as a threat, referring to him and his criticism at least twice in her book. Yet, she doesn’t make a single theoretical effort to counter Massad’s argument. Instead she informs us that Massad had never met with the “new wave of young queer Palestinian activists.” Schulman may well be correct here, yet this is far from being an argument. It is merely an anecdote. In other words, the fact that a few young Palestinian gays adopt some Western liberal ideas delivered to the region by an Israeli gay ideologist, an American Jewish lesbian activist, or even George Soros’ Open Society only proves that Massad is actually correct—the ‘universalization’ of marginal thought is in itself a form of crude cultural intervention.
Queer International and George Soros
A year ago I was shocked to discover that the BDS National Committee in Ramallah had made a crucial change to its goal statement. It changed the wording of its original (June 2005) mission statement from “demanding that Israel end its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands” to demanding that Israel end “its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967.”
The BDS National Committee thus basically abandoned the most precious Palestinian right—it drifted away from the commitment to 1948 and limited its struggle to the liberation of lands occupied in 1967. An attempt to clarify who exactly made the change and what process was involved revealed that this significant change was made in a clandestine manner—it appeared only in English. It has never appeared in Arabic or any other language. It didn’t take long before it became evident that the change took place behind the back of the Palestinian people. Despite BDS’ claim to be a ‘civil society’ representing more than 170 Palestinian organizations, Palestinians are still unaware of the BDS National Committee’s compromise on their behalf.
Being an expert on Jewish marginal politics, it was clear to me that the radical change in the BDS goal statement and the non-democratic way in which it was introduced was meant to appease BDS’ Jewish adherents. Further investigation revealed that BDS—like most Palestinian NGOs—is funded by George Soros’ Open Society Institute. Yet, for obvious reasons, BDS National Committee (BNC) remained silent on the topic. It has never revealed its finances or the identity of its funders. The only reference to Soros’ links with BDS was made available by the Israeli right-wing NGO Monitor.
Now, however, thanks to Schulman’s book, this issue has been resolved. In her search for funding for a young Palestinian Queer USA tour in support of BDS, Schulman writes that she was advised to approach George Soros’ Open Society institute. The following account may leave you flabbergasted, as it did me:
“A former ACT UP staffer who worked for the Open Society Institute, George Soros’ foundation, suggested that I file an application there for funding for the tour. When I did so it turned out that the person on the other end had known me from when we both attended Hunter [College] High School in New York in the 1970s. He forwarded the application to the institutes’s office in Amman, Jordan, and I had an amazing one-hour conversation with Hanan Rabani, its director of the Women’s and Gender program for the Middle East region. Hanan told me that this tour would give great visibility to autonomous queer organizations in the region. That it would inspire queer Arabs—especially in Egypt and Iran…for that reason, she said, funding for the tour should come from the Amman office” (p. 108).
What we see here is clear and embarrassing evidence of a blunt intervention made by George Soros’ institute in an attempt to shape Arab culture and political life. We also learn about the manner in which Soros’ Open Society Institute introduces gay and queer politics to the region. Apparently money for a tour promoting Palestine and BDS is traveling from Soros’ Open Society to Jordan and then back to the USA with the hope that such a maneuver would “inspire” gays in Iran. At least now we know who stands behind the Arab gay revolution.
The moral is very clear: BDS had a very “good reason” to remain silent regarding its funding sources. After all, being funded directly or indirectly by a liberal Zionist philanthropy, a man who also funds the openly Zionist JStreet, is indeed slightly embarrassing. Furthermore, it seems as if this new evidence of Western intervention presented as a “Jordanian queer initiative” proves that Joseph Massed was more than correct— Queer International is a farce. In practice it is a network of proxy operations attempting to introduce liberal ideas to Arabs and Muslims in an attempt to undermine their culture.
Intellectual Integrity vs. Materialism
Since she is not a philosopher, Schulman is not interested in arguments or any kind of theoretical depth. Instead she specializes in marginal campaigns and Queer International activism. She is obviously very good at forming alliances and making things happen. When Schulman realizes, for instance, that Frameline, the San Francisco LGBT film festival, is funded by the Israeli Consulate, she offers to “fund-raise to replace the (Israeli) money.” This isn’t exactly an intellectual approach, yet it provides us with precious and intimate information about marginal politics and the way in which it operates behind the scenes. We are dealing here with a little solidarity industry. Sometimes it is Israel and Zionists who pay the bill, other times it is Soros and other liberal Zionists who fund the “opposition.”
Schulman’s personal journey toward BDS and Justice throws light on the path taken by the BDS in Ramallah toward the Jewish crowd, the queer movement and especially liberal Zionist money.
While during the early stage of Schulman’s campaign BDS leader Omar Barghouti was clearly reluctant to openly support or integrate queer politics into BDS, by the time the book ends Schulman is convinced by Barghouti’s “liberal credentials.” “Omar and I,” she says, “had both been motivated by love and need for justice to transform ourselves so that we were now reaching each other.” And, she continues, “now I know that there is a significant Palestinian ‘civil society’ that supports a nonviolent strategy for change and is feminist and now pro-gay.”
Mazal Tov is probably the most appropriate way to congratulate Barghouti, BDS, Soros—and Sarah Schulman, of course.
I am very impressed with this revelation about a leading Palestinian civil society becoming ‘pro-gay’ and ‘feminist. I guess that Soros and his institutions indeed have reason to be optimistic about their chance to change the face of the Arab society.
However, I would really like to know whether the Palestinians are aware of all this. For some reason I have a feeling that, as in the case of BDS surreptitiously changing its goals statement, the same Palestinian civil society now has become ‘pro-gay’ and ‘feminist’ without anyone in Palestine knowing about it. I can only say that I hope I am wrong.
 BDS- boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel
 LGBT- lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender