After extensive lobbying and boycott threats from the UK and around the world, the International Gay and Lesbian Youth Organisation has withdrawn its annual conference from Israel.
This is a victory for both the LGBT movement and the Palestinian cause. Until only last week, IGLYO was planning to hold its annual conference in Israel. The organisation, which is a network of most of the largest LGBT youth groups in the world, was invited by Israeli Gay Youth to hold its main democratic meeting in Tel Aviv. This caused a furore in the movement and many LGBT groups lobbied to have the decision reversed.
I was a member of the National Union of Students’ LGBT Committee at the time. One of our activists, Beth Evans, was in communication with our partner organisation in Lebanon, and they decided to take action. There were strong and real fears that our comrades in Gaza, the West Bank and neighbouring Arab states would be blocked from entry Israel’s oppressive border force. Moreover, we were concerned that such a decision would help to legitimise Israel’s human rights abuses in Palestine.
Beth proposed that we boycott the conference and push for its relocation. We took a fortnight to consider all the evidence, and then voted in secret. Everybody on the committee agreed unanimously, without abstention, that this was the right course of action. This vote - on a committee of diverse political persuasions and religious views - demonstrates how much attention is being paid to Israel’s war crimes.
On the back of this, IGLYO announced a consultation with its members. At the end of this, the vote to keep the conference in Israel passed by a narrow 55% of 44 organisations.
Many more groups subsequently pledged to boycott the event. The National Union of Students LGBT Campaign was joined by Queer Youth Network, Ireland’s LGBT Youth Organisation BelongTo, Helem from Lebanon and the International Gay and Lesbian Cultural Network in opposing the conference’s location.
One month later and IGLYO has finally reversed its position. It has withdrawn from Israel and decided to change venue. In a statement, its Board of Directors claimed that “recent legal changes in Israel raised some concerns” that made pulling out necessary.
They may have been referring to the Knesset’s law banning Israelis from calling for boycotts of their own state. Perhaps they were talking about the Israeli Defence Force’s mass eviction of Bedouin communities from the Negev desert. In reality, they were probably compelled to move the conference by the strength of arguments against holding it there.
Al Qaws, the leading group for Palestinian lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and intersex people, welcomed the decision. One member wrote:
“It is a victory in itself that the IGLYO Out of Israel campaign has encouraged international LGBTQ organizations to view gay rights in the proper, wider context of human rights.”
It is crucial to understand the decision in those terms. Domestically, it can be argued Israel has a strong record on LGBT inclusion. It is, for instance, one of the few countries in the world that recognises sexuality-based persecution as a reason to seek asylum and it has a record of institutionalising transgender rights.
At the same time, however, it is carrying out an occupation with horrific human rights abuses in Palestine. Nearly every authoritative source has said that Israel’s strict conditions of forcing the Gazan population into a tight space with regular air raids and sound bombs has been the biggest hindrance to Palestinian women’s and queer liberation.
It is that context of fear and isolation that goes a long way to explain the more reactionary politics held by some Palestinian leaders, such as the continued criminalisation of homosexuality and the increasing frequency of enforced burqa-wearing.
By understanding the problem in these terms, it is easier to see a solution. We must oppose war and imperialism, whatever form they take, as a barrier to LGBT liberation. Socialists campaign for global unity in promoting black, women’s, indigenous, disabled and LGBT freedom.
Statement from Palestinian Queers for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions: www.pqbds.com/archives/205
Statement from Board of IGLYO: www.iglyo.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=234&Itemid=42
Israel evicts Bedouin: www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/israel-sues-bedouin-villagers-cost-repeated-evictions-2011-07-29
Israel bans "boycott speech": www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-14157490
Al Qaws: www.alqaws.org/q/
NUS LGBT: www.nus.org.uk/Campaigns/LGBT/
Israeli Queers for Palestine, a Jewish-Israeli LGBT group, also supported the call to get IGLYO out of Israel: http://israeliqueersforpalestine.wordpress.com/2011/06/09/israeli-queers-urge-iglyo-out-of-israel-in-support-of-palestinian-queer-campaign/
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