Outrage!: Don't boycott World Pride in Jerusalem

Peter Tatchell | June 20, 2006

LONDON — The call for a boycott of World Pride in Jerusalem may seem an appropriate response to Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian land in defiance of successive UN resolutions calling for withdrawal.

See Boycott World Pride.

On careful reflection, the queer human rights group OutRage! believes a boycott would be a big mistake. While supporting justice for the Palestinian people, we oppose calls for a boycott of World Pride, which is being held in Jerusalem from 6-12 August 2006.

Successfully staging World Pride in Jerusalem will be a huge defeat for the Christian, Judaist and Muslim fundamentalists who want it banned and who believe lesbian and gay people should be jailed, flogged or executed. Through news coverage, the event will have the positive effect of increasing queer visibility and promoting public debate about queer issues in homophobic Middle Eastern countries and beyond. It will give comfort and hope to isolated, downcast queers throughout the Arab world.

A cancellation or boycott of World Pride would be a major victory for the religious and political bigots who are wrecking the lives of queers in the Middle East and across the globe. They will rejoice and be uplifted if World Pride fails to go ahead as planned. It will encourage and embolden their homophobia.

World Pride is in solidarity with the queer liberation struggles in Israel, Palestine and worldwide. A boycott would be a tragic betrayal of this global quest for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) freedom.

While a boycott would not advance the Palestinian cause one iota, it would give comfort to the oppressors of lesbians and gays and undermine a genuine attempt at global solidarity against homophobia.

If World Pride was organised by the Israeli state, I would support a boycott. But the organisers are Jerusalem Open House (JOH), the LGBT social, welfare and human rights organisation which serves both Israeli and Palestinian LGBTs.

The holding of World Pride in Jerusalem is supported by the Palestinian members of JOH, and by many LGBT Palestinians living in Palestine. Most of the opposition to World Pride is coming from groups based in western countries.

OutRage! supports a boycott of oppressive Israeli institutions, but not of events like World Pride that are an expression of the international struggle for LGBT liberation. Although well intended, boycotting a celebration of queer life, culture and human rights is a reactionary stance that plays into the hands of homophobes.

OutRage! would prefer World Pride to be held in the Palestinian city of Ramallah – not Jerusalem – but the homophobic Palestinian Authority will not allow it. Indeed, no Arab or Muslim city will permit World Pride. Why aren't the critics who oppose holding World Pride in Jerusalem protesting about that?

Staging World Pride in Jerusalem is not an endorsement of Israel's annexation and occupation of Palestinian territory. It is an affirmation of LGBT identity and culture in defiance of the denunciations and threats of religious and political homophobes.

Far from colluding with the Israeli state, World Pride's theme – Love Without Borders – is an implicit attack on Israel's oppressive security wall and on its denial of free movement to the Palestinian people.

I speak as someone who has supported the Palestinian freedom struggle for 35 years. Together with the actress Vanessa Redgrave and others, in the early 1970s I campaigned for a unified, democratic, federal, secular state of Palestine, where Jews and Arabs could live together in peace, equality and justice. I still believe in that dream.

Over 30 years ago, I was one of the first people to propose a boycott and sanctions against Israel, including an economic, arms, trade and tourism embargo to pressure Israel to withdraw from the occupied Palestinian territories and to respect Palestinian human rights. I stand by the call to isolate the oppressive Israeli state.

Since World Pride is not organised by the government of Israel and since its purpose is not the glorification of Israel and its occupation of Palestine, I fail to understand how a boycott can be ethically justified or how it will help the Palestinians.

OutRage! is in favour of boycotts that challenge injustice, but we do not support indiscriminate boycotts that penalise people and movements campaigning for democracy, social justice and human rights, such as World Pride.

Our organisation is modelled on Gandhi's methods of non-violent direct action and civil disobedience, which used boycotts to advance the cause of Indian independence.

Many of our members boycotted South Africa during the apartheid era and Chile in the period of Pinochet's dictatorship. But we did not boycott people, campaigns and events in South Africa and Chile that sought to advance the cause of freedom in those countries.

In the 1990s, OutRage! organised boycott campaigns against countries like Romania in support of their LGBT and human rights struggles. So we have no aversion to boycotts per se.

Boycotts can be an effective and ethical tactic when appropriately targeted. But we cannot see how a boycott of World Pride in Jerusalem will achieve anything to advance either the LGBT or Palestinian cause.

Boycotting World Pride will not unnerve the Israeli state or cause it any significant financial loss. It will not win LGBT people support and respect among homophobic orthodox Jews or among Palestinians in the often violently homophobic streets of Gaza and the West Bank.

A successful boycott would, however, bring joy to homophobes of all faiths and none. It would achieve what they cannot: the failure of World Pride.

Despite their different motives, the boycotters and the homophobes have the same objective: stop World Pride in Jerusalem.

Although we cannot accept the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, OutRage! believes there are strong reasons for supporting World Pride in Jerusalem.

We need to look at this issue strategically: what are positive consequences that could flow from World Pride going ahead as planned?

Holding World Pride in Jerusalem will be a powerful challenge to religious fundamentalists, provoking them to react and thereby exposing their homophobia. It is the perfect trap that will help show the world the hatred and threat posed by fundamentalism.

The religious opposition to World Pride will generate huge media coverage throughout the Middle East and beyond. This will, by default, bring the message of LGBT liberation to the people of the whole region.

For young LGBTs in Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Yemen and elsewhere, it might be the first time they have heard of the existence of the global movement for queer emancipation. Imagine the hope and confidence such news will give to isolated, vulnerable LGBT people across the Middle East.

Even the homophobes recognise this. Although not specifically referring to World Pride, the Muslim fundamentalist cleric, Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi, told Al Jazeera TV in June that the increased reportage and discussion of gay issues in the Middle East is a 'calamity..' If a bigot like Qaradawi wants to suppress queer visibility, then that is good enough reason to support any event that will increase it. The more public discussion of LGBT issues the better. World Pride will help facilitate this debate.

I speak from experience. Media coverage of my LGBT liberation protest in communist East Berlin in 1973 had a similar positive impact. It helped bring the message of LGBT emancipation to people in the Soviet-bloc, and was a catalyst for the formation of the first underground LGBT movements in communist Eastern Europe.

OutRage! believes that news coverage of World Pride will raise awareness of LGBT issues across the Middle East and be psychologically and emotionally empowering for LGBT people throughout the region. It might help trigger the creation of LGBT movements in repressive, homophobic Middle Eastern states, including Palestine.

These are exciting possibilities, worth encouraging. They are compelling reasons to support World Pride in Jerusalem in August 2006. – Issued by Outrage!

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