Top guns: Last words on Johnny Weir

Don't ask, do sell: Michael Lucas with adoring soldiers, from ad for his tours of gay Israel

Don’t ask, do sell: Michael Lucas and his gay brigade of faithful soldiers, from ad for his tours of Israel

Yesterday morning I got a message from a friend: “Do check Jamie Kirchick’s Twitter feed.” I sighed and hesitated till lunch. This kind of thing never bodes any good; it’s like Pandora’s inner voice saying, Think outside the box. Check I did, though, and there it was: your two favorite gay pundits conjoined in 140 characters, Jamie and Michael Lucas both. JKirchick Stepin Fetchit copyOh, joy. Jamie has a longstanding partiality for Lucas, the porn impresario with a second career as political commentator. Back when the New Republic was right-wing, and Kirchick was Martin Peretz’s last addition to a whole seraglio of protégés, he published a long, admiring article on Lucas there. Lucas was, he said, “a fervent supporter of Israel and a harsh, often offensive, critic of the Muslim world,” not a criticism since Jamie thinks the Muslim world deserves it. (What do you call someone who writes a puff piece for a porn star? A fluffer?) He still thinks of Lucas as one of his favorite, well, propagandists: Kirchick Lucas copy Lucas’s new essay weighs in on the fracas over Johnny Weir: predictably, another attack piece on the hapless skater. I am already losing interest in this business, but really, this one was revelatory. Lucas at last made it all clear.

Russians love Johnny Weir. He’s their kind of gay: Liberace of the ice. He’s the “fabulous” gay, the mascot, the gay who knows his place and stays in it. …  The Russians don’t mind token flamers like Weir; what scares them are everyday people who happen to be gay. They’re scared of homosexuality becoming normal, not staying outrageous like Weir. That’s what the “gay propaganda” law is all about.

You see now. The real problem for Lucas, Kirchick, and the rest isn’t what Weir said. It’s that he’s a fag and a fem and reflects on us badly before the Rooskies. Lucas even heaps the ultimate American insult on him/her. The little nancy weakling didn’t know how to play football — he let the real men bully him in school:

The Russians love Weir, so Weir loves the Russians. He’s like a sad high-school figure: the cheerleader for the same team of jocks that would beat him up if he weren’t also doing their homework for them.

Has anyone told Lucas that bullying fagboys is no longer considered a good thing?

I’ve never much approved of mocking Lucas for being a porn star with Tom Friedman pretensions. Tom Friedman is a Tom Friedman with porn star pretensions; what’s wrong with the other way around? (Just click the link, please.) Porn stars’ opinions are no less valid than those of sex workers, pop singers, or Human Rights Watch directors, each with their own realms of undoubted expertise. Lucas is perfectly free to write op-eds. The problem is, the op in them is a stinking mass of racist tripe. He can’t open his computer without something loathsome crawling out. It’s not just Arabs and Muslims, whom he hates and vilifies at every opportunity. It’s not just his despicable attempt to shut down all discussion of Palestine at the New York LGBT Center, where his partner was a major donor. He goes after every group at one point or another. Black people “are racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic,” he told Michael Musto, adding “Why does everyone attack the Mormons, but they’ll never go after African-Americans?” Show the man a need, and he’ll fill it.

License to shill: Porn and propaganda

License to shill: Porn and propaganda

But this latest insult is revelatory because it displays the common ground under Lucas’s various racist obsessions. His contention about Russia is pretty much absurd. Years ago I heard the great trans* activist Stephen Whittle remark that 90% of so-called homophobic violence is really gender-based violence. It isn’t about what you do in bed but what you look like, punishing men who aren’t masculine enough or women who aren’t feminine enough. That this is relevant to Russia is sufficiently proven by the sadistic “Occupy” videos now all over the Web: a bunch of worked-out macho Nazi wannabees abuse and brutalize people invariably presented to the cameras as flaming, weak, effeminate, and pathetic.  Obviously Lucas has never seen these. Or, if he did, maybe he got the wrong message. Spiritually, he’s on the side of the abusers. Buried in Lucas’s op-ed is his  admiration for the bullies, the “team of jocks,” the top guns, the fuckers who dominate the fuckees. (Lucas once boasted to Michael Musto that he’s never ever been a bottom, onscreen or off.) Lucas’ own peculiar brand of nationalism – his homonationalism, his Queer Nationism, his defense of his gay tribe against imaginary black or Muslim or Arab enemies – has a lot in common with Russian nationalism (and many others) as a cult of mastery and conquest. It just has the foes transposed. Even while calling Russia “the putrid country of my birth,” Lucas admires Russian chauvinism at its most murderous. Jamie describes it:

While he originally disagreed with Russia’s brutal policies toward Chechnya, he now believes that America could learn something from Vladimir Putin. “The American Army can’t take Fallujah?“ Lucas asks me, incredulous. “Level it!“

Don't enter. That's Michael's job.

Don’t enter. That’s Michael’s job.

Tied to his gay patriotism is Lucas’s other nationalism. A few years ago, while Lucas was fiercely protecting the Promised Land from a handful of pro-Palestinian activists at the LGBT Center, an Israeli friend wrote me that “The man doesn’t really love Israel because he’s Jewish. He loves it because it’s a country where even the bottoms look like tops.” I doubt this is true of Lucas, but it’s at least partly true of Israel. There, sculpting both by mandatory military service and by an ethos of strength produces a kind of body (personal as well politic) that can take masculinity to new heights. This in turn makes Israel a huge erotic fetish for a lot of people beyond its borders, particularly the gays. Some while back, in a post devoted to Dan Littauer’s fake news site GayMiddleEast.com, I tacked on a still from one of Lucas’s films: Israeli guys striding like impossibly virile Venuses from the half-shell. Every day that post still gets 100 or so hits, from searches for “men of Israel.” It’s like catnip.

Here we go again

Here we go again

Lucas sells that fetish (he offers guided tours of gay Israel starting at $2755), but he also buys into it. It’s not just the bodies that turn him on, it’s the beliefs behind them. The dominant version of masculinity in Israel, writes Oma Sasson-Levy, is “identified with the masculinity of the Jewish combat soldier and is perceived as the emblem of good citizenship.” The militarized version of Israeli manhood seduces because it promises access to power. It’s tailor-made for Lucas’s preoccupations.

As for Kirchick, respectability has been his concern for years. He wants to find presentable gays who will make the tribe look good, and kick out the losers who give a bad image. The latter include traitors like Chelsea Manning, cowards like war opponents or other lefties, freaks like most feminists, and combo platters like me. “The whole purpose of the gay rights movement has been to convince heterosexual Americans that gay people are just like them,” Kirchick insists. What he can’t stand, ever, anywhere, is this: kirchick sex shop copy 2Jamie’s ceaseless demands that we be nice and normal remind me, helplessly, of the most hilarious passage from that great comedy, Finnegans Wake — where the narrator evaluates the respectability of a slew of sordid Dublin lodging-houses:

Fair home overcrowded, tidy but very little furniture, respectable; open hallway pungent of Baltic dishes, bangs kept woman’s head against wall thereby disturbing neighbours, case one of peculiar hopelessness, most respectable; nightsoil has to be removed through snoring household, eccentric naval officer not quite steady enjoys weekly churchwarden and laugh while reading foreign pictorials on clumpstump before door, known as the trap, widow rheumatic, haunted, condemned and execrated, of dubious respectability; reformed philanthropist whenever feasible takes advantage of unfortunates against dilapidating ashpits, serious student is eating his last dinners, floor dangerous for unaccompanied old clergymen, thoroughly respectable; many uncut pious books in evidence, nearest watertap two hundred yards’ run away, fowl and bottled gooseberry frequently on table, man has not had boots off for twelve months, infant being taught to hammer flat piano, outwardly respectable; sometimes hears from titled connection, one foot of dust between banister and cracked wall, wife cleans stools, eminently respectable …

I think the next-to-last one is Jamie. The “pious books” are the giveaway.

Given Kirchick’s passion for respectability, it’s a bit odd he should care so poignantly for Lucas, the porn magnate and former sex worker. One likely reason is the latter’s propensity for calling everybody anti-Semitic, with a sweep only slightly less comprehensive than Jamie’s own. They share the same enemies. Kirchick’s distaste for Muslims brings him to embrace Bruce Bawer, the obsessive, secular Savonarola who helped inspire mass-murderer Anders Breivik. Lucas’s similar loathing leads him straight into the arms of unabashed crank Pamela Geller. (“Gays should join the anti-Islamic movement,” he told her. They haven’t already?)

Kirchick nightmare: Help, I seem to be surrounded by these Arab-like people, and that building behind me looks like some kind of "mosque," and I can't wake up. (Neocon junket to Lebanon, 2009)

Kirchick nightmare: Help, I seem to be surrounded by these Arab-like people, and that building behind me looks like some kind of “mosque,” and I can’t wake up. (Neoconservative junket to Lebanon, 2009)

But more basically, respectability for Kirchick, like power for Lucas, is a matter of being the right kind of man. Strength is part of it; so is soldiering. Most famously, back in the days of Don’t Ask etc., Jamie urged the US military to create a segregated gay brigade, to “put the lie to the charge that gays are effeminate and weak.”

But the most satisfying aspect of this policy would be its effect on our Islamist enemies, who not so long ago were burying gays alive … What humiliation, what shame these barbarians would endure if after every successful terrorist assassination accomplished by the Leonard Matlovich Brigade, U.S. Central Command issued a press release announcing that yet another Taliban fighter bit the dust at the hands of warrior homosexuals!

This could easily be a Michael Lucas Production.

Both Lucas and Kirchick lead vivid fantasy lives. Lucas does so by definition: porn is all about fantasy. It’s also all scenarios reiterated, though, and climaxes endlessly redone: in Freudian terms, the melancholy of repetition. Some of this melancholy seems to hang about Michael Lucas, who more and more relies on involuntarily campy excess to emphasize a masculinity that can’t quite prove itself: showing himself surrounded by adoring soldiers like some weird inflatable Mussolini doll. Jamie, meanwhile, dreamed of gay glory but didn’t battle for it; he advertised his imaginary brigade, but never volunteered. Yet as middle age has its way with him – a sad transmutation my own plump features testify to all too well – he’s settling into an eerie resemblance to that historical incarnation of la patrie and l’etat, the last King of France.

The King’s two bodies: They make a pretty pear

After Daumier. The King’s two bodies: Quite a pear

The cult of masculinity is always dreamlike. But it has real consequences. Below the surface it’s built on despising and excluding. And so are the passions and ideologies that draw on it for strength, from frat-boy loyalty to football thuggery to patriotic fervor. There’s hate buried in the foundations, like a time bomb or a sacrificed body. Somebody’s nightmare sustains the dream, somebody has suffer to keep the ideal of manhood going; and in this case you demonize the feminine, the effeminate, the ladyboy or Liberace. They all become traitors to the cause, Stepin Fetchits. 

There’s seems to be a bit of ¿Quién es más macho? in the air around this Russia campaigning. I’m not saying Kirchick and Lucas are typical — thank God, they’re not. But there’s John Aravosis, who launched the nastier attacks on Weir, that “freak of nature.” Redoubtable fellow, but with a rep for not being very friendly to trans* people or the issue of gender. (“What [do] I as a gay man have in common with a man who wants to cut off his penis, surgically construct a vagina, and become a woman”?) There’s Dan Savage, who kickstarted the whole boycott-Stoli thing. He too has voiced some serious discomfort in the past with a man who doesn’t like manhood, who “get[s] his dick cut off” — and he’s been glitterbombed as a result.

I mistrust the point when any of our movements start indulging macho anger as a driving force, a motive influence. I mistrust the moment any of them start using manhood as a criterion for membership, as though questioning the received, repressive value of manhood weren’t (despite all Jamie’s sanctimonious lies) the point of lesbian, and gay, and bisexual, and trans* activism at its best, from the start. I don’t care whether you like Johnny Weir or not — I’m not a figure-skating fan, and frankly I barely knew about him before last week. But you can argue with him without implying he’s a traitor to the meaning of being a man. Michael Lucas is a notorious racist. Now, though, he also shows how he speaks the taunting language of schoolyard bullies, mimics the poses of uniformed abusers. When it comes to imitating the oppressor, that’s more dangerously Stepin Fetchit-like than anything else I’ve heard lately.

Oh, yes, and one more question. Lucas ends his op-ed with this odd comment:

The boycott movement … will not harm athletes or Russian workers, because the boycott movement will almost certainly make little real impact. It is a moral gesture, and a media strategy. Its real point is to keep the Russian LGBT crisis in the news, and to keep people talking about it.

Come again? Sorry, but this wasn’t what they were saying at the outset. “Will almost certainly make little real impact”? What happened to “Boycotts helped end Apartheid, spurred the Civil Rights Movement, and curbed potential atrocities”? What happened to “Boycott Russian vodka until persecution of gays and their allies ends”? What happened to It’s time for us to put our foot down and say we will not be the scapegoat of the world any longer”? And what happened toheroic images of gay bars who are fighting back”? 

Again, I don’t know who Lucas thinks he speaks for. I know there is way more sophisticated thinking than his out there. But it’ll be hard to keep up momentum for a boycott if a really loud celebrity tries to sell it by promising it’s just a macho gesture, and it won’t help. It’s fine, I guess, to acknowledge that the goal all along was to get people’s attention. But what if those people say: OK, you’ve got our attention. Now what are you going to do with it? What’s the plan?

Uganda Pride 2012: Hillary, Kony, drones, and the police

African gay man pride Uganda

Uganda Pride 2012 participant. All Pride images courtesy of David Robinson

On Saturday, August 4, Ugandan activists tried — and, on the whole, succeeded in — staging the country’s first ever LGBTI Pride. There was, however, the nasty interruption of a police raid. This came just one day after the US State Department gave a coalition of Ugandan queer campaigners its annual Human Rights Defender award, calling them a “model for others and an inspiration for the world.”  On that same day, visiting Kampala, Hillary Clinton met with Yoweri Museveni and, by the Department’s account, raised the issue of LGBT rights yet again. We’ll get back to Clinton in a moment.

Frank Mugisha at Pride: Nobody’s perfect

Pride took place in Entebbe, by the shores of Lake Victoria, and hence was called a Beach Pride Parade. (I cannot speak too highly of an event which induced my friend and colleague Frank Mugisha of Sexual Minorities Uganda to dress up in the manner of Some Like it Hot‘s Osgood Fielding III.) Maurice Tomlinson, a Jamaican attorney leading the legal battle against the sodomy law there, visited to serve as grand marshal; he writes:

The Pride March had a truly carnival atmosphere … Everything was done very tastefully as the organizers were aware that it was a public beach and many young children were around.  Many parents even brought their kids over to hear the music and listen to the few speeches and share in the jubilant atmosphere.  The Pride organizers even shared food and drinks freely with the onlookers.

However, according to a statement from Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG):

Police stormed the venue where people had gathered after the march and ordered the party to stop and that no one should leave the area. Police is believed to have been tipped off by either a small group of Christians who were for baptism a few yards away or by the local[s] of the area who had gathered to witness the pride march. Police alleged that there was a gay marriage taking place and that two gay men were seen kissing. They then declared that the gathering was unlawful and wanted to arrest the whole group.

The “gay wedding” has now become the stimulus of choice for moral panic and police repression around the world. The propensity of the general public and the gendarmerie to fantasize nuptials with no provocation is one of the more fascinating aspects of our present moment in modernity, and one of the least remarked side effects of Goodridge v. Massachusetts.

Kasha Jacqueline and Frank Mugisha at Pride: Marry this

Among those arrested were Tomlinson;  Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, director of FARUG and the coordinator of Pride Uganda; Jay Abang, FARUG’s programs manager; and several others. Tomlinson writes:

I was detained for assisting a 60 year old woman climb into the back of the police van after police officers refused to help her! … After a very confusing and utterly disgraceful performance at the station by the police (including the officers insisting we all sit on the bare floor until we were processed, one officer pushing a young female to the floor and another verbally abusing the 60 year old female anthropologist from Makerere University) we were all released without charges or an explanation.

After their release, Kasha Jacqueline said,

Tomlinson and Kasha Jacqueline at the march

I feel like our rights have been trampled upon. It is becoming a habit of police to interrupt our gatherings. It is as if a section of Ugandans do not deserve certain rights. The laws and bills [Uganda’s draconian, proposed “Anti-Homosexuality Bill”] have not been passed but police is already enforcing them.

Uganda’s police have in recent months shut down two workshops for LGBT activists, one in June, one in February when the country’s Minister for Ethics and Integrity personally led the raid.

Police break up Beach Pride

Now, back to Clinton. Her support for LGBTI activists in Uganda, and for their freedoms of association and assembly, is genuine and unquestionable. What is questionable is her support for those freedoms as a property of Ugandans in general. After all, the US rushed precipitately to congratulate Museveni on his victory in a fraudulent presidential election in 2011. It issued only anodyne expressons of regret in the ensuing months when Museveni brutally suppressed demonstrations against the sham vote, arrested his opponent and members of Parliament, and ordered Ugandans shot for engaging in walk-to-work protests against skyrocketing fuel prices.

A curious form of reverse “pinkwashing” is at work in the Ugandan case, I’d (almost) argue. Museveni’s crackdowns on LGBTI people give the US something to condemn, so that it can claim it’s done its due diligence in criticizing Uganda’s rights record. For Museveni and Clinton alike, they help keep the spotlight off other violations. It’s not that the abuses based on sexual orientation or gender identity are comparatively minor, or that the others are more grave or violent: far from it. But the US reprimanding Museveni for the “Anti-Homosexuality Bill” won’t bring his regime down; if the US dissociated itself from his election fraud, it might.

Pinkwashed: Police spray Ugandan opposition protesters with pink liquid during demonstrations, May 2011

So, in Kampala this time, Clinton pretty much left the question of when Uganda’s dictator might leave power as something for him to think about casually in his spare time: “It is important for leaders to make judgments about how they can best support the institutionalization of democracy,” she told reporters. “It’s not about strong men, it’s about strong institutions.” But the man is strong, so strong! — and we need him. “U.S. officials stressed that Clinton’s visit to Uganda was aimed at thanking it for its strong security assistance in Somalia and elsewhere”:

In Uganda, Clinton visited a military base where Ugandan and U.S. soldiers showed her the U.S.-made “drone” aircraft now patrolling the skies over Somalia, where an African Union force is seeking to crush al Shabaab Islamist insurgents.

Uganda, a strong U.S. security partner, has contributed the bulk of the Somalia force and Clinton said she foresaw a day when drones might help the United States and Uganda with another of their joint military efforts – the hunt for renegade Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony.

“Now we have to figure out how to look through thick vegetation to find Joseph Kony,” Clinton said, after inspecting a drone, a small unmanned aircraft no more than a yard long and mounted with cameras.

The United States last year dispatched about 100 military advisers to help Uganda and other central African nations track down Kony, whose Lord’s Resistance Army has been charged with repeated atrocities against civilians.

Give Museveni enough drones and you won’t need a few perambulating Christians to point out the perilous promixity of Pride. Electronic surveillance will search out the signs of gay weddings, and ensure that no exchange of vows passes without massive retaliation.

Although hunting down Joseph Kony would certainly be a popular move with the thousands of Americans hoodwinked by the viral video campaign earlier this year, it’s a minor matter to the US. The important thing for us is that Museveni is Stable, and willing to support US counterterrorist interference in East Africa, as well as our access to raw materials. If using some drones to neutralize an annoyance to the Museveni regime is the price the dictator charges, then, drone warfare being cheap, it’s easy to pay. Indeed, the function of the Kony 2012 campaign and the attendant hysteria becomes clearer and clearer in hindsight. It mobilized a public that by and large couldn’t tell Uganda from Uzbekistan to take some painless cyberaction on behalf of one of Africa’s more unpleasant despots.  Indeed, while the US feints at criticizing Museveni’s harshness toward the gays, the head of the House Subcommittee on Terrorism introduces measure after measure to  expand US military activities in Uganda: ostensibly to oppose Kony, but actually to prop up Museveni’s army. All very convenient.

Clinton presents award to Ugandan LGBTI activists, Kampala, August 3

Kampala’s campaigners for LGBTI rights have in fact long pressed their Western supporters to couch their opposition to Uganda homophobia in terms of Museveni’s appalling record as a whole — not to single out queers for special grace and favor. However well the message may have gotten across to Western civil society, it’s unlikely to play terribly well with the US government. But it does a disservice to the brave activists who marched, and faced down police, in Entebbe to divorce their courage from the politics and repression that give it meaning.

Images from Uganda Pride, 2012.

Queering the Hitch: Why Christopher was not my kind

I never knew the late Christopher Hitchens. Friends of mine who hung peripherally around The Nation, that bastion of embattled leftiness, were full of stories about him that sketched a Falstaffian outrageousness: the time, for instance, that he tried to charge his girlfriend’s abortion to his magazine expense account. He drank famously and enormously, of course, and there was a feeling that he did so because it offered an excuse for actions that would be inexcusable if committed while sober. His peccadilloes, or worse, were as celebrated as his passions. Just one example: driven by his almost-obsessive loathing for the Clintons, he tried to get his former friend Sidney Blumenthal, who defended them, indicted for perjury.   It was possible to see this too as somehow a side-effect of the lush life, treachery in a drunken rage; but it was hard to imagine him staying smashed over the whole months-long progress of the investigation. Not impossible, but hard.

His most famous betrayal, of course — that’s how many saw it — was his support for the Iraq war and George W. Bush.   One could almost hope, too, that this was something he did in a decade-long drunken binge; that he’d wake up one day with a hundred thousand Iraqi corpses around him, like the smashed glass and broken friendships relicted after a more ordinary bender, and go into a twelve-step and start rifling his Rolodex for people to apologize to.   He never backed off, though. The war was one thing he remained faithful to till the day he died, which as it happened was the day the US finally left Iraq — though the combat, with new combatants, will likely go on and on.  Although I didn’t much follow his career, I do remember seeing him on TV in a hotel room in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, back in 2006.  Saddam Hussein had just been condemned to death, and Australian news had rousted up Hitchens to comment. It must have been five in the morning in Washington, and he was still, or already, drunk.  He didn’t just slur his words; whole sentences shaled over into a jumbled heap of grammar, as if they were melting below the knees. I recall wondering: Who can possibly confuse him with an expert? Why is he on TV?

Now Ace Reporter Doug Ireland has penned a short memoir of Hitchens, which, for those of us who’d largely buried the man’s memory under accusations of treachery, goes far to explain why others liked him for so long. He could be a wonderful writer; he knew a lot, although it didn’t always inform his judgment; he had an immense appetite for life, and if his loyalties were erratic, they were intense and real. (He remained loyal to Doug, at least, which is saying something.)  The topic coaxes Doug out of his usual defensive perimeter of pompous prose. He writes with real feeling. It’s impossible not to be touched by the story of how Hitchens consoled Doug after his lover’s death, and dissuaded him from suicide; or by the little billets-doux of affection and respect by which Hitchens, so often bullying and competitive, encouraged a less materially successful colleague. Kudos to Doug on humanizing Hitchens; he makes one share the sense of loss he clearly, deeply feels.

It would be too much, though, to say he makes me like Hitchens, or entirely reconciles me to finding the man’s grumpy face decorating the cover of Gay City News, with the headline “My Queer Friend Christopher Hitchens.”   It feels like those glossy gay periodicals that put straight celebrities up front, partly to sell copies, partly, I suspect, to speak to the gays’ deep insecurity that they’re just not good enough. We need some hetero’s approval to make us feel proud. A fellow fag’s support doesn’t cut the proverbial mustard.

Of course, I recognize that Doug wanted to memorialize Hitchens someplace, and GCN is almost the only venue that will publish him these days.   Still …. Queer? What entitles the man to the epithet?

Let’s see. I tend to dismiss the schoolboy crushes and university affairs involving fellow lads and cads that Hitchens discusses in his autobiography, a matter Ireland makes much of. He quotes Hitchens’ own account:

‘He’ was a sort of strawberry blond, very slightly bowlegged, with a wicked smile that seemed to promise both innocence and experience. … He was my age. He was quite right-wing (which I swiftly decided to forgive him) but also a ‘rebel’ in the sense of being a cavalier elitist… The marvelous boy was more urbane than I was, and much more knowing, if slightly less academic. His name was Guy, and I still sometimes twitch a little when I run into someone else who’s called that — even in America, where in a way it is every boy’s name.

Were poems exchanged? Were there white-hot and snatched kisses? Did we sometimes pine for the holidays to end, so that (unlike everyone else) we actually yearned to be back at school? Yes, yes, and yes….

Threesome with teddy bear

How very Brideshead Reedited!  But British boarding schools and homoeroticism are inextricably interlinked, like rum, sodomy, and the Royal Navy. If any boys miraculously escaped it, they went on to a belated initiation at Oxbridge, like Charles Ryder.  Adolescent male bisexuality was as common in the upper ranks of the United Queendom as was the assumption in classical Athens that teenage boys would enjoy the sexual tutelage of older men. In either case the normative path was always toward an adulthood of penetrating and impregnating women, and Hitchens too found pleasure in his flock of hetaerae as his beard set in and his paunch expanded. If kissing Guy makes him queer, so were Kingsley Amis and Winston Churchill.

No: there’s a certain quality to Doug’s queering of Hitchens that smacks of whitewashing — even “pinkwashing,” to use a loaded term.   It’s as if he wants to excuse Hitch’s support for a murderous administration and a brutal war, not with the appeal to booze and its confusions — unusable for such an enormous perfidy — but by reinforcing the quirky dissident credentials of the dead. I don’t want queerness used that way. I resist the attempt.   At the same time, I think it’s a telling move: telling about Hitchens, about the gays and their politics in these darkening days, and also about Ireland himself.

Ireland points to an exchange of emails he had with Hitch in 2003, after the latter declared his support for George W. Bush’s reelection. Doug published a redacted version of the correspondence back then; it makes intriguing reading. I do wish Ireland had left out the salutations and complimentary closes, which carry their own schoolboyish infestation of the cooties: “Hope you thrive, fraternally, Hitch,” “Duggers, old horse,” “Love and kisses for regime change from D.C. to Baghdad, Doug,” “My dearest,” “cher ami,” “Valentine smooch, Hitch.”  Mass slaughter has not been so amorously discussed since the heyday of Ernst Junger.

What’s interesting is that even though Doug edits it all so as to give himself the last word and the best lines (surely an improbable thing with Hitchens), he still loses. He loses because he chooses to fight on Hitchens’ own turf: secularism versus religion. “Most important to me,” Hitchens says, “is a settled resolution to call the new fascism by something like its right name.” That means the Muslims:

I …. the most committed anti-theist of us all, have decided that the overriding issue is the willingness of the U.S. to intervene in the civil war that’s going on in the Muslim world, and to help make sure the other side loses.

Ireland keeps haplessly trying to bring up the “theocrats” around Bush, “who are quite busy trampling into the dust the constitutional insistence on the separation of church and state through a series of patronage boondoggles for the enhancement of the GOP-labeled ‘faith-based initiatives.'”

You have always proclaimed — and I am not aware it is a view you have renounced — that you are an atheist, and I’ve heard you over the years make some of the best arguments for godlessness one can proffer. But this administration’s politics are riddled with theocracy, and the way in which Bush has now put the fight against AIDS and sex education into the hands of the right-wing Christers and condom opponents and the abstinence-only crowd is crippling AIDS-prevention efforts…

Hitchens is able to demolish this with little more than a throwaway line, because when it comes to fundamentalism, Bush remains a piker.My opposition to religion and the religious is deeper than you credit. …

However, Duggers old horse, you know better than to suggest any equivalence between American god-botherers and Osama. (The nearest to equivalence one could get would be Robertson and Falwell saying that America had it coming on 9/11: Chomsky and Fisk in clerical drag.) Nobody is going to escape their share of irony and contradiction here: Bush is actually forced to defend the secular state and to make secular allies, even if he fantasizes about some kingdom of heaven.

Organize your thoughts, idiots! The Silhouettes command it!

Timothy Garton Ash coined the phrase “enlightenment fundamentalist,” for Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Whether Hitchens (or Ireland) is enlightened in this exchange is up for argument. But the fact is, they mirror the fundamentalists perfectly: for all of them, the key determinant of whether somebody is right or wrong, good or evil, is whether they believe in God. To Islamist or Christianist, of course, what’s evil is disbelief, whereas to Ireland and Hitchens, belief (or failing to “defend the secular state”) is the mark of sin. Other than that detail, though, it’s a perfect match — one made in heaven.

Terry Eagleton has written, sensibly, that the “New Atheists” — Richard Dawkins, Martin Amis, et.al, a chorus among whom Hitchens was perhaps the loudest voice — have not just a theological but a political agenda.

Writers such as Martin Amis and Hitchens do not just want to lock terrorists away. They also tout a brand of western cultural supremacism…. Both Hitchens and Salman Rushdie have defended Amis’s slurs on Muslims. Whether they like it or not, Dawkins and his ilk have become weapons in the war on terror. Western supremacism has gravitated from the Bible to atheism.

Ireland has joined this too: promoting stringent Western laïcité as the defense and bulwark of the embattled gays. He’s published screeds against theologian Tariq Ramadan, hawking the Islamophobic rhetoric of Ramadan’s opponent Caroline Fourest. (Malise Ruthven has delivered an incisive refutation of Fourest’s claims, for those interested in the dispute.) Gay City News has also given space to a bizarre attack on French women wearing the hijab, not, one would generally think, its area of expertise:

There’s nothing sanctifying or empowering at all about the ugly black, dirty drapes that hide older Muslim women as they stagger down the street. When I see them I want to ban all the abayas, hijabs, and headscarves I see. And give a good hard kick in the balls to the young men and boys with their degenerate fathers sauntering several yards in front of the women they despise as trash.

The logical conclusion of “covering” women is a mere 3,485 miles east in Afghanistan … [O]ne thing at least is clear. That it’s not more freedom of religion most Muslim women need, but freedom from the monsters that use it to keep them safely hidden and in chains.

oh, yes, you are

The message coming from Ireland and Hitchens, as with other devotees of laïcité, is clear: secularity should be the price of full citizenship, and abandoning religion and its robes the prerequisite for getting your human rights.

Somebody should investigate why, after a century of scientific advances, secularism remains largely the property of elites and a mark of privilege. (The Egyptian election returns forcibly press home the point.) Surely one reason is that, absent some larger program to build a juster, fairer here-and-now, it offers only resignation. It’s incapable of making most people happy. (And if the endlessly angry Hitchens and the jealously resentful Ireland were atheism’s only poster boys, I would get me posthaste to a monkery or a madrassa.)

But it does provide Hitchens and Ireland with common ground, even across the fissure of the Iraq invasion. And it is, in a sense, Ireland’s last defense of Hitchens. He helped the gays because he fought their greatest enemy: God.  Ireland cites Hitch’s comment on his separation from his schoolboy love: “it helped teach me as vividly as anything could have that religion was cruel and stupid.” Even in supporting a stupid war, one infers, he had his eye on the real foe.

Ireland writes:

Many of my left-wing friends who had stopped speaking to Hitch were surprised that I continued to maintain warm and friendly relations with him. This was possible only because, after our pubic debate, we both instinctively avoided those subjects on which our differences were too profound.

Undoubtedly wise, but I can’t help thinking there was more at work. After all, Ireland too launched his own jihad against the jihadis midway through the Iraq war. No sooner did Iran elect Ahmadinejad in 2006 than Doug fell into a morass of speculation and outright lies that fed on popular hysteria against the mullahs. His ensuing promotion of rumors about Iran as well as Islam not only won him readers, it gave the atheism he shared with Hitchens that longed-for political field to work upon. Although Ireland insisted he opposed an actual attack upon Iran, Hitch (who cheerled happily for one: “How many Iranian dissidents are really going to be nationalistically upset by an intervention that comes in and removes the Revolutionary Guards?”) must have approved his rhetoric.

One more point. Touching on Hitchens’ bisexual escapades, Ireland observes that

In his memoir, Hitch, in describing his sexual encounters with young men while a penniless and militantly left-wing student at Oxford, relates how he’d frequently be invited by wealthy and attractive young men, often right-wingers, to lavish dinner parties with good food and even better wine and spirits and would often accept, knowing that he would have to “sing for his supper” — a euphemism that should be understood as not merely being entertaining but as “putting out.” … [The Daily Mail quoted]  Oxford contemporaries of Hitch’s as saying “He had a reputation for being AC/ DC and, although a Trot, he was fancied by quite a few gay Tories and moved in those circles.”

Trotsky bust on eBay: the prophet discounted

At this point I recall with delight the rather dreadful George Galloway’s description of Hitchens as a “drink-sodden former Trotskyist popinjay”—the only good line of George’s career, and one that might see his corpse squeak into whatever corner of Westminster Abbey is reserved for purveyors of invective. (There must be one.)  Something that’s never been adequately explained is the propensity of youthful Trotskyites to lurch severely rightward in later life. Saul Bellow (who was actually in Mexico trying to meet the Old Man when Ramón Mercader excavated Trotsky’s ice-cold intellect with an icepick), Max Eastman, Sidney Hook, James Burnham, Lyndon LaRouche … the list goes on and on.  I suspect it has something to do with Trotskyism’s propensity for the Great Man theory of history. After all, Trotsky’s solution to bureaucratism, Stalinism, and the other ills of Communism was simply … Trotsky; give him power, and all evils would go away. The romantic belief in the brilliant, rejected hero, so immensely appealing to intellectually  insecure young men, is ultimately more compatible with the Right than the Left. Hitchens only followed multitudes who had tracked the relentless logic of the Superman to its home in the country house of Colonel Blimp.

But the stories Ireland (along with Hitchens) tells suggest something more: Hitch’s early infatuation with power, and power’s regular partner, money. And this persisted. What else did Hitchens do, in attracting the attentions of Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith by unequivocally shilling for their war, but “sing for his supper?”  Of course, this was easier blowing: he didn’t need physically to put his lips to Wolfie’s or Feith’s distasteful members, just to the inflatable balloon of their reputations. It’s quite true, as Michael Lind writes, that the dialectics of fame always drove Hitchens’ career: he was “a gossip columnist of genius” who “escaped from the ghetto of little-known leftist writers when he discovered that he could become a celebrity by denouncing bigger celebrities.” In the last stage of his  life, though, he found he could feed his fame best not by denouncing but by ingratiating the biggest celebrities of all, the wielders of bombs and the breakers of nations. It did wonders even for his literary reputation. As his former publisher at The Nation, Victor Navasky, remarks, his essayistic talents were little noticed until he moved right, where there were ready crowds of “muscular liberal” critics to acclaim him.

Doug, I’m afraid, has done the same sort of thing on a much smaller scale. He told me once that his first, sensational, deceptive postings on Iran got his blog 60,000 hits; the lure of popularity at career’s end kept the fictions coming. Gay City News, too, held its own little fire sale of its integrity. Lately it’s hosted one Ben Weinthal, a flack for the “Foundation for the Defense of Democracies,” a far-right think tank pushing for military action against America’s enemies. Weinthal’s job is to produce propaganda promoting war with Iran as well as support for Israel (the Foundation organized an “Iranian Threat Campaign” to disseminate panic about the danger).   Weinthal’s first agitprop piece in GCN praised Doug Ireland to the skies, and warned of “Iran’s Anti-Gay Genocide”: a unique genocide, the first genocide in world history with no demonstrable dead. Samantha Power would be proud of it.

It’s distressing that a once-progressive rag should turn itself over to such warmongering; but you can see that Ireland and the paper’s editors are flattered by the attention, as much as Hitchens was overwhelmed by getting invites to Paul Wolfowitz’s parties. Policymakers, the powerful, the deciders, all usually ignore the gay press. But now an influential rookery of neocons, one that features Christianist Gary Bauer and Mouth-of-Sauron Richard Perle on its board, is actually complimenting Ireland’s half-baked articles and taking GCN seriously! Such interest can only be won by serving the prejudices of the powerful. Hitchens did it, in his later years; in their lesser sphere of influence, Ireland and GCN have learned to do it too.

Ireland writes,

In my view, Hitch was queer in several ways — both in the Merriam-Webster definitions of the word as “eccentric,” “unusual,” “unique” (he certainly was “sui generis”) and in the sense that he “got” us in a way that few non-gay writers ever have.

I sympathize with his mourning for a remarkable friend. But “queer” — as I learned to use it in my salad days, the days of AIDS and spreading death, of militancy and Queer Nation — implies something more than either uniqueness or understanding. It means a consistency in rebellion, refusing to fit in or satisfy the mandates of authority, refusing to kowtow or conform, either to settle for the average or sell out for privilege. It means holding fast to the impalpable stuff of difference, always situating yourself in its uncertainties and unplotted crevices rather than in a safe or named or protected place. It means not merely speaking truth to power, but startling it with the odd well-timed obscenity. It means saying “no” whenever “yes” would be easy.  It means that solidarity with the dead matters more to you than the approbation of the living. Hitch was queer at times in his career, I’ll grant you that. But not at the end.  You can be gay, or lesbian, or even trans and sit down at Paul Wolfowitz’s dinnertable. But queer? No. Not my kind.

Chronicles of “pinkwashing”: The hue and cry

roll with it

Probably most readers here by now have also read my colleague Sarah Schulman’s op-ed on “Israel and ‘Pinkwashing,'” which to its credit the New York Times published last week. If you haven’t, read it. Before I get to my point — which is the helpful additional documentation of Israel’s campaign that Schulman has since compiled — it may be useful to review some of the myriad incensed reactions the piece drew: to borrow Mary McCarthy’s description of the attacks on Hannah Arendt forty-five years ago, the hue and the cry.

Here goes:

1) The neo-conservative hair salon Harry’s Place argues that Schulman is wrong because, you know, the Muslim Brotherhood. Whatever you say about Israel there is, you know, the Muslim Brotherhood, and, you know, something. Obviously she is wrong, because of the Muslim Brotherhood. Really wrong. I told you so, and if. Just look. The Muslim Brotherhood.

Harry’s Place repeatedly republishes the writings of chronically inaccurate episodically accurate blogger Paul Canning, as well as inveterate liar speaker of power to truth Peter Tatchell, and some of their freewheeling ways with facts must be rubbing off, because Harry and his placemen blame me for Schulman too. I am, apparently, “one of the most active proponents of this strategy” (that is, enlisting the gays toward “ending Jewish self-determination in Israel”) even though I’ve only written about “pinkwashing” once, and nobody read it. It’s flattering to be admitted to the grand conspiracy. Minds as creative and sophisticated as Harry’s Place’s bloggers, back in the days when they found ready employment in the Okhrana, would have given me an honored role in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. To think I missed my chance as a literary character by little more than a century! Still, there’s hope. Harry’s henchmen well know that I’m a paid apologist for Iran, and just this morning I did my first PR work for the Muslim Brotherhood. With a little boost from David Toube and Brett (the wee racist who loves the phrase “ni**er balls”) Lock, I can look forward to a stint as the villain on the next iteration of 24. Gitmo, here I come!

2) Dwarf reporter Jamie Kirchick fulminates intensely in a high-pitched voice. Schulman and her allies refuse to “acknowledge the suffering of Palestinian gays,” who suffer constantly from being forced to be Palestinian, and who, in addition to being the only Palestinians Jamie Kirchick likes, are the only Palestinians who suffer at all; the rest of Palestinians either rest happily in the knowledge that their lands are being well-tended by Jewish settlers, or agree with Kirchick that they never existed in the first place. Rightly indignant, Kirchick flails his tiny fists against the wall:

Schulman and her ilk are in fact using the issue of gay rights to forward an ulterior agenda. So consumed are they by hatred of Israel that they are willing to distort the truth about the horrible repression of homosexuals in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. … Schulman ends up making excuses for people who kill homosexuals… [She] lays bare the delusion, paranoia, and cynicism of the Jewish state’s most earnest detractors.

Although Kirchick’s article has gone largely unnoticed in the United States, many dogs and hamsters in Australia, driven mad by the shrill, distant whine, threw themselves into the Tasman Sea.

3) Andrew Sullivan, who is still recovering from an interview Schulman subjected him to in 1999 (“I think you’re not a leader who has emerged from the community; I think you’ve been selected by the dominant group”) attempts his rhetorical revenge:

Schulman is a hardcore gay leftist, and her argument is as preposterous as Jamie notes. … What you see in Schulman’s ideology is actually a distrust of gay advancement if it isn’t simultaneously part of some grander leftist ideological agenda, and subordinate to it. Hence the gay left’s historic opposition to marriage equality and military service and their reluctance to accept that AIDS has gone from a plague to a disease in the mid-1990s for the affluent West.

These are all the things that Schulman grilled him on in 1999, and clearly if only she had agreed with him then that uxoriously married gay staff sergeants on expensive triple therapies represent the only hope for survival of the human race, she would not now be going off on these radical kicks. Queer Palestinians a) can’t marry; b) have no regular army; and c) mostly can’t afford triple therapies. Losers! Forget the bastards.

4) It’s a relief to move from these people to someone I’ve never heard of. Of course, if I were a more knowledgeable anti-Semite I would probably recognize that David Harris is the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, and moreover that he describes himself (people always write their own online bios) as:

one of the Jewish people’s leading advocates and most eloquent spokesmen. The Executive Director of AJC since 1990, he travels the globe meeting with world leaders to advance the well-being of Israel, combat anti-Semitism, monitor the condition of Jewish communities, and promote intergroup and interreligious understanding.

I leave evaluating the full force of his eloquence (as against Moses Mendelssohn, Rahel Varnhagen, Heinrich Heine, Paul Celan?) to others. Here he is, though, dazzling us like Demosthenes, and wondering why

Amidst all the turmoil going on in the world today, the editors chose to publish a column entitled “Israel and ‘Pinkwashing.'”

Yes!  The turmoil in Israel (and “Palestine”) is trivial compared to all the turmoil elsewhere; unless, of course, someone actually criticizes Israel, in which case they’re worth at least a column in the Huffington Post. With practice pebbles filling his mouth, the orator goes on:

Were I a gay activist today, would my one shot at reaching the Times‘ global readership be devoted to Israel’s alleged misdeeds, even as I could live freely there and celebrate my lifestyle without hindrance?

We all get our fifteen minutes; we each get one op-ed in this easy-to-waste life; so use it wisely!  If you’re gay, do something for the gays. Celebrate your own lifestye. Don’t fritter those precious paragraphs away on other people.   When, after all, did any of “the Jewish people’s leading advocates and most eloquent spokesmen” ever worry about universal ethics, universal rights and liberties, or the general condition of the human race? From Spinoza to Levinas, the modern Jewish intellectual tradition has been one of a much-needed insularity and inwardness, as my fellow authors of the Protocols certainly knew. In any case, David Harris has done his bit this week to advance the well-being of Israel and combat anti-Semitism. He can probably miss a meeting, or even two, with world leaders, and take a long weekend. The gays can also thank him for taking a moment to celebrate their lifestyle. It’s generous of him to notice.

All that said, you should take a look at Schulman’s chronicle of how Israel’s campaign to enlist international LGBT support has developed. The details are here. I disagree with a few particulars, but the overall point is clear: the campaign has been explicit and acknowledged by the Israeli government. It’s no secret. It’s not, from Netanyahu’s perspective, any shame. They know what they’re up to and they’re fairly open about it. We see again the peculiar disconnect between what can be said in Israel about Israel, and what can be said about Israel in the US: things that almost every Israeli knows are denied to the last breath and rendered unmentionable by its American defenders. It’s a weird dynamic. But it’s all the more reason that, for all their hue and cry, the minuscule Kirchicks and the huff-and-puffing Harry’s Placemats are not just duplicitous but self-deceiving, and can and should — safely and for the sake of one’s own sanity — be ignored.

P.S.: In the comments, Ben Doherty points out some resources on the subject of “pinkwashing”: http://www.pinkwatchingisrael.com/ and http://electronicintifada.net/tags/pinkwashing, and http://www.bdsmovement.net/ (search for pinkwashing).

One additional point is worth making. These writers don’t just attack Sarah Schulman’s position on Israel/Palestine. They delegitimate her (to use one of their favorite words) as an LGBT rights activist, because (and never mind the question of how issues intersect!) she has other concerns as well. Thus it’s not enough to say she’s wrong about Palestine. She cares about non-gays, and therefore she wants to kill homosexuals, which is more or less what Jamie Kirchick claims. I’ve been through this before with these people, on one of their favorite obsessions, Iran; they apparently believe that the very idea of the universality of human rights is somehow lethal to the gays, as they also believe —  more rationally — that it’s dangerous to the policies of the state of Israel. If there’s one thing that’s ridiculous, it’s having to defend Sarah Schulman as a queer activist. As somebody who lived and worked and fought and never gave up through the worst years of AIDS in the US, she knows considerably more about the lives and deaths of gays than Kirchick or David Toube ever will. I must acknowledge that when I started as an activist (I presume this places me firmly in my century) her novel People in Trouble was one of my inspirations. I bought a number of copies and left them in Romania, where I was working at the time. I hear they still give direction to some young activists there, in a country where people have also seen the darkness and the light, and know more about human rights than most of these dismissible scribblers in the US and the UK possibly can.

Pinkwashing Lieberman, whitewashing fascism

It’s November in Boston. Leaves carpet the streets and a chill sharpens the air; we prepare to give thanks that smallpox killed the Indians and left us their land; and it’s Out in Israel Month.  This is a “campaign of education and celebration. We aim to educate about the status of civil rights for LGBT Israeli citizens, hard-fought for throughout the years, and celebrate the LGBT community and culture in Israel. Israel is a multi-faceted society with many faces and just as many narratives.” The Jerusalem Post tells me,

Shai Bazak: I completely forget what I was doing before 1994

The program was an initiative of Israel’s consul-general to New England, Shai Bazak, and will feature performances by gay heartthrob Assi Azar. Azar, a popular TV host in Israel, will screen his made-for-television coming-out film Mom, Dad, I Have Something to Tell You to audiences around the Boston area, followed by panel discussions about life as an openly gay man in Tel Aviv.  The event makes Israel the only country in the world to run a campaign promoting its LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) population.

Bazak’s job as consul-general is obviously to promote Israel, and promoting its protection of LGBT rights is a task he embraces eagerly. At a campus speaking engagement recently, he made the de rigueur comparison to the rest of the region:

“It is clear from what we have seen that large masses of people in the Middle East want democracy, and civil rights, and liberty and freedom … Democracy is the right to speak up. Democracy supports the rights of women and gays and minorities in society who are oppressed.  However … this is a problem in the Middle East because even though many people want democracy, they don’t want it for everyone. This is a source of much conflict and much harm and is at the root of many of our problems.”

Now, Bazak knows exactly what it means to want democracy for some but not for others. In his past life — before serving as Binyamin Netanyahu’s press secretary during his first Prime Ministerial term — he was spokesman for the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, the major settlers’ organization. As such, he defended the idea that settlers had rights and deserved political representation, while Palestinians who owned the land would get neither.

Bazak “lost Netanyahu’s affection over the years,” according to one press report, but gained another patron: Yisrael Beiteinu party chief and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Lieberman originally wanted to put Bazak in the prestige post of consul-general in New York. Netanyahu vetoed that, but approved Boston as a consolation prize.

Diplomatic sources deflected criticism that Bazak, with his strong Likud credentials, is not the right man to send to Boston, the site of numerous universities and one of America’s most liberal cities, saying that he has proven his ability to represent the country’s policies faithfully and well.

Clearly Bazak has hit on the gay angle as a way to sell Israel to “one of America’s most liberal cities.”   His official biography on the consular website, meanwhile, omits his service to the extremist settlers, saying only that “Mr. Bazak has held many positions in Israeli government and the private sector.”

raise your hand if you like bears: Lieberman

This is “pinkwashing” to the max: using rights protections for one group to conceal rights abuses against another. But the intriguing thing  –suggested by Bazak’s own record — is the specific role of the Israeli right. After all, the two ministries most involved in marketing Israel’s gay record are both under the control of Yisrael Beiteinu: not only Lieberman’s Foreign Ministry, but the Ministry of Tourism under Stas Misezhnikov.

Yisrael Beiteinu has been widely called a fascist party. Its stab-in-the-back, racist rhetoric against Israeli Arabs fits part of that bill: “no loyalty, no citizenship” was its election slogan (think “even though many people want democracy, they don’t want it for everyone”).  And its promotion of a heroic leader cult and a macho-mythologized Israeli identity fits another. Here,  Haaretz describes its junior wing at a party conference:

The youths, ages 16-18, many of them good friends from school, had stood for a long time before the event began at the intersection near the hotel, waving Israeli flags and shouting “Death to the Arabs” and “No loyalty, no citizenship” at passing cars. …

On the bus back to the center of Upper Nazareth, one of the youths offers this explanation for his excitement about the party: “This country has needed a dictatorship for a long time already. But I’m not talking about an extreme dictatorship. We need someone who can put things in order. Lieberman is the only one who speaks the truth.” Adds Edan Ivanov, an 18 year old who describes himself as being “up on current events”:

“We’ve had enough here with the ‘leftist democracy’ – and I put that term in quotes, don’t get me wrong. People have put the dictator label on Lieberman because of the things he says. But the truth is that in Israel there can’t be a full democracy when there are Arabs here who oppose it.

“All Lieberman’s really saying is that anyone who isn’t prepared to sign an oath of loyalty to the state, because of his personal views, cannot receive equal rights; he can’t vote for the executive authority. People here are gradually coming to understand what needs to be done concerning a person who is not loyal.”

The party’s core appeal is to the xenophobia of Israel’s million-plus immigrants from the former Soviet Union. However, it’s not just nationalism that wins their loyalties.  Many, encouraged to make aliyah to Israel by a demographically desperate state, found that the Law of Return welcomed then but Jewish law didn’t.  Up to half a million Russian Jewish immigrants don’t qualify as halakhic Jews in the eyes of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

In part this is because of the celebrated “grandchild clause” in the Law of Return, which allows people with one Jewish grandparent to immigrate (on the argument that since this was the Nazi standard for extermination, it should be Israel’s standard for citizenship).   Orthodox parties have long campaigned to scrap this provision and bring the law into line with halakhic definitions — which would only deepen Israel’s demographic crisis. In the meantime, though, the incongruity between the state’s and the rabbinate’s definitions casts significant numbers of self-identified Russian Jews as outsiders in the land. Yisrael Beiteinu gives them psychological consolation by offering an Israeli-hood defined by loyalty and the exclusion (if not execution) of Arabs. It also promises material consolations: it’s a proudly secular party that presses to institute civil unions. This secularism in a state steadily more dominated by the Orthodox gives the party a peculiar appeal to gays as well.

So the semi-fascist party’s flirtation with gay rights has a logic to it. One self-described gay leftist writes:

It’s very tempting to just say “no” and resist any ties with Lieberman, whose MKs [members of the Knesset] are responsible for proposing a bunch of ugly new bills all meant to restrict freedom of expression.
But there’s more to it than that. I’m as Israeli as the next guy. I am a proud, left-wing patriot. As a gay activist, my first mission is to promote and normalize LGBT life in Israel.
The Russian immigrants who form the base of Lieberman’s constituency are in general the most homophobic part of Israeli society, even more than Shas’s ultra-Orthodox Jews.
So having Lieberman’s followers embrace the gay community is a very positive development, even if their motivations aren’t pure.
The fact is, there’s no way back for them.
After Lieberman embraces the gay community, he will never be able to speak or vote against gay laws in the Knesset. Next year, when we try again to get equal rights in adoption and surrogacy, his party will have to support those measures.

Mazel tov.

There’s a lot to be argued about in this dilemma. I’m sure somebody will invoke the figure of the little gay kid growing up in a Russian Jewish family, who will take untold comfort from the fact that his father’s favorite political party is no longer homophobic. And wouldn’t it be nice if President Mitt Romney in the US launched a campaign to attract gay tourists, to a country which by that time will be so broke and devastated that any travelling French homo would be welcomed as a savior along with his Euros francs! Wouldn’t that strike a blow for internal acceptance too? And so on …  But there’s a larger cost to the whole political community when an authoritarian thug like Lieberman gets to paint himself as a defender of somebody’s, anybody’s, rights. “Pinkwashing” corrupts the idea and practice of human rights, by throwing out the promise of universality and turning them into instruments of division and exclusion. What this story suggests is that it’s not just deception for external consumption: it also corrupts the polity from within. Lieberman pinkwashes himself. By expropriating the language of diversity and tolerance, he makes himself look like a decent participant in politics, and burnishes his own racism and violence with a secular and progressive sheen.  The writer above isn’t going to vote for Lieberman, but he’s willing to accept Lieberman’s votes for his own causes. Isn’t that just about as bad?

In the way that absolute power corrupts, occupation — the exercise of absolute control over a population — has corrupted Israel’s politics. Lieberman’s ascent to respectability marks a further descent into corruption. That a foreign ministry under his leadership can talk with a straight face about “a multi-faceted society with many faces and just as many narratives” means the narrative has become a fantastic fairy tale. Among the many faces of tolerance, Lieberman’s is the portrait of Dorian Gray.