| Queer people and women better off in Israel

In her letter dated March 11, U2 IDS student Jamie Birks begged The Daily to stop its torrent of anti-Israel coverage. Earlier this month, Mookie Kideckel called for an end to The Daily’s persistent marginalization of Israel supporters on campus, deriding the paper’s one-sided endorsement of Israeli Apartheid Week and its editorial that “diluted a complex conflict into a simplistic allocation of blame.” They’re both right – not only because one-sided coverage is often factually dubious and harmful to students on campus, but because The Daily has a mandate to concern itself with marginalized groups, and it is time to elucidate the oppression of sexual minorities and women in the Middle East.

McGill Daily: where were you to criticize the appalling treatment of LGBTQ people under Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza? Even today, homosexuality is illegal in Gaza. Palestine has no civil right laws that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination or harassment. Mahmoud Zahar, the most senior leader of Hamas, called queer people “a minority of perverts and the mentally and morally sick.”

The only refuge for persecuted LGBTQ Palestinians has, perhaps ironically, been found in Israel. Many have fled to Tel Aviv and Netanya, where they live illegally to avoid the physical abuse, death, or disownment that awaits them at home.

Several independent human rights organizations rank Israel the best in the entire Middle East in terms of LGBTQ rights. Israel is the only country in the region where LGBTQ people have the legal rights to live safely and freely. While same-sex marriage is not yet legal in the State of Israel, the government recognizes all same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. It also grants same-sex couples common law marriage along with adoption rights and critical spousal benefits.

All Israeli citizens are protected from sexual orientation discrimination in employment, and LGBTQ Israelis may openly serve in the Israeli military. There is a vibrant queer community, an annual Pride Parade, and despite the attention given to the actions of a small ultra-Orthodox minority, over 60 per cent of the Israeli population expresses support for equal marriage.

The treatment and status of women is also considerably different when Israel is compared to any of its neighbours in the region. In Israel, much like in Western liberal democracies, women have been guaranteed full legal equality since the state’s founding in 1948. Golda Meir, former Israeli prime minister, was only the third woman in the world to be a head of government. Since then, women have continued to work in high-ranking jobs, serve alongside men in the military, and participate as equals in the State of Israel.

Maybe The Daily ought to endorse participation in “Palestine and Gaza’s Apartheid against Women” week. Honour killings continue to terrorize dozens of women annually in the Palestinian territories; the Hamas government has not attempted to stop or condemn any of them. In fact, it is suspected of having established many of the very infrastructures which participate in them.

Women hold no ministerial position in either the Palestinian Authority or Hamas, and close to one in four Palestinian women report physical violence against them in the home. In the Gaza Strip, the Egyptian penal code on adultery applies, which allows for reduced punishment on violence against women.

Women’s economic opportunities are also heavily constrained. Palestinian women’s participation in the labour market is the lowest among all Middle Eastern and north African countries, with an employment rate at an appalling 14.7 per cent. According to a study by the Women’s Affairs Center, 88 per cent of women in the region have been denied their inheritance.

This is not to say that it’s never legitimate to critique Israeli policy or to express sympathy for the people suffering in Palestine or Gaza. Both are necessary elements of a fruitful and honest discourse about the Middle East. But we ought to think critically about who and what we support unconditionally. The simplistic vilification of Israel and glorification of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas does violence to sexual minorities and women who continue to suffer tremendously in the region.

Riva Gold’s thoughts appear in this space every week. Write her at littlebitter@mcgilldaily.com.