Like the rest of the world, the LGBTQ community is at odds about the current war between Israel and Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that rules the Gaza Strip.
On Oct. 7, Hamas forces attacked Israel, killing 1,139 Israelis and other nationals (mostly civilians), and taking 248 hostages. The Israeli government, vowing to destroy Hamas, launched an attack on Gaza, destroying much of its territory and killing more than 23,000 people. Public opinion, at first horrified by the Israeli casualties and the plight of its hostages, soon turned as the media zeroed in on the plight of Gazan civilians who bore the brunt of the Israeli onslaught.
I am a Zionist who believes in Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself. Hamas is a terrorist group that should have been obliterated years ago, for the sake of the Palestinians as well as the Israelis. I see no contradiction between being a Zionist and being a progressive. As a gay man, I admire the fact that Israel is the most pro-LGBTQ country in the Middle East, despite some homophobic sentiments expressed by members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government. I support the work of A Wider Bridge (AWB), a group that fosters relations between the State of Israel and LGBTQ Americans. This does not mean I support Netanyahu, or his policies against the Palestinian people, such as building Jewish settlements on the West Bank.
There was a time when Zionism was a progressive cause. This is no longer true. The Israeli invasion of Gaza has increased pro-Palestinian sentiment on the Left, among minority groups, on college campuses, and even from some Democrats in Congress. Queer progressives have also joined this bandwagon, condemning the deaths of Palestinian children in Gaza while ignoring the deaths of Israeli children on Oct. 7. In December, a group called Queer Artists for Palestine issued an open letter calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza. It was signed by more than 330 LGBTQ artists, actors, and musicians who vowed “not to perform or participate in public events in Israel until Palestinians are free.” More recently, ACT UP NYC, best-known for its work on behalf of people with HIV or AIDS, took part in a rally calling for a ceasefire in Gaza: “We refuse to stand by idly as a mass genocide is being committed with our tax dollars, tax dollars that could be spent on HIV/AIDS research, treatment and prevention,” ACT UP posted.
On the other side, gay adult film star Michael Lucas was trashed by other industry professionals after he bragged about writing his name on an Israeli bomb destined for Gaza. Less controversially, Ritchie Torres, an openly gay, Blatino congressman from the Bronx, likened pro-Hamas protesters to white people in the Jim Crow era who celebrated the lynching of Blacks. “I was profoundly shaken not only by Oct. 7, but by the aftermath,” Torres said, “to see fellow Americans openly cheering and celebrating the deadliest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust. And for me, the aftermath of Oct. 7 reminded me of an earlier and darker time in our nation’s history, a time when the public mobs of Jim Crow would openly celebrate the lynching of African Americans.”
Torres is a member of the Progressive Caucus in Congress and a Zionist, a combination that seems increasingly hard to find. But he is not the only one. Some of the wealthiest Jewish-American families, who are firm supporters of Israel, are also philanthropists who give much of their fortune to LGBTQ and other progressive causes. Florida Democratic Representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Jared Moskowitz and Lois Frankel, all allies of our community, also support Israel’s right to defend itself. Many of those who are involved with A Wider Bridge are progressives as well as Zionists; and they hotly deny accusations of “pinkwashing” (exploiting Israel’s pro-LGBTQ record to distract others away from the Jewish State’s harsh treatment of Palestinians). This humble columnist will continue to support the State of Israel, while at the same time will continue to speak out in support of a two-state solution that might satisfy both sides.