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Queens Chronicle

Israel is no democracy

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Posted: Thursday, June 20, 2013 10:30 am

Dear Editor:

I was surprised and disappointed by your editorial denouncing the Queens Pride House for its sponsorship of a public forum that was critical of the Israeli government’s continued occupation of Palestinian territories, especially since your article reporting on the event was a perfectly straightforward and honest account of what happened (“An attack on Israel, here in Queens,” June 6).

Your labeling and name-calling does not help foster an atmosphere of debate and open discussion. For instance, calling Sarah Schulman “anti-Israel” because she put forth an articulate criticism of Israeli government policies makes me wonder if you would call me un-American since I am critical of several policies our own government pursues every day.

You also make it sound as if pink-washing does not exist. It is true that our LGBT Jewish sisters and brothers in Israel have secured some important civil rights, and it is also true that other nations in that region have terrible records in relation to LGBT people. But none of that negates another very important fact: Every day the rights of all Palestinians, queer and straight, are assaulted by the brutality of the Israeli occupation.

Additionally, one cannot dispute the fact that the Israeli government has been on a public relations campaign to clean up its image internationally, and one component part of that is to promote Israel as a haven for gay people. Their image has been sullied because of their horrendous treatment of the Palestinian people for decades. This is the context in which many of us have been speaking out against pink-washing by the Israeli government.

I also disagree with your assessment that Israel is a functioning democracy. Yes, there are important democratic rights granted to those who are Jewish. But if you are not Jewish, most of those rights disappear ... even if your family has lived there over several centuries. You cannot claim to be a democracy when significant portions of your own population are denied access to all of the rights accorded others, all based on religious identity. That’s not my idea of democracy, whatever nation it takes place in.

As a lesbian, as a person committed to ending military occupations everywhere, and as a citizen of the world who supports the struggles for full social, political and economic rights here in the U.S., in the Middle East, and wherever they are being carried out, I say thank you to the Queens Pride House for hosting this event. I hope they will invite us to other forums like this in the future and not shy away from what might seem to be controversial issues.

Leslie Cagan

Welcome to the discussion.


  • bbridges posted at 11:01 pm on Wed, Jun 26, 2013.

    bbridges Posts: 2

    Cathy: Couple of things:
    1) BDS advocates want an end to Israel; Arabs have made it clear what will become of Jews in the region without Israel.

    2) The Palestinian Arab population of Israel has increased since 1948, as have their life expectancy, education, health outcomes, etc. This is completely the opposite of the case of Native Americans (and, in fact, several tribal leaders have agreed that Israel is the return of an indigenous population and have asked Palestinians not to highjack their narrative). The real Apartheid and ethnic cleansing is that of the Arab states against Jewish communities who had been living there for millenia (look up Jewish Nakba and the Farhud).

    3) Finally, Pauline Park abused her role as director of Queens Pride House to advance her own anti-Israel agenda and explicitly refused to have any Zionist or pro-Israel voices at her "forum". The Queens Pride House's resources and energies would be better spent focused on issues like lethal homophobia in Arab countries, including forced gender reassignment or the anti-LBGTQ laws in Russia or the recent anti-trans government actions in Greece.

  • Cathy K posted at 4:18 pm on Mon, Jun 24, 2013.

    Cathy K Posts: 1

    Okay, first, I don't understand why anyone would denounce an organization for holding a public forum on any topic at all. There is nothing as open and transparent and fair as a public forum. People ought to be allowed to express an opinion or a belief or facts without being denounced! Is it disrespectful of one group of people to disapprove and/or be outraged by the abuse and oppression of another? My own ancestors (and those of many of my fellow Americans) were guilty, in fact, of the same things; in their case, it was Native Americans who were oppressed and abused. Reflecting on that past, and realizing how very wrong it was and how uncivilized it was, I wonder why anyone could simply watch the same thing happen all over again: people being pushed out of more and more land, people being denied basic human and civil rights. And of course it has happened in other places as well. But I am actually not, in a comment on a newspaper's web site, going to bring about world peace; not even peace in the Middle East. I do think it rather atrocious that the editor of a newspaper, presumably with a background in journalism (which I understand to involve fair and unbiased reporting) should attack an organization for daring to hold a public forum to even discuss matters regarding Palestine and Israel. This is, after all, the United States; with all our faults, we are entitled to freedom of speech, and a public forum actually represents the foundational rights of our Constitution. So I will give bbridges and JayM100 their place in this particular forum, of course; and here is my response to all three people I see represented here thus far: those two and Leslie Cagan. I do not believe that discussing and questioning Israel's policies and actions is an "attack" on Israel. If Israel feels that is an attack, there is something faulty in Israel's understanding of its nationhood. With nationhood, of course, comes responsibility. I don't see that being part of how Israel treats the Palestinians. It's time to acknowledge everyone's rights and dignity. It seems simple enough to me.


    Editor's note:

    You know, our editorial pretty much spoke for itself, and I don't necessarily need to get into the weeds in the discussion it prompted. But there are two things that should be said.

    1. Fair and unbiased reporting is for straight news articles, like the one we had on the event at Pride House. The letter to the editor you're responding to here came in response to our editorial, which is by definition an opinion piece.

    2. Supporters of the Pride House event keep likening the boycott-divestment-sanctions movement to regular criticism of a government and attempts to change its policies through persuasion. But BDS is not like writing your congressman, or holding a rally, or making phone calls — it seeks to deprive Israel of concrete economic resources in order to force a change in policy. Sanctions, in fact, are the last step taken against nation-states short of the use of force (see "Iranian nuclear program"). Claiming BDS is the same as simply petitioning a government for a redress of grievances is just inaccurate.

    OK, thanks to commenters of all views.

    — Peter C. Mastrosimone

    Editor in chief

    Edited by staff.

  • smaglott posted at 4:05 pm on Mon, Jun 24, 2013.

    smaglott Posts: 0

    Thank you Leslie Cagan for stating the obvious. We cannot be strong-armed by foreign governments into looking the other way when it comes to human rights abuses. I am also a strong critic of violence from Hamas, but the State-sanctioned violence and human rights abuses from the Israeli Government are unacceptable and an outrage. We must continue to put pressure on the American government to withhold money used to support the Israeli Apartheid. Not with my money, not in my name!

  • bbridges posted at 2:35 pm on Sat, Jun 22, 2013.

    bbridges Posts: 2

    Leslie, you've obviously never been to Israel (or the Middle East). You're views are vastly misinformed. Israel is a vibrant democracy; its Arab and other non-Jewish citizens have rights unparalleled in the entire Middle East. They have a right to vote, they are serve in the parliament and on the supreme court. They are represented in the universities and all the professions.

    The PA is not a democracy; Abbas is in year nine of his five-year term. Hamas has driven out all opposition in Gaza, and they have stripped women, LBGTQ, and non-Muslims of rights they previously had under Israel. If you want to see what you're one-state paradise will look like, you only have to look at Lebanon and Syria to see.

    The PA, Hamas, and other Arab regimes engage in "Palwashing", using the Palestinians plight to cover their own human rights abuses, while they systematically deny Palestinians of the rights afforded to every other refugee group in history. That is the real crime, and one in which you choose to be complicit.

  • JayM100 posted at 6:48 pm on Fri, Jun 21, 2013.

    JayM100 Posts: 1

    If you don't like chicken in a restaurant and you tell the chef "I love your restaurant but don't like your chicken" that's "critical". When you say "I don't like your chicken and you're restaurant shouldn't exist" that's being anti-the restaurant. Schulman isn't just critical of Israel, she wants it to cease from existence. That's what one would call "anti-Israel". I never heard Schulman say "let's encourage a 2-state solution so both people's can live in peace". Her narrative is that Israel is an oppressor, the Palestinians are oppressed and Israel needs to shut down".

    People such as Leslie, Schulman, and Park never talk abt what a democracy looks like in their proposed one-state solution (which they all encourage), because they are unsure themselves what will happen to the Jews and the gay community under the ruling of the non-Jewish state they fantasize about. But that's the point, they don't especially care.

    Thankfully, no matter how much they try, Israel will continue to flourish and be the great democracy that she is.