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Op-ed: If You Take Down Israel, What Else Goes With It?

Our community should celebrate Israel—a country whose laws are more favorable to LGBT people than the United States—and stop sympathizing with its opponents.

By Lillian Faderman, Augus t5, 2011, originally posted at

Below is an article that appeared Thursday,  August 5 in The Advocate from award-wining author Lillian Faderman, "If   You Take Down Israel, What Else Goes With It?." It is being reprinted with permission.,_What_Else_Goes_With_It_/

Israelis march during this year's pride parade in their  country.Americans have every reason to envy Israel's enlightened  policies toward their LGBT citizens. So it puzzles me deeply when I hear of LGBT  groupslending their sympathy to opponents of Israel.

The rights we have been fighting for and still have not  fully achieved in the United States, LGBT Israelis already enjoy. I came out in  the middle of the last century and witnessed firsthand the persecution and  oppression of LGBT people. It was because of those early experiences that I  devoted the last 40 years of my life to writing books and articles about our  community’s history and progress.

In America, as late as 2003 there were still 14 states  that punished gay men under sodomy laws. Israel abolished all sodomy laws in  1988. In America,we’ve been fighting for decades for a law that would end  employment discrimination against LGBT people. A few states have passed such  laws, but the federal government has not. Israel passed a law in 1992 that  protects any citizen (Jewish, Christian, or Arab) from employment discrimination  for being
lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

In America at  mid-century, lesbians and gays in the military had to be absolutely closeted;  they were witch-hunted and given dishonorable discharges if found out. The  “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy that was passed during the Clinton administration  was actually considered “progressive”—a big improvement over the old  policy—because lesbians and gays were to be booted out of the military  only if they drew attention to their homosexuality. Finally
now, 11 years  into the 21st century, America is getting around to permitting lesbians and gays  to serve openly in the military. Our Israeli brothersand sisters have been able  to serve openly since 1993, and since 1997 asame-sex partner is recognized by  the Israeli Defense Department as a member of the soldier’s family.

When  I was doing research for my 2006 book, Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians, I interviewed an 83-year-old lesbian who had just lost her partner of almost 50 years. Their house had been in her partner’s name and because the partner died without a  will,the law granted the house to the deceased woman’s distant cousin, with  whom she’d had no contact for decades. My 83-year-old interviewee was left without a place to live. If she’d been an Israeli citizen—whether Jewish, Christian, or Arab—she would be living in her home until her death because lesbian and gay couples have full inheritance rights under Israeli law.

My partner and I have been together for 40 years. Like 18,000 other same-sex couples in California, we got married in 2008. Though all 36,000 of us are still married as far as the State of California is concerned, Proposition 8  banned same-sex marriage for all others. Because federal laws don’t recognize  our marriage, our legal bond doesn’t do us much good anyway. If we should decide  to move next door to Arizona or Las Vegas or Oregon—or almost anywhere else in  America—we wouldn’t be considered legally married. We both pay federal income  tax, of course, but under the law we get none of the federal benefits that  opposite-sex couples receive. In fact, the only result of our marriage with  regard to taxes is that we have to pay our accountant triple: once for doing our  state income tax as a married couple, a second and third time for doing our  federal income tax as two single payers. And if one of us should die, that’s the  end of her Social Security benefits for which she’d paid in for more than half a  century; the surviving spouse gets absolutely nothing of those benefits.

If we’d lived in Israel, we’d be much better off. In 1994, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in favor of granting spousal benefits to same-sex couples. In 2004, the court ruled that LGBT couples could qualify for common-law marriage  status. In 2005, legislation was passed in Israel recognizing all same-sex  marriages that are performed abroad.

So there can be no explanation for  LGBT groups participating in wrong-headed actions such as the BDS movement that  seeks boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. Outside of Israel,  everywhere in the Middle East, LGBT people are utterly despised under the law.  Indeed, official treatment of LGBT people in other Middle East countries makes  the bar raids and job losses and police entrapments that we experienced in the  1950s and ‘60s seem like coddling. If a family wishes to rid itself of the  embarrassment of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender member by “honor  killing” there would be no legal consequences in the area governed by the  Palestinian Authority or Hamas, or in Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia or  Syria.

Needless to say, and as even the Amnesty International  LGBT website shows,there’s no Middle Eastern country other than Israel in which  lesbian or gay couples can receive spousal benefits, none other than Israel in  which lesbians and gays can serve openly in the military, none other than Israel that protects lesbians and gays from discrimination or hate crimes. In Iran and Saudi Arabia we’re put to death. In Syria we’re thrown in prison for three  years. In Egypt, we’re prosecuted under lewd conduct laws, and were illegal in  Lebanon and Libya, too.

After long years of struggle, American LGBT  people have finally won a modicum of freedom and justice. Only insane logic or  misinformation could justify withholding our sympathies from a country that  grants our LGBT brothers and sisters not only the benefits that we enjoy but  even more. Why would we work against such a country?


Lillian Faderman has published eight books on LGBT  history and literature. She is the recipient of several LGBT lifetime  achievement awards, including Yale University’s James Brudner Award, the  Monette/Horwitz Award, Publishing Triangle’s Bill Whitehead Award, and the ONE  National Archives Culture Hero Award.


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Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.