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Elliot Leven


By Elliot Leven

As a gay Jew with left-wing political views, I often find myself annoyed by the selective morality of certain critics of Israel.

Don’t get me wrong. It is obvious that Israel has some shortcomings, and sometimes deserves to be criticized.   Israel’s settlement policies are particularly foolish and short-sighted.

However, as a gay activist, I am well aware that Israel is a far more tolerant place for gays and lesbians than any Arab country (or Iran, which is Muslim but not Arab). 

Though Israel does not have same-sex marriage or even civil unions, the Jewish state has a fairly good record on equality for gays and lesbians.  For example, unlike the American army, Israel’s armed forces have no restrictions against openly gay or lesbian soldiers.  

The Arab world (and Iran), by contrast, is the worst region in which to be lesbian or gay (although Uganda is now competing for that “honour”).  In a 2008 article by Anne Penketh, The Independent referred to Iran as a “brutal land where homosexuality is punishable by death”.  Iranian President Ahmadinejad, addressing a crowd at Columbia University in 2007, made the bizarre assertion that there are no homosexuals in Iran.  An educated and politically shrewd man, Ahmadinejad was either playing rhetorical games, or he is simply living in a fantasy world.  

Even a fairly westernized state like Egypt is unspeakably backward when it comes to human rights for lesbians and gays.  Fledgling Egyptian human rights organizations, which face huge struggles on many fronts, don’t even talk about equality for gays and lesbians, because they regard that battle as literally hopeless.

 The Israeli daily Haaretz recently reported on a gay Palestinian from Nablus who is essentially seeking asylum in Israel.  Who can blame him?  It is no easier being gay in Nablus than it is in Cairo, Damascus, Riyadh or Teheran.


The Critics

 Which brings me to the selective morality of certain critics.  Three prominent critics of Israel are American Jewish linguist Noam Chomsky, KAIROS Canada, and the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).

Chomsky, in addition to being a brilliant linguist, is an outspoken commentator on political issues.  Among other things, he has often attacked Israel for its treatment of Palestinians and for other misdeeds.  Some of his criticisms of Israel have been justified.  Furthermore, to his credit, he has occasionally spoken in favour of same-sex marriage rights for American gays and lesbians.   

However, Chomsky’s silence about the way the Arab world and Iran oppress gays and lesbians, has been deafening.  Indeed, if one goes to Chomsky’s official website, one finds many references to Israel, but not a single reference to the persecution of lesbians and gays by Arab and Iranian governments.

KAIROS Canada refers to itself as a “faith-based ecumenical organization inspired by a vision of God’s compassionate justice”.  KAIROS’ member churches include Canadian Anglican, Presbyterian, and United churches, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the MCC and others.  

KAIROS has recently clashed with the Harper government over the issue of Israel-divestment (boycotting companies that do business with Israel).  The federal government has accused KAIROS of calling for divestment, but KAIROS has denied the accusation. In any case, if one goes to KAIROS’ website (, one will find many references to Israel, mostly very critical.  However, a search of the website for the word “gay” yields zero results.  There is not a word about the plight of gays and lesbians in Iran and the Arab world.

Finally, the MCC is very active in promoting social justice in Canada and abroad.  Its website ( says that MCC “shares God's love and compassion for all in the name of Christ  by responding to basic human needs and working for peace and justice….MCC addresses injustice and oppression.  MCC is committed to nonviolent peacemaking, including loving those who might be considered enemies.”  

To its credit, MCC has done good work in many places.  Its website contains many criticisms of Israel.  However, there is no mention at all about the persecution of lesbians and gays in the Arab world and Iran.

Now I realize that there are many injustices in this world and that progressive individuals and organizations can’t tackle every single injustice all at once.  I also realize that entities organized as coalitions (like KAIROS) have to make compromises in order to keep their coalitions together.   

Still, as a gay man lucky enough to live in a free country, I am acutely aware that millions of my lesbian and gay counterparts live unspeakably difficult lives in the Arab world and Iran.

It is not difficult for a human rights organization to show some balance in its agenda.  Amnesty International, for example, speaks up loudly on human rights abuses, including those against gays and lesbians, wherever they may occur. Other organizations could learn from Amnesty’s example.

There is nothing wrong about Chomsky, KAIROS and the MCC occasionally writing about Israel’s shortcomings.  However, they would have a million times more credibility if they also spoke up occasionally about the persecution of lesbians and gays in Iran and the Arab world.

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