BDS – Where Empathy Goes to Die

My friend and ally Mike Harris (author of How to Win a Debate with an Israel Hater) forwarded me this story, with which many readers are likely familiar.

By now, it’s a commonplace for radical anti-Israel groups like Jewish Voice for Peace to try to bring their disruptive protest tactics to any event promoting support for or celebration of the Jewish state.   Yet this year, they chose a very special target for one of their “direct actions.”

That target was the LGBTQ contingent of New York’s annual Celebrate Israel parade featuring gay men and women – young and old – showing their support for the only nation in the Middle East where their sexual orientation is not a legal and religious crime.

The way JVP decided to show their displeasure with that part of the event was to infiltrate the group and, at a key moment, disrupt their program by killing the music, tearing off their outer garments to reveal “Israel = Apartheid” t-shirts beneath, and screaming their slogans from the stage someone else (New York’s gay Jewish community) built.

The fact that some of the people terrorized by the infiltrators were kids was immaterial to the protestors and – more importantly – the planners of the protest who had determined in advance that their anti-Israel agenda trumps everything, everywhere, always.

While it would be easy to analyze such behavior through the lens of JVP hypocrisy and moral degeneration, it’s more interesting to think about what must be going on in the mind of those who have decided that the best way to push their allegedly progressive agenda is to infiltrate and terrorize gay youth.

Why this is interesting is that groups like JVP don’t simply think of themselves as progressive, but insist that they and their allies get to define who deserved that label and who does not.  The slur PEP (which stands for “Progressive in Everything But Palestine”) is one that gets routinely trotted out whenever a left-leaning individual or organization tries to stray from the anti-Israel orthodoxy groups like JVP are trying to enforce – demonstrating that maintaining Left-wing credentials is just as important to them as maintaining anti-Israel ones.

This poses a problem, however.  For progressive opinion has also been highly supportive of gay rights and increasingly supports people (including young people) exploring a constellation of sexual orientations.  And, whatever you might think about those ideas and associated political goals, it’s pretty clear that gay rights has become a defining principle for those who call themselves progressive.

The problem for JVP et al arises because, as mentioned previously, Israel not only represents an oasis of toleration in a Middle East sea of murderous homophobia, but is actually the most gay-friendly nation on the face of the earth.  This makes the agenda of Israel’s enemies one which must end with the increase in territory where homosexuality is punishable by imprisonment or death.

Israel bashers have used their usual tricks to get around this problem: highlighting and inflating the importance of incidental anti-gay violence by Israeli Jews while never mentioning the issue of systematic violation of gay rights by everyone else, for example.  When Israel’s friends ignored those taunts and began touting Israel’s progressive credentials through the lens of gay rights, JVP and its regressive allies came up with a new way around the problem: accusations of “Pinkwashing” (a fake phenomenon you can read about here).

This brings us back to that Israel Pride disruption that began this discussion.  For it is one thing to make the argument that gay support for Israel contradicts progressive values and be ready to defend that argument against those who claim the opposite.  But it’s quite another thing to jump up on someone else’s stage and start shouting your slogans that contradict the opinions of those whose space you just commandeered.

The interesting thing about JVP’s deliberate targeting of the LGBTQ contingent at the parade is that it required moving from fierce disagreement with the political opinions of segments of the gay community, to direct targeting of real human beings making up that community.  In other words, the protestors’ determination to establish themselves as True North for all progressive causes (including gay rights) required them to terrorize living, breathing gay people.

As mentioned previously, it would be simple to dismiss this whole episode as one more example of dishonest, reactionary behavior on the part of the anti-Israel fringe.  But whenever one moves from treating people as human beings to treating them as mere means to your own political ends, we are dealing with something far more dangerous than misdirected zeal.

For if Israel’s enemies are so lacking in empathy that they are ready to storm the gates to keep gay people in line (while all the while claiming and believing themselves to represent progressive thought in its purest form), what might they be willing to do next?


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