Monday, September 10, 2012

To blog or not to blog?

I've been out of the United States since the end of July. At this juncture – and yes, this may sound overly dramatic – I don't know whether I'll ever return there. If I do, it may be as soon as in less than two months.

I've spent most of the past month and half in Palestine (the part most of you would call 'Israel'), with the exception of a week in Berlin.

Most of my time has been uneventful.

I will be flying to London, via Warsaw, on Saturday morning to begin my year-long adventure at the University of Essex. If there is anything worth writing about once I'm there, you'll read about it. For now, I'll just STFU.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Support from a friend

A couple of days ago I received the following message from my friend Sara Nimis of Georgetown University. With her permission, I am posting it below.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
On July 8, 2012 9:14:57 PM PDT, Sara Nimis wrote:

Dear Uri,

I have been following the story of your arrest on facebook, and I wanted to extend my support to you. I have been sort of chewing over the negative reactions of other GLBT activists to what happened, and I thought I would share my thoughts (take them or leave them).

First of all, I think that what you did is a completely acceptable form of civil disobedience, the same kind that has been used effectively by many earlier activists for civil rights: you put your personal self in the face of a functionary who is “just doing their job” by upholding a discriminatory law. By doing this you force that person to think about that law. You present them with the choice to uphold it or to join you in standing against it. You are forcing them to move from being a passive tool of the unfair law, or to take the risk of showing some kind of ethical solidarity with you, taking that risk with you.

The response of the nurse to the very interesting professional dilemma with which you presented her is really quite shocking to me, perhaps because I am identified as “straight” and so have never experienced this type of violent criminalization against mere presence in a place where same-sex intercourse has been cast as a threat to the general welfare.

Her reaction--to me--is nothing less than stunning evidence of the kind of hypocricy and violence that is at the heart of this law you are opposing. That she resorted to calling the police in the first place is evidence of the desire to criminalize forms of sexuality that do not conform to her idea of “normal”. That she lied in order to have you arrested is evidence of her awareness that the law is not on her side in this issue, and that her discrimination is excessive and illegal, further implicating her as a violent bigot.

What is even more stunning to me is the response of GLBT advocates to the situation. To me, no dedicated professional can ever hide behind the claim that they have no say in the unjust laws that they enact. If she was a poor working single mom and not a bigot, she could have said, “I’m really sorry, I agree that the law is wrong, but I can’t take your blood. It could cost me my job.” If she truly believed that you represented a danger, she could have had a civil conversation with you: maybe she would have learned something. Someone committed to your cause could have stood said, “I am going to take your blood, and if they fire me for it, I will sue them.” These are precisely the kinds of actions that lead to the overturning of unfair laws.

So why do these supposed advocates choose to attack you (and viciously!)? What about you is so very threatening to them? I think this points to something in the GLBT advocacy culture that I find deeply disturbing. The GLBT rhetoric is dominated by issues that have at their heart the protection of white male privilege among upper middle class gay males. Specifically, discussions of gay marriage focus on how gay men can meet up with all of the WASP standards of social acceptability: monogamy, church-goingness, and financial success. This was what bothered me about the following video:

My concern with this discourse is that accepting gay men who are exactly like straight men except in the bedroom somehow allows everyone to pat themselves on the back for being so progressive without having to deal with very real issues about the places in our society where people’s actual lives are at risk or turned upside-down because of their sexual expression.

I feel like the harsh attacks on you come from a fear that you are messing with the don’t-rock-the-boat approach of this movement. They would have you say: I have no intention of messing with your fascist institutions as long as you let me join the country club.

In many ways, this approach supports the mechanisms that undermine the welfare of LGBT people who don’t share their privilege, and who, in fact, would be better served if the country club and the institutions that support it were burned to the ground. People of means and influence (Mary Cheney for example) have the luxury to ignore the plight of LGBT people who suffer in places like where you and I live, where law enforcement works with local actors to create a de facto criminalization, through lies and coverups, of being gay in the public space.

Anyone who believes that that woman was not a violent bigot actively working to punish people for not expressing sexually in the same way that she does is living in a dream world where every gay household is in a gated community paid for by two three-figure incomes.

I believe that people like you, who come from a background of dealing with issues of sexuality as fully integrated into other oppressive discourses of class, gender, ethnicity, nationalism, and religious authority could bring a much broader vision to this movement as it is presently constituted in the US.

That is my two cents, anyway.

I wish you the very best, and I hope that you are not discouraged by those who are merely seeking acceptance by the existing order, rather than its radical reconfiguration.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Suspended with Pay / For Donating while Gay

(Hey, it rhymes!)

This morning I was notified of Indiana University's decision to extend my suspension, with pay, until the end of the period of my original contract. This means I will still be paid until July 30, but will not be allowed to teach or be in contact with the people who until last week were my students and colleagues.

This, after a brief meeting I had yesterday with the vice provost for faculty and academic affairs and one of the associate deans of the College of Arts and Sciences.

I will let the vice provost's letter speak for itself. I have only redacted a few addresses and names that are not pertinent to the affair. Beneath the letter is my short response, sent to Dr. Gieryn via email.

My response:

Dear Dr. Gieryn,

Thank you for promptly informing me of the resolution of your investigation.

Upon payment of my July salary, I will immediately donate $1,000 to the Indiana University Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Student Support Services Office.

Uri Horesh

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Radio Interview

I tried unsuccessfully to upload an audio file of a radio interview I did yesterday with Michaelangelo Signiorile here. However, I did manage to upload it elsewhere. Enjoy.

Queer, fierce, non-violent

I don't think I've done this before (with the exception of articles I've translated into English or Arabic), but I'm devoting this post to an article I just read elsewhere. I have tweeted it. I posted it on Facebook. But it is so relevant to everything that I have been doing in the past few years, and indeed in the past few days, that I felt a strong urge to share it here as well.

I have been asked this week several times, by friends, journalists and university administrators, why I did what I did; why I "had" to protest the FDA ban on "gay blood;" why I didn't leave the bloodmobile when I was asked to; essentially, why wasn't I just a good little heteronormative, capitalist, Zionist, Judeo-Christian, Western, patriarchal, monogamous, little boy. 

Joseph Varilone, I don't know you, but here's to you, my friend:

By Joseph Varilone, LSA Senior at the University of Michigan

Friday, June 22, 2012

Follow up: To resign or not to resign?

Following my arrest on Wednesday, and upon my release from the county jail on Thursday, I phoned my boss at the summer program at Indiana University in which I have been teaching for the past few weeks and offered my resignation out of good will. This, after she had asked my father to assure me that I would still be a welcome member in the program.

Today, she phoned me and followed up with an email repeating a very different message than the one she had previously conveyed to my father.

I am still unsure how to respond. The message is appended below, verbatim (copied addressees are a dean and lawyers at the general counsel office; email addresses have been redacted):

Begin forwarded message:

From: "Stern-Gottschalk, Ariann"
Date: June 22, 2012 5:11:25 PM EDT
To: Uri Horesh
Cc: "Bucur-Deckard, Maria", "O'Guinn, M Dave", "Springston, Emily Auld"
Subject: Follow-up to today's phone call

Dear Uri:

I am writing to follow-up on our phone call today.

I appreciate your offer of resignation and that may be the most appropriate resolution of this matter. I am not requiring you to resign, but doing so is an option for you to resolve this matter efficiently. If you wish to resign, please put your resignation in writing to me no later than Monday, June 25. I would like to assure you that the reasons for your resignation will be kept confidential and not shared with your colleagues and students.

If you choose not to resign, per the University’s normal process, I will suspend you with pay pending an investigation into your underlying conduct. As you are aware, you are subject to the code of conduct set forth for all academic personnel, and I thus have to review available information to determine if your conduct violated the code, and if such conduct rises to the level of a sanction and/or the termination of your employment.

If I do not hear from you in writing by the close of business on Monday, June 25, I will move forward with the investigation.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

My first arrest. Ever. Yesterday. In Bloomington, Indiana, USA.

Posting this update is probably not the wisest move from a legal standpoint, and perhaps in the next few days (tomorrow?) once I retain legal counsel, I will be advised to remove it, but in the meantime, here goes, very briefly.

Yesterday I saw a Red Cross bloodmobile on the Indiana University campus, right outside the building where I work. I wasn't born yesterday. I know that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not allow any United States-based blood bank to accept blood donations from and men who, since 1977 have had sexual contact, even once, with other men, whether it be protected sex or not. But I wanted to make a point.

I went in, waited for my turn, had my blood pressure and hemoglobin checked, and proceded to answer a computerized questionnaire. When it was reviewed by the Red Cross employee, I was told that because I answered the question about having had sex with other men the way I did, I would be deferred indefinitely from donating blood. 

I, in turn, told her that she was in violation of the Indiana University nondiscrimination policy, which, among others, prohibits banning any person from participating in university activities on the basis of sexual orientation. She called another Red Cross employee, who in turn called another Red Cross employee, who in turn called Indiana University Police.

Two police officers arrived at the bloodmobile, refusing to listen to anything I had to say. They grabbed me, refused to read me my rights under Miranda, even when I explicitly asked them to (they eventually did, after I was handcuffed and placed in the police car), and only told me I was under arrest after I asked them whether I was.

I later learned from one of the officers that one of the Red Cross employees (he referred to her as a "nurse") accused me of spitting at her. That is a false accusation. But in the State of Indiana, spitting at someone is considered "battery," and the mere charge of battery warrants placing the person arrested for that charge in custody for 24 hours. 

I will spare you the details of my experience in Monroe County Jail. That, in and of its own, is worth a short story, which I currently lack the patience to write. But yes, I spent 24 hours in jail. And I now face three misdemeanor charges (battery, resisting law enforcement and disorderly conduct).

In other words, I am being put on trial for another person's homophobia.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Beginning of the Demise of Pinkwashing?

My therapist constantly warns me against predicting the future. To be fair, he particularly has taught me to be cautious of negative predictions. So perhaps predicting that pinkwashing is on its way out isn't as hazardous to our collective mental health as some other things might have been. But there have been signs, including a thing or two that I have written about here, and some stupid and/or vicious things said by Israeli politicians just in recent days that indicate that it may becoming more hip in Israel to be Rick Santorumesque than to be in Michael Oren's shoes at Equality Forum.

But all of this is, for now, just a hypothesis, and that's all I'm willing to say at this juncture that is not completely based on solid facts. What follows will be one of the things I do best, which is to deal with language. I will provide you with a translation of an excerpt of an interview with MK (that's Member of Knesset, the Israeli parliament) Uri Ariel on the Knesset's own television channel. This excerpt is provided here as a YouTube clip in Hebrew, and it was also embedded in the following Mako article in Hebrew, within their [LGBT] Pride portal:

The interviewer is veteran journalist Nechama Duek. 

ND: Not to draft them to the army, for instance, the gays?
UA: That's a question that the army has to answer.
ND: What do you think?
UA: If I had to decide, I think that I wouldn't draft them, but not ... 
ND: Why?
UA: Remarkable, eh?
ND: Yes.
UA: Well, okay, why? Because I think that there are things that interfere with the army's ability to fight. And that there are phenomena that are not...
ND: A gay man is less brave than a man who is not?
UA: I'm not talking about one particular man, or about ten, whether they're brave or not. The question is about the natural phenomena, and about whether we conduct ourselves according to the values that we have in Judaism and in the Torah, or whether we conduct ourselves in a different manner. I think that by and large, we have to behave in the spirit of Judaism à la millennia. It seems that it was prevalent, and was probably very popular, mostly among the peoples of the region, so that Israel, the People of Israel arrived in the region and was exposed to phenomena of this sort, and probably adopted some of these phenomena. And therefore the Torah goes against it very severely and with extremely harsh punishments. 
ND: Yes.
UA: Does punishment help? I believe that by and large, yes. If you ask me whether they do specifically for these cases, for this type, I don't know.
ND: "This type?" Are you afraid to utter the word "homosexuality?" What's "this type?"
UA: No, no, gays and lesbians...
ND: Okay, and transgenders too...
UA: No, if anyone was ofended that I said "this type,"I have no problem calling them names. They appear, as I said, in the Torah. Our Torah doesn't cover up anything, it doesn't hide anything, but it confronts the issues.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Middle Eastern Story for American Father's Day

I am 42 years old. For as long as I can remember, I have called my mother אמא – íma – the generic Hebrew word for 'mom,' but since 1973 I have called my father by his first name, Ruvik.

In 1972, when I was 2 years old, my family moved temporarily from the Tel Aviv area to New York City, where my father began his doctoral studies at Columbia University. About a year and a half into our stay in New York, the October War began in the Middle East. For reasons that I will not delve into here, my father, as well as his now late cousin Elisha, and Noach, the man who would later marry my aunt Yovi (also deceased now), both of whom were also in New York in various capacities, all decided to volunteer for reserve duty in the Israeli army. They flew to Tel Aviv and joined their respective military units.

My family decided that I was too young to be told that אבא – ába – 'dad' was off to war. So I was just told that he went to Israel to do some work. But friends of the family, Yael and Haim Ben-Shahar, who were also temporary New Yorkers at the time, frequented our home with their children. Their youngest, Gili (sadly, also no longer alive), was about 8 years old, and was sort of my mentor. She explained to me that my father was not in Israel for "work," but rather for war, and that a consequence of war could be death.

Being the 3 year-old that I was, I took Gili's mentorship quite seriously, and interpreted "could be death" as "must be death." Thus, in my young mind, aba – 'dad' – was dead.

Six weeks later, when the same man who had departed for "work" / war returned alive and well, I had to make up a story to make sense of it all. It was easy: this newcomer was my late father's twin brother, who happened to have the same first name as my dad. Therefore, I would simply call him Ruvik, the nickname most people used to refer to my father, Reuven.

Shortly thereafter I did, of course, realize that this was, indeed, my father and not some bogus twin uncle. I had made several attempts at calling him aba, but it just never felt natural.

Interestingly, my brother, who was born three years later, also calls my father Ruvik (and my mother ima), but for a somewhat different reason. He simply had no role models at home who called Ruvik anything else but Ruvik. Or at least, that's how I interpret it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Kushi didn't always mean 'nigger'

Many people were shocked or outraged today by this video of people in Tel Aviv yelling racial slurs and wishing upon people to be raped by "kushim" in Tel Aviv. The word "kushi" is often translated 'nigger,' and while in recent years is has indeed acquired something of a pejorative connotation, I believe that such a simplistic translation neither does the word and its history justice nor respects the suffer and pain that the real N-word has caused African-Americans.

‎"Kush" is the biblical name for a part of Africa, which includes most of today's Sudan and perhaps part of Ethiopia. For example, in the Book of Esther, King Ahasuerus was said to rule 127 countries from India to "kush." When I was growing up, "kushi" was a perfectly neutral term for 'black person,' more like 'negro' in the 1960s than 'nigger' ever was. However, nowadays, since more Hebrew speakers in Israel actually know black people, and there are indeed black people living in Israel who speak Hebrew (including migrant African laborers, but of course also Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia), the connotations of "kushi" have shifted towards the negative -- perhaps not to the degree of the taboo that is associated with "nigger" in the American context, but it is gradually moving in that direction.

And, of course, there are Cushitic languages, which are (along with Semitic, Egyptian, Chadic and others) part of the greater Afroasiatic language family. So indeed, the pejorative connotation is very very new.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"They have some beautiful things too"

At the very end of my high school career, in 1988, I sat for an oral examination in Arabic. In the room were my beloved Arabic teacher, Meir Einat, as well as an external examiner, a teacher from a nearby school.

The exam included me reading and translating a sura of the Quran. The sura that the examiner had chosen for me was number 97, al-Qadr. I was happy. I had known it by heart. I still do. I later wrote a paper on it at Tel Aviv University. It has the word salaam in it.

I read it. I translated it. I eventually got a grade of 100% on the exam.

What bugged me, though, was what the examiner said when I finished reading the sura. It went something like this (I'm translating from Hebrew): "See? Those Arabs have some beautiful things, too."

A couple of years ago I saw an obituary in an Israeli newspaper with this man's name. I wished I had had the guts at 18 to have told him what a racist he was.

Update: I have been asked what the sura meant in English. I am appending a screenshot of a bilingual version of it, though you are welcome to look up alternative translations. Note than the Islamic tradition, there are no translations of the Quran, only interpretations of it, as it is considered the word of God, which was delivered in a divine manner that can only have been expressed in the original Arabic. I am an atheist, and do not subscribe to this school of thought, but those of you who are unfamiliar with Islamic teachings may be surprised to see titles such as The Meaning of the Glorious Quran, or An Interpretation of the Glorious Quran. If the edition was prepared by a devout Muslim, typically the word translation will be avoided.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Tales from Queen Alia International Airport

There aren't many reasons to fly between Amman and Tel Aviv. The official flight distance between Queen Alia and Ben Gurion International Airports is 68 miles. I, however, have taken this route a number of times for two reasons:

  1. in transit to Cairo
  2. during the Gaza Massacre in the winter of 2008-2009, when my mother (never mind that I was a 38 year-old adult) felt that it would be safer for me to take a short flight than a long bus/taxi ride across the land border.

I honestly cannot recall whether the two stories I am about to tell happened on the same trip or on two separate occasions. It doesn't really matter. But I can assure you that they are both true stories that occurred between 2007 and 2009 – one while waiting to board a flight from Amman to Tel Aviv, the other upon landing in Tel Aviv from Amman. Also, there is no particular rhyme or reason for these stories to be told today of all days. There may be a time in the distant future in which these will become non-stories, but until then, they are somewhat timeless.

First story: The Iraqi dude

As I was minding my own business, surfing the web at the airport Starbucks, I caught a silver-haired gentleman in the corner of my eye. He seemed to have been struggling with his own laptop, and something told me that he would soon be seeking my asssitance. It wasn't too long until he indeed turned to me and asked for advice on connecting to the wi-fi network. Somehow it only seemed natural to him that I'd speak Arabic. I thought I detected an Iraqi dialect, and I peeked at his Royal Jordanian boarding pass only to confirm that his destination was no other than Baghdad.

I believe something went wrong with the wireless connection, because he wanted to email someone to inform them that his flight was being delayed, and for some reason he was not able to do that. He then asked me for a second favor. He asked whether my cell phone worked in Jordan, because his, he said, only worked in Iraq. I gladly let him make a quick phone call, and he thanked me profusely. I remember telling him there was no need to be so apologetic, since "we're both fellow Middle Easterners." I was wondering whether he'd get the hint, given that I didn't say "we're both fellow Arabs," even though the entire conversation was in Arabic. Though I strongly doubt he ever suspected that I was from Israel.

Second story: The Yemenis and the South African Mossad agent

Upon Landing in Tel Aviv from Amman, I noticed two young-ish looking Yemeni Jews. I have seen many like them in my lifetime, but something about these two guys threw me off. They were young, younger than I probably, yet they appeared as if they had frozen in time. They looked like the images I had seen in history books and newsreels from the late 1940s and early 1950s. I immediately new that these men were Yemenis who lived in Yemen, not Israelis of Yemeni descent.

In the seat just ahead of me sat a man, who, as is customary in Israel as in many Western countries, turned on his cell phone as soon as the plane touched down. I heard him speak English with a South African accent. He then turned to the two Yemeni men and asked them, in Hebrew, whether they spoke Hebrew as well. One of them said that he did, but his friend not so much. He then asked them several personal questions that indicated that he knew quite a lot about their backgrounds. He knew what town in Israel they were about to visit; he knew that they had relatives in Israel who had visited them in Sana'a a few months prior for one of the Jewish holidays. He even boasted that he himself "helped organize" that particular journey.

Now, to someone from outside the region this may seem like a "so what" story. But for someone like me, for whom the Middle East is home, but one filled with locked rooms, learning that there is ongoing traffic between Yemen and Israel, albeit restricted to Jewish Yemenis and Israelis of Yemeni descent, is a big fuckin' deal. 

And even my first story, to me, is something that I cherish. And I wish that were able to tell more stories like it. And I wish that I were not in a situation in which I was ashamed to tell the nice Iraqi gentleman where I was really from. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

My Letter to the Editor of the Jewish Exponent

To the Editor:

Deborah Hirsch's report from the events of Equality Forum ("Israel's Gay Outlook Gets a Hearing," May 9, 2012, mention, inter alia, "a self-proclaimed Palestinian-Israeli," who interrupted the speech of Israeli ambassador Michael Oren and made a statement regarding the lack of equality for Palestinians in Israel.

That person was I, but your reporter had misheard my self identification. While I was born in the Palestinian town of Yaafa, and my parents were born in British Mandate Palestine, their parents before them were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. My solidarity with the Palestinian plight comes not from me being a Palestinian myself, which I am not, but from the injustice that the Palestinian people have been suffering since my immigrant ancestors came to Palestine, and which has not ceased, despite the slick words of Dr. Oren.

What I did say I was, by the way, was "a queer Israeli," as can be heard in the following video:

Uri Horesh

Update: An abridged version of the letter was published on the Exponent web site on May 16, 2012:

Deborah Hirsch's report from the Equality Forum (Cover story: "Gay Rights Gathering Puts Focus on Israel," May 10) mentions, inter alia, "a self-proclaimed Palestinian-Israeli" who interrupted the speech of Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren and made a statement regarding the lack of equality for Palestinians in Israel.

I was that person, but your reporter misheard my self-identification. While I was born in the town of Yaafa, and my parents were born in British Mandate Palestine, their parents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.

My solidarity with the Palestinians comes not from being a Palestinian, which I'm not, but from the injustice the Palestinian people suffered since my immigrant ancestors came to Palestine, and which has not ceased, despite the slick words of Dr. Oren.

What I did say I was, by the way, was a "queer Israeli," and it was captured on YouTube.

Uri Horesh

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Homonationalism, Israel Style: The Foreign Ministry and “Pinkwashing” / Aeyal Gross

On May 9, 2012, the Israeli daily Haaretz published an op-ed by Aeyal Gross in Hebrew:

With the author's approval, I am publishing my translation of his article below:

Homonationalism, Israel Style: TheForeign Ministry and “Pinkwashing”

Aeyal Gross

In 1998, after winning the Eurovision Song Contest, Israeli transgender pop singer Dana International was asked about a potential conflict between having allegedly represented “the Jewish state” and the opposition fromJewish religious leaders to her very being. She responded that she had beenchosen to represent the State of Israel, not the state of the Jews. In Israel,Dana said, there were Arab citizens, Christians and others, and she represented the entire populace of Israel, not the Jewish state. Furthermore, she indicated, she represented “everyone who wants to be represented by me”.

 DanaInternational’s approach rejected exclusionary concepts of nationalism and representation, while deconstructing the notion of representation which is based on ethnicity and identity. In their lieu, she expressed a post-modern approach,by which she represented all individuals who indeed wanted to be represented by her. Yet now, this representation, too, is being appropriated by the Israeli propaganda mechanism: in his keynote speech at the Equality Forum in Philadelphialast weekend, Ambassador Michael Oren included Dana’s performance in his enumeration of evidence for Israel’s commitment to equality to its lesbian,gay, bisexuals and transgender citizens (LGBTs).

But if Dana’s Eurovision performance was an opportunity forOren to appropriate an event from the past, we must turn to yet another part of his speech, which was essentially a rewriting of the facts, in an effort to co-opt gay rights as a fig leaf – perhaps the last one left – for Israeli democracy,and to use this issue to conceal the wrongs of the occupation. In his speech,as well as in an interview leading up to it, Oren claimed that Israel had been fighting for gay rights since before 1967. It may be useful to remind Oren that in 1967, and in fact until 1988, the Israeli penal code included a prohibition on same-sex acts for men. While this law had ceased to be enforced since the1950s vis-à-vis consenting adults, in light of directives from the attorneygeneral, its incriminating shadow was definitely intact. Israel had not fought for gay rights in the 1960s, nor did it in the 1970s. Only in the late 1980sand early 1990s had there begun progress in this area, as a result of a concerted effort by community activists and a small number of politicians who supported them. This progress included the repeal of the criminal prohibition of “sodomy” and the creation of legislation and court rulings against discrimination. Nowadays, this progress – part true and part fiction – is being co-opted by Israeli “hasbara.”

Israeli LGBTs aren’t the only ones being appropriated. So are the Palestinians. Oren claimed in his speech that Israel granted shelter toPalestinian groups that could not operate in the occupied territories. In fact, Israel has refused to grant asylum to gay Palestinians who had requested just that. The Refugee Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University published a detailed report in 2008, in which it describes Israel’s refusal to even consider requests for asylum from gay Palestinians. True, two Palestinian LGBT organizations that operate in both Israel and the occupied territories are based in Israel, but Israel has never given them “shelter,” and appropriating them for the sake of Israeli propaganda is infuriating, given Israel’s ongoing oppression of Palestinians in Israel itself and in the territories – especially when we consider that this appropriation is done in order to deflect from this very oppression in an attempt to portray Israel as a liberal democracy.

The protesters, including the Israelis among them, were therefore correct in accusing Oren of a move that has gained the epithet“pinkwashing” around the world. Now that we are about to mark the month of pride, the challenge faced by the LGBT community in Israel is whether it wishes to collaborate with such a move, within the framework of what has become known as “homonationalism,” or whether it intends to celebrate the achievements and progress in the realm of LGBT equality in Israel, within the context of a commitment to equality to all who suffer from oppression and discrimination, including the Palestinian population.

Update: Haaretz eventually published its own English version of the article:

Which translation is better? You be the judge!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

How I was almost denied entry to my own country

Yesterday, I was almost denied entry to my own country, Israel, or so I was led to believe. Now, Israel is the only country of which I am a citizen. It is where I was born, and it is the only country that has ever issued me a passport. So an interesting question would have arisen had Israel's immigration authorities actually denied me entry, namely: where would they deport me to? But that is a hypothetical question. More interesting, I believe, is to examine what happened to me yesterday at Ben-Gurion International Airport outside of Tel Aviv, why it happened to me of all people, and how is it that the State of Israel allows itself to treat some of its own citizens as if they are enemies of the state.

I would like to preface that my story is by no means the harshest I have read or heard of. Virtually every Palestinian citizen of Israel goes through much more humiliating experiences every time she or he departs and enters the country. This is well documented in both mainstream media, as well as in a series of excellent posts on the 972 blog, e.g. this one by Lisa Goldman. Also, I am a fairly regular joe. I mean, yes, I am something of a political activist, and I have been politically active to some extent pretty much since I was seven years old or so, but I am not as hard core as some other people, who have been through some real "interesting" ordeals at Ben-Gurion Airport, such as Lihi Rothschild whose story was also published in 972 and later picked up, along with those of three other Israeli activists, in Haaretz. And hell, even I have been through worse, but in a foreign country, not in my native land.

So here's what happened to me. I live in Philadelphia. As of May 2011 I have been a permanent resident of the United States (I have what's known in common parlance as a "green card"). I usually come visit my family in Israel twice a year, once in the winter and once in the summer. A few days ago my mother, who lives near Tel Aviv, fell ill and I decided to come visit her on short notice. I booked a round trip on US Airways between Philadelphia and Tel Aviv for ten days. 

Now, in the last two years or so, I have made a habit of expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people on my flights to and from Israel. Initially, I would dawn a black-and-white keffiyyeh, the traditional checkered headdress worn by Palestinians. Typically, I would get asked for my passport upon disembarking the plane at Ben-Gurion, then once again at baggage claim.
Another thing I did once was to wear a t-shirt that reads "Free Palestine" in English and Arabic and shows an image of a Palestinian flag. I had purchased the t-shirt in the Old City in East Jerusalem. It triggered the exact same reaction from Israeli security personnel. Once they would see my Israeli passport with my very Hebrew name, they would let me go.

This time, I wore both the keffiyyeh and the shirt, but I'm pretty sure that wasn't what caused the following to ensue. Incidentally, in none of these cases, including on this last flight from Philadelphia, there were no incidents whatsoever stateside. This time around my economy class ticket was even upgraded to business class free of charge "despite" my garb. But when we landed in Tel Aviv, I was first asked for my passport at the top of the stairs following disembarkation, as expected. I was let through upon a quick inspection. When I reached passport control, however, it seemed as if something had appeared on the officer's computer screen, which caused her to summon two additional officers to have a look. They weren't concerned so much with what I was wearing, but rather with whatever was written on the monitor.

One of the officers who was summoned escorted me to a small waiting area and asked me where I lived and what the purpose of my visit was. I told him the truth, that I lived in Philadelphia and I came to visit my family in the Tel Aviv area. He asked me whether I had a green card and when I told him I did he asked to see it. I made the mistake of giving it to him. I say "mistake" because for the purpose of entering Israel I am nothing but a citizen of Israel and any other status I may have in other countries is totally irrelevant. In fact, I may have violated a U.S. federal statute by surrendering a U.S. government-issued document to an official of a foreign government, but that's another story. He asked me to wait and went to a back room. 

After a few minutes, the officer returned and asked me to tell him "the truth" about the purpose of my trip. I repeated that I was visiting my family. I could have told him about my mother being in the hospital, but I decided it was none of his damn business. He said it would be easier if I just told him the truth, and I insisted that I indeed had told him the truth. He asked if I intended to visit the West Bank and I told him I did not. Then he asked me, "in that case, why are you wearing that shirt?" – to which I responded, "in order to show solidarity with the Palestinian people, and that's all I'll tell you." Then I reminded him that given that I am a citizen of Israel, he did not have the authority to prevent me from entering my own country. His response was interesting: "This week, I have all sorts of authorities that you don't know of." Then he told me that I was "delayed," (מעוכב) which in Israeli legal parlance means "not exactly under arrest, but not definitely not free to go." Since I was not in possession of my passport, I was not able to pass through to baggage claim anyway, so I tweeted that I was being "detained," even though that probably wasn't the proper legal terminology.

A few minutes later, a different, female officer came back with my passport and green card. My passport had been stamped with an entry stamp. She told me I didn't have to stand in line again, just to go through to claim my luggage and proceed through customs. Since I had been waiting for a good half hour, my single piece of luggage was making its umpteenth round on the carousel. I picked it up, then went to the currency exchange counter to buy some sheqels, but before I reached the customs hall, another officer stopped me and asked to see my passport, again. there were several other officers huddling around him. One of them asked me if I was alright. I was handed my passport back and exited the terminal. Before hailing a cab, I decided to change into a more "neutral" shirt and stow the keffiyyeh, until my flight back.

So why me? Over the last year or so, I have had more of an online presence than ever before. I know that my tweets (@urihoresh) have been read by several people in the Israeli army and government. Prime Minister Netanyahu's spokesperson in Arabic, Ofir Gendelman has actually blocked me from following him a few months ago. I have also been supportive of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement and have written about my experience attending its national conference in Philadelphia earlier this year. Is it that I am "too friendly" with like-minded Palestinians, and that I care deeply about the fate of hunger-striking administrative detainees? Is my vocal outrage over the honoring of Israel and its ambassador to Washington at Philadelphia's "Equality Forum" too much for "The Only Democracy In The Middle East" to handle? To be honest, I feel like the kid in The Emperor's New Clothes when I point out that Israel "pinkwashes" its war crimes by telling the world what a gay garden of Eden Israel is (it's not, but that's not even the issue).

I am due to fly back to Philly on flight US 797 on April 22. I am writing this to assist Uzi Tal (I'm sure that's not his real name, but that's the name the one officer gave me) and his colleagues in their endeavors to keep our skies safe. I'm not sure what shirt I'll be wearing, but you'll recognize the keffiyyeh, I'm sure.

I blog with BE Write

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Some things are just too hard to pinkwash

For the sake of this post, I will assume we all know what pinkwashing is. Anyone who needs a tutorial is hereby referred to Sarah Schulman's much-discussed op-ed in the New York Times Israel and ‘Pinkwashing’ published in November of 2011.

One of the mantras that we frequently hear from people who promote Israel as The Only Democracy In The Middle East (TODITME) and a gay haven is that members of the LGBT community can serve openly in the so-called Israel Defense Forces, or IDF, which is the official euphemism for the Israeli military. Apart from the fact that Israel has mandatory conscription for a majority of its population (well, if they are Jewish, but not ultra-Orthodox or female-Orthodox, or if they are male Druze), making it illegal for most LGBT 18 year-olds to refuse to serve, a recent incident has painted "the most moral army in the world" (another widespread myth) in very different light.

On March 20, 2012, Associated Press reported that the weekly magazine Bamahane (literally, 'On the Base'), published by the IDF's Education and Youth Corps, has gotten "in trouble" over a report about male soldiers who in their spare time participated in drag shows. The Israeli daily Haaretz ran a similar, slightly more detailed piece on the topic the same day, in both its original Hebrew and translated English editions. The main new piece of information in Haaretz is that this was the Purim edition of Bamahane. To me, this is telling on a number of levels. First, it means that the IDF could not even tolerate a bit of Purim-spiel in the spirit of holiday festivities. It also means, however, that matters of gender expression are a priori relegated to positions of mischief and ridicule, which is troubling in and of its own.

Now, the Hebrew Haaretz piece also included a statement by Shai Doitsh, president of the Agudah, Israel's association of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders, condemning censorship against LGBT contents in IDF publications, given that it is, as he sees it, "one of the most progressive armies in the world." But there is more. Also on March 20, the Hebrew news site, which had recently launched a [Gay] Pride portal, published an even more detailed account of the events that led to the looming censorship of LGBT-related contents in Bamahane. Here we learn that the order came from the very top, namely from Major General Orna Barbivai, commander of the IDF Manpower [sic] Directorate. Ironic, isn't it, that the first woman to break the gender barrier and earn the second-highest rank in the Israeli military is now combatting nonconforming expressions of gender by her soldiers. What the general said, according to the Mako article, is that she would prevent the army publications from airing and future "provocative" articles.

Mako also reveals (and this may be old news to many of its veteran readers) that the editor of Bamahane, Major Yoni Shanfeld, is himself an out gay man, and that both the current and previous chief military rabbis have chastised him for publishing articles that included coming out stories of soldiers and officers.

The stories we hear from pinkwashers on a regular basis really don't matter much. They are of no interest to the average Palestinian who has exactly zero human rights in the eyes of her occupiers. Yet sometimes it is important to understand that even the things that they tell us about the glorious lives of Israeli LGBTs are borderline mythical.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Update from B'Tselem

Today I received the following e-mail from Jessica Montell, Executive Director of B'Tselem:

Dear Uri,

In fact, B'Tselem is not a sponsor of the J Street conference. This was a mistake in the e-mail and will be corrected later today. We are a participating organization, and are very glad to be part of a long list of Israeli and American groups participating in J Street and dedicated to pursuing a different and better reality for Palestinians and Israelis alike. This year we are proud to be organizing a distinguished panel addressing Israel's human rights record and the way the international community treats Israel when it comes to human rights issues - a question that is many times abused by the political debate, but rarely examined factually.

Aside from organizing this panel, B’Tselem was not involved with any other aspects of the conference, including the decision to feature former PM Olmert. B’Tselem has raised grave suspicions regarding serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law under the Olmert government, specifically regarding Operation Cast Lead in Gaza at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009. These suspicions and responsibility for any violations have yet to be adequately investigated and addressed. If asked, we would not have advised featuring Olmert as a speaker. 

B’Tselem set up a US presence to promote human rights awareness and advocacy among US audiences. We are glad that J Street  offers the opportunity to engage with a broad and diverse spectrum of views. We are committed to ensuring that human rights are a central part of this conversation, especially within an atmosphere in the US where many times such voices are silenced.

Jessica Montell
Executive Director

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sad day for B'Tselem (USA)

From: Uri Horesh
Subject: Re: B'Tselem USA to Host Panel at J St Conference
Date: March 15, 2012 8:40:42 PM EDT

Dear Ms. Sussman,

The email you sent me (and, no doubt, thousands of other supporters) earlier today, should have angered me. Rather, it deeply saddened me. See, having grown up in an Israel full of racism, xenophobia and nationalist hatred, there have been very few organizations that have never – but never – failed to embody a sense of straightforward goodness. The two that instantly come to mind are Physicians for Human Rights and B'Tselem. 

B'Tselem USA's sponsorship of J Street's upcoming conference, particularly with Ehud Olmert as its keynote speaker, is the first instance in my recollection of the organization's history that it has strayed from its righteous path. 

B'Tselem has always set the bar high for everyone, no exceptions, when it comes to human rights. It has never played political games. Its supporters don't care that "J Street is better than AIPAC." "Better" isn't good enough, if it doesn't meet the stringent standards that B'Tselem itself has set for others to follow.

My friend Ali Abunimah has eloquently and meticulously demonstrated in his recent Electronic Intifada post that your participation in, let alone sponsorship of the J Street conference are not in line with the stellar record of B'Tselem. 

Please admit that you have made an error in judgment, and withdraw your support from the conference.

Peace - سلام - שלום,
Uri Horesh

PS: I will be publishing this letter on my blog at and possibly elsewhere on the Web.

Uri Horesh
Philadelphia, PA

Dear Uri,

B'Tselem USA is proud to be a sponsor of J Street's third annual conference, Making History, in Washington later this month.  J Street is the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans.  The conference will feature former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Israeli writer Amos Oz, a member of B'Tselem's Public Council, journalist Peter Beinart, a member of B'Tselem USA's Advisory Council and Anat Hoffman, the Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center.

On Monday, March 26, B'Tselem USA will present the panel, "Holding Israel to a Universal Standard or to a Higher Standard on Human Rights?"  The panel will feature Zehava Gal'on, the founding Executive Director of B'Tselem, current member of Knesset and Chair of the Meretz Party, Iain Levine, the Deputy Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, and Alan Elsner, the Senior Director for Communications and Research at the Israel Project.  Uri Zaki, Director of B'Tselem USA, will lead these prominent Israeli and American academics, practitioners and human rights experts in an analysis of the record of the media, various UN agencies, governments and international organizations regarding Israel and human rights, and discuss appropriate responses. 

Israel receives a lot of international attention and criticism for its human rights record. Is this appropriate and fair? Is Israel being held to a higher standard than other countries? Should we as Jews demand more from Israel than we do from other countries? In fact, the international community is not a monolith of this matter. Some international actors are indeed using the language of human rights as a tool to advance an anti-Israel agenda. Others are applying the same universal standards to Israel as they do elsewhere. Still others have a special interest in Israel for understandable reasons, which results in disproportionate attention, both positive and negative. How do we, who care about Israel and care about human rights, navigate this complexity?

We invite you to join the conversation with J Street and B'Tselem USA this month.  Sign up for J Street's national conference now, as space is limited.
We hope to see you there,
Rachel Sussman
B'Tselem USA

B’Tselem USA enriches American political and public discourse regarding human rights in the Occupied Territories, advocating the research of B’Tselem, the leading Israeli organization working to monitor, document and advocate the improvement of human rights in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.  B'Tselem USA provides accurate, reliable information to policy makers, key stakeholders, and the public at large about the reality on the ground. B’Tselem USA promotes the equal rights of Israelis and Palestinians to live in freedom, security and dignity, affirming a universal commitment to human rights principles and strengthening Israel’s democratic foundation.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Update from Senator Toomey's Office

This morning I received a phone call from Ben Kochman of Sen. Pat Toomey's office in Washington. He wanted to apologize for "sending the wrong letter" (see my previous post). We also discussed what I had originally written the senator about, namely the administative detention of Khader Adnan, and administrative detentions in general. 

I gave him a lengthy account of Israel's unjust treatment of Palestinian detainees, whereby they are held without trial, indictment, charge or access to evidence. I told him that if similar incarcerations were happening in the United States or, say, in China, people like the senator, and many others in the U.S. would be up in arms against them. His main argument for Sen. Toomey and others in the American political arena not condemning Israel was that it was a close ally. He gave as example the British legal system, in which – he claims – people are presumed guilty until proven innocent (I'm pretty sure he's confusing the U.K. with some other European country). Yet it would be unheard of for the United States to condemn its sovereign European allies for conducting their legal systems in manners contrary to the American one.

I reminded Mr. Kochman that human rights do not discriminate between Palestinians and Israelis, and that even among Jewish voters in Pennsylvania there is a growing recognition of the universality of the crisis in the Middle East. I asked him to convey to Mr. Toomey our message, that criticquing an ally is actually the friendly thing to do. "As an Israeli citizen who is critical of my own government, I find it alarming that the United States blindly supports human rights violations carried out by Israel," I said, indicating that Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations Human Rights Commission and the European Union have all harshly criticized Israel practice of administrative detention.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Educating Senator Toomey

A couple of days ago I signed a petition regarding Khader Adnan that was sent to "my" members of congress, including Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA). Today I received an e-mail from the senator, which had nothing to do with my original letter. I just wrote back to him. I am pasting my response, along with the senator's letter.

Senator Toomey:

I am pasting below your reply to my urgent message regarding the administrative detention of Mr. Khader Adnan, a resident of the West Bank village of Arrabeh, by the State of Israel, of which I am a citizen (I am a permanent resident of the United States).

Clearly, you were in error sending me a form letter affirming your love and devotion to Israel as a beacon of democracy. I spent most of my life in that country, and I know how false that characterization is. Furthermore, it is completely irrelevant to the life of Mr. Adnan and the 308 other Palestinian individuals currently being held in Israeli jails without being indicted or charged of any specific crimes, without them or their attorneys having access to any evidence the state may have against them, without any possibility to cross-examine witnesses, and without recourse to any meaningful appeal process.

Mr. Adnan has been on hunger strike for 66 days. It seems as if, following a preliminary hearing in the Israeli Supreme Court, he may be willing to resume eating today in exchange for a commintment by the state to release him on April 17, 2012. But this is inadequate. He is still held without charges, and so are over 300 of his compatriots.

I strongly urge you to contact your friend and ally, Mr. Netanyahu, and explain to him, that as a democracy, Israel cannot behave like the dicatatorships from which it so fervently seeks to distant itself.

Uri Horesh

From: "Senator Pat Toomey"
Subject: Reply from U.S. Senator Pat Toomey
Date: February 21, 2012 12:27:02 PM EST

February 21, 2012

Dear Uri,

Thank you for contacting me about support for Israel. I appreciate hearing from you.
I believe that Israel is the United States' greatest ally and friend in the Middle East and is among its best allies in the entire world. Israel is a beacon of democracy and freedom in an area of the world largely suffering under dictatorships and political persecution. A strong relationship with Israel strengthens both countries in the continuing fight against global terrorism.

In addition, I recently travelled to Israel and met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and other senior officials. During my discussions there, it was apparent that Israel continues to face extraordinary challenges to its security and general welfare. Israel deserves no less than our full assistance as it continues to struggle for its survival.

In the Senate, I also have had the opportunity to cosponsor important measures backing Israel. For instance, I am a cosponsor S. Con. Res. 23, which declares that it is the policy of the United States to support Israel in maintaining defensible borders and that it is contrary to U.S. policy and national security to have the borders of Israel return to the armistice lines that existed on June 4, 1967.  I am also a cosponsor of S. Res. 185, reaffirming U.S. commitment to a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and reaffirming opposition to the inclusion of Hamas in a unity government unless it is willing to accept peace with Israel and renounce violence.

That said, I understand your views about Israel and value your input. As I continue working with my Senate colleagues on this important issue, please be assured that I will keep your thoughts in mind.
Thank you again for your correspondence. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future if I can be of assistance.


Pat Toomey
U.S. Senator, Pennsylvania

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Urgent Appeal to the EU on Behalf of Khader Adnan

Thanks to Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada, we now have the e-mail address of Catherine Ashton, Vice President of the European Commission, who had intervened numerous times on behalf of Israeli POW Gilad Schalit, when he was held in captivity in Gaza. We are now asking her to urgently intervene on behalf of Khader Adnan, before it is too late. 

I also cc-ed Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, and the consulate general of Israel in Philadelphia, where I live.

Feel free to copy, paste, and change around as you feel fit. Just, please, act fast.

From: Uri Horesh
Subject: Urgent Appeal: Mr. Khader Adnan
Date: February 16, 2012 6:33:23 AM EST

Dear Baroness Ashton,

I write to you with grave concern for the welfare of Mr. Khader Adnan, a Palestinian national, who has been detained by the Israeli military for 62 days now under what is known as "administrative detention," i.e., incarceration without a specific criminal charge, let alone trial, evidence or conviction. He has been tortured and humiliated during this process by his captors, and has therefore decided to go on hunger strike, which is now about to cost him his life, unless urgent international intervention is put forth.

Your Ladyship has been known to intervene in cases of captivity in the past, most notably that of Sgt. Gilad Schalit. Mr. Adnan is in dire need of such intervention. Physicians for Human Rights - Israel have determined that his life is in "immediate danger:"

I, an Israeli citizen, have appealed to the military commander who has issued his detention warrant, to the military judge advocate general, to the Israeli minister of defense, and to the consul general of Israel in Philadelphia, where I currently reside, but to no avail. It is rare for a citizen of a country to turn to a foreign agency for intervention, but it seems as if the powers that be in my own country have failed to show moral fortitude.

Once again, I urge you to act on behalf of the European Union, and indeed, on behalf of humanity, and save Mr. Adnan's life.

Sincerely yours,

Uri Horesh

Uri Horesh
Philadelphia, PA

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Deputy Editor of The New Yorker Responds to "Queer" Letter

Much to my surprise, less than 22 hours after I sent my letter to The New Yorker, I received a response. Not a form letter or a nicety from some clerk, but a substantial letter addressing the issue at hand from the deputy editor of the magazine. It is perhaps not the best response one could hope for, but as you will see, it restores much of the dignity that the magazine may have lost for a day or so. I'll just paste it below for your perusal:

From: "McCarthy, Pam"
Subject: Re: via contact us form
Date: February 15, 2012 5:20:49 PM EST

Dear Uri Horesh:

Thanks very much for writing — I’m glad to have the chance to set the record straight.  We do understand the distinction between the terms “queer” and “gay”; we are very familiar with the political and academic discourse of queer theory; we have used and will continue to use the term “queer” in our pages. And we think that our readers are knowledgeable on this front, which is one reason we didn’t publish Ms. Peterson’s letter asking that we “educate” them. They know and we know. The only reason we didn’t use “queer” in this case was that it seemed unclear in the context of the abbreviated listing — there was no clue that “queer” in this particular instance, and the dance itself, had to do with gender identity.  I do see your point about non-synonymity, and I suspect that there was probably a better way to achieve our goal of clarity.  I appreciate your writing to point that out, and I will make sure that everyone working on copy here understands that the two terms are not synonyms.  

Pam McCarthy
Deputy Editor

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The New Yorker won't print "queer?" Let's make them!

I just sent the following letter to the editor of The New Yorker and I suggest that many more of us send similar letters, until they get the point.

Go to: and fill out the contact form.

The Bilerico Project recently made public ( that The New Yorker had not only refused to print the word "queer" in the description of a dance performance, but had also substituted it with the non-synonymous word "gay." Furthermore, when Cassie Peterson, one of the artists involved in the production, wrote a letter to the editor asking to clarify that "queer" was, in fact, a bona fide term used in political and academic discourse, the editors of the magazine refused to publish that as well.

I am trying to convince friends and colleagues from the queer community to send letters such as this to the editor. I sincerely hope that you will publish at least one. And that it will include the word "queer" at least thrice.

הארץ Haaretz

العربية.نت | آخر الأخبار Al-Arabiya