Israel’s Treatment of Gay Palestinian Asylum Seekers

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Flickr/Photo: Andydr
This is a guest post by Caroline Esser, a research associate with the New America Foundation’s Bernard L. Schwartz Fellows Program.
The newest way to sell Israel to Americans: LGBT rights. Search gay rights on the Anti-Defamation League’s website and what do you find? A ready-to-print and available for order poster that reads, “Which of the Middle East nations protects the legal rights, safety & freedom of the LGBT communities? Only Israel.” At the bottom of the poster, in smaller font, it states, “Israel is by far the most democratic state in the entire Middle East. It supports civil rights for all its citizens regardless of sexual orientation, gender, race, creed & religion. Dialogue begins when it’s based on facts“.
Likewise, scan The Jewish Federations of North America’s site and you will find a series of press releases about its recent “LGBT Pride in Israel Mission.” A novel way of persuading young activists to join the pro-Israel forces, the mission brought hundreds of members of North America’s LGBT community to Israel. The trip was specifically designed to expose North Americans to the vibrant LGBT culture in the Jewish homeland and to help them “forge ties with [their] brethren in Israel”.
Israel advocacy groups like the ADL and the Jewish Federations have latched on to LGBT rights in Israel as a means of combating negative press and demonstrating Israel’s dedication to equal rights and democracy. It is a logical issue to showcase since, in many ways, Israel is far ahead of the United States in terms of LGBT rights. For instance, while the United States only repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” last December, Israel has allowed openly gay men and women to serve in the military since 1983 and it has not imposed any restrictions on their placement within the military since 1993. Israel is also one of the few countries around the world that has granted legal recognition to same-sex couples with regards to property tax benefits, inheritance taxes, and housing aid; recognized same-sex adoptive parents; and registered the marriages of same-sex couples who were married outside of Israel.
Unfortunately, the ADL’s poster and the Federations’ themed trip only reveal one side of the picture. If such groups were to include the occupied territories in their assessment of Israel’s treatment of gays and lesbians, they would quickly realize that Israel’s record is not as perfect as it seems. Sadly, when the ADL wrote in small print that Israel supports civil rights for “all its citizens” it meant exactly what it said–basic human rights are strictly for Israelis.
In their 2008 study, “Nowhere to Run: Gay Palestinian Asylum-Seekers in Israel,” Michael Kagan and Anat Ben-Dor describe in detail Israel’s unsympathetic and unbending policy towards gay Palestinians. In stark contrast to the vibrant gay culture within Israel, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinians face intense discrimination and often brutal violence if they are discovered to be gay. Kagan and Ben-Dor tell of men who have been violently tortured by other men in their communities, the Palestinian authorities, and even their own families for their sexuality. Others have been subjected to harassment, accused of being Israeli collaborators, labeled as prostitutes, or murdered. In pursuit of protection and the ability to openly express their sexuality, there have been at least ten cases in which gay Palestinians have sought refuge in Israel. However, despite their desperation, Israel refuses to even review gay Palestinian applications for asylum (those who have successfully received asylum have had to submit their cases directly to the UNHCR headquarters in Geneva). Moreover, gay Palestinians who have illegally entered Israel have been arrested and promptly deported–returned to the very environments in which their lives were at risk and in which they will now face further danger as they are questioned not only for their sexuality but for their choice to spend time in Israel.
While Israel should be protecting gay Palestinians simply because of its commitment to human and civil rights, Kagan and Ben-Dor point out that Israel is also legally bound to do so under the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees that Israel ratified in 1951. (It should be noted that this Convention does not apply to those Palestinians who are refugees as a result of the 1948 or 1967 conflicts and who are receiving protection from UNRWA. However, there are many within and outside the Occupied Territories who are not registered with UNRWA and thus qualify for protection from the UNHCR). Any qualifying person who can prove he/she has a “well-founded fear of being persecuted” because of his/her membership in “a particular social group” has a right to protection in another country. Furthermore, the Convention explicitly forbids signatories from forcing refugees to return (“refouler”) to the place where their lives were endangered. Thus, Israel is not only violating the Convention by refusing Palestinian applications but by failing to respect the principal of non-refoulment.
Kagan and Ben-Dor argue that Israel could easily avoid this discriminatory policy and democratic pitfall by addressing each request for asylum individually. If Israel carefully assessed the needs and intentions of the individual in question and then made a decision about granting asylum from there it could uphold its obligation to refugees as defined by the 1951 Convention and protect Israeli security–keeping any individuals with criminal histories or suspicious stories out. Anticipating Israeli objections to their policy recommendation, Kagan and Ben-Dor explain that “granting asylum to a Palestinian in Israel would set no precedent, and have no relevance, to the dispute over whether Palestinian refugees from 1948 have a right of return. The right to seek asylum invokes a separate body of law from the debate over refugee return; the Palestinians we discuss in this report are seeking international protection in Israel as a foreign country, not return or repatriation to ancestral homes” (26).
However, while Kagan and Ben-Dor are correct that, legally, gay asylum seekers have entirely different rights and protections than the Palestinian refugees displaced during the 1948 or 1967 conflicts, they overestimate Israel’s willingness to separate the two issues. The simple and moral solution has not been adopted because of the greater context, the sentiment towards Palestinians that Kagan and Ben-Dor write off.
In essence, granting asylum would allow more Palestinians into the country and that is something Israel cannot swallow. Kagan and Ben-Dor are right, if Israel could screen each applicant separately, there would be very little risk associated with granting them asylum. However, the very remote chance that Israel’s generosity could be taken advantage of and its security put in danger is enough to make Israel neglect its dedication to human rights altogether. Rather than take a small gamble on security (and alter the demographics ever so slightly), Israel prefers to clump all Palestinians under one label: ‘Threatening.’
While it is not wrong to congratulate Israel on the accomplishments it has made, Israel’s policy towards Palestinian gay asylum seekers reveals the startling artificiality of the Anti-Defamation League’s poster and the Federations’ themed trip. The harsh reality is–no matter how loudly one announces Israel’s success–Israel is not living up to its international obligations. In many ways, its treatment of Palestinian gays undermines its achievements with regards to gay rights within the 1967 borders. Israel cannot be held up as the paradigm of human rights until the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are included in the picture.
– Caroline Esser

Comments

20 comments on “Israel’s Treatment of Gay Palestinian Asylum Seekers

  1. Kathleen says:

    Paul Northern Glad you noticed I do all of the above. Hammer MSM talking heads at their sites, national radio programs, etc about how they avoid the I/P issue. Surprising that you do not spend more time objecting to how often these same talking heads allow unsubstantiated claims about Iran on most of the MSM outlets. Or complain about the endless coverage of Weiner gate instead of repeating how many Iraqi people have died, been injured and displaced in Iraq. Seems like if you had any balls you would be complaining about those repeated and shallow coverage.
    Clearly I go after Clemons because he makes the rounds on MSNBC programs and he knows this critical issue is avoided

    Reply

  2. DakotabornKansan says:

    Tip-toeing around the 800-pound gorilla

    Reply

  3. ... says:

    more concerned about the welfare of gay paletinians then palestinians? sounds sexist to me… israel is concerned with neither based on their actions in spite of grand pronouncements to the contrary….

    Reply

  4. Carroll says:

    Oh well, I guess everything is hunky dory as long as Israel just sticks to their occupation and killing people and doesn’t lets gays suffer.
    Gawd.

    Reply

  5. Paul Norheim says:

    Correction: “…Steve wrote the following post in July 2010″ – not 2012.

    Reply

  6. Paul Norheim says:

    “But sssshhhh, don’t tell anyone, you might distract them from worrying about the huge numbers of gay Palestinians, (5??,
    10???, 30???), that are being denied refuge.” (POA)
    ————————
    But sssshhhh, don’t tell anyone that Steve wrote the following post in July 2012:
    http://www.thewashingtonnote.com/archives/2010/07/disturbing_isra/
    ———————————–
    Look, I’m not defending everything Steve does, and I notice the glaring absence of some significant developments, both
    regarding the Arab uprising and I/P issues on his blog recently. As I see it, however, his roaring silence on certain issues
    regarding US support of the oil-rich Arab desert monarchs during this uprising is much more problematic than his alleged
    bias on Israel/Palestine, where one faction regularly accuses him of being an Israel basher, while the other faction accuses
    him of adhering to the script. Nothing new there.
    It’s becoming more and more clear that the White House strategy is to encourage the fall of the Presidents-For-Life in the
    rotten republics, while supporting the reactionary monarchs in the region. I think Steve supports this strategy, and would
    like to see his take on this issue.
    In any case, you’re making a fool of yourself, POA, by claiming that Steve pushes the gay issue to distract from the
    treatment of Bedouin Arabs – an issue he focused on one year ago – quote (Steve Clemons):
    “I support Israel’s legitimate interests and rights in what is a very tough neighborhood, but this behavior — reported by
    Max Blumenthal — is not that of an Israeli that is behaving responsibly and is rather, an Israel that is playing recklessly
    with its own interests and America’s.
    This story is one among many outrages that are piling up…”
    And while we’re at it:
    Kathleen: You’re right. It’s obvious that Rachel Maddow avoids the elephant in the room. But to be honest, I got fed up after
    reading that point 10 or 15 times. Now that we’ve read 100 posts during the last year where you repeat your complain that
    Rachel Maddow doesn’t cover Israel/Palestine issues, why do you still punish the readers of this blog with repeating this
    single point? What’s that got to do with The Washington Note?
    Is Steve Clemons somehow responsible for the priorities of MSNBC? Are you suggesting that Steve should kidnap Rachel,
    waterboarding her into focusing on I/P issues in her program? Why not post your next hundred comments against Rachel
    Maddow on, say, Stephen Walt’s blog or TPM or somewhere else if it’s so hard to reach R.M. or MSNBC directly?
    And BTW folks, like it or not, but gay issues happen to be important in Steve’s universe. More so than in my universe, but
    then again, my universe is not his universe. I

    Reply

  7. JohnH says:

    Israel as a haven for gays and lesbians? Once again, hasbara does not reflect reality.
    http://www.xtra.ca/public/National/Apartheid_Week_event_targets_Israels_gayfriendly_branding-8317.aspx
    Hasbara would have you believe that Israel share American values…except for freedom of religion and universal, equal treatment under the law.

    Reply

  8. DonS says:

    Our news and their news, DC style: So if Wiener lied about his adolescent, power driven sexual fantasies, it must mean that the deficit, not high unemployment is indeed the real problem, though all evidence continues to confound this ideological notion.
    But since Obama’s style is to be boxed in, adopt or promote Republican and “centrist” dem orthodoxy (depending on you take), we can expect heavy lipstick on this pig or, at least until Nov ’12, being told it’s no pig at all. The more the economic condition stays in the crapper, the more we can expect Obama to distance himself from failure of leadership and policy, or try to redefine reality. Kind of like foreign policy .
    More lies, denial, hedged mea culpas and “well-crafted’, seemingly ardent speeches. Recess appointment for Elizabeth Warren; too “risky”; not “bipartisan” enough? Another bellweather?

    Reply

  9. Kathleen says:

    When Rachel Maddow takes the human rights issues of Palestinians as seriously as the human rights of gays then we may make some headway in the MSM. Rachel will not touch the I/P issue. She did ask you some questions the other day Steve but have never heard her step so carefully around a question (more Ums out of Rachel’s mouth than I have ever heard) Now granted she dipped her toes in by asking a question and then gave you the floor but she will not give her own opinion about the death and destruction there. And we all know she is not usually a wall flower about expressing her opinion on most issues
    NY LGBT center opens up to apartheid group after all; porn magnate who muscled the center calls it

    Reply

  10. Paul Norheim says:

    “Our News and their News
    Posted on 06/07/2011 by Juan Cole
    Americans live in a late capitalist society where the rich have gotten many times richer and the middle class has gotten
    poorer, where Wall Street bankers have stolen us blind and blamed us for living above our means, where persistent
    unemployment is worse than in the Great Depression, where most politicians and some judges have been bought by
    corporations or special interests, where authorities actively conspire to keep people from voting, where the government
    spies on citizens assiduously without warrant or probable cause, and where the minds of the sheep are kept off their
    fleecing by substituting celebrity gossip, sex scandals, and half-disguised bigotry for genuine news.
    In the Arab world, masses of 20-year-olds have challenged their corrupt politicians and manipulative billionaires in the
    streets, demanding transparency, an end to arbitrary secret police, and free and fair elections untainted by influence-
    peddling and plutocracy. I have Arabic satellite t.v. on in the background most of the day, with its dramatic stories of
    personal risk and human tragedy and bold challenge to a rotten status quo. And I channel surf over to the American
    cable news and mostly find fluff or de-contextualized reports or, frankly, propaganda. So here is my life, the day

    Reply

  11. DakotabornKansan says:

    There is no longer any bread, just circuses

    Reply

  12. Matthew says:

    Israel shoots unarmed protesters….but the real story is how they treat gay asylum seekers?
    Memo to the Palestinians: Just claim to be gay and then the “decent people” in D.C. will finally care when the Zionists murder you.

    Reply

  13. Matth4w says:

    Israel shoots unarmed protesters….but the real story is how they treat gay asylum seekers?
    Memo to the Palestinians: Just claim to be gay and then the “decent people” in D.C. will finally care when the Zionists murder you.

    Reply

  14. Paul Norheim says:

    “Revealed: the untold story of the deal that shocked the Middle East
    Exclusive by Robert Fisk
    Tuesday, 7 June 2011
    Secret meetings between Palestinian intermediaries, Egyptian intelligence officials, the Turkish foreign minister, Palestinian
    President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal

    Reply

  15. Ethan Shmulnik says:

    Finally, Ali Abunimah and Hussein Ibish have a place to hide in Tel
    Aviv!!! (They are both famous gay Palestinians)

    Reply

  16. DakotabornKansan says:

    While Israel may well give some rights to gays, Israel human rights record with its Palestinian Arab residents still remains a harsh reality.
    Arab citizens of Israel say institutional discrimination is getting worse under right-wing dominated Knesset.
    Human Rights Watch reported in March that two new Israeli laws affecting Israel’s Palestinian Arab residents promote discrimination and stifle free expression.
    http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2011/03/30/israel-new-laws-marginalize-palestinian-arab-citizens

    Reply

  17. Rob says:

    Isn’t the more salient point here the violent
    treatment of homosexuals in the territories. Are we
    really supposed to blame Israeli immigration policy
    for the brutal oppression of gay Palestinians?

    Reply

  18. anon says:

    What a desperate attempt to get around the fact that Israel is the ONLY country in the middle east where LGBT people have any right at all. The fact is that LGBT issues are not necessarily liberal. There is no actual intellectual reason why LGBT rights must somehow be anti Israel, it’s just there is this desperate clingy need to make all the movements somehow agree with each other.

    Reply

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