Israel's Liberal Homophobia

The coverage of the fatal shooting attack at Barnoar belies a kinder, gentler homophobia.

Aeyal Gross
Aeyal Gross
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Aeyal Gross
Aeyal Gross

Conservative homophobia is easy to spot. It holds that homosexuals are sick deviants because of whom we have earthquakes and bird flu and other dreadful things. It’s much more difficult to spot liberal homophobia, with its sweet and pretty face and appearance of enlightenment. At its foundation is mainly a distinction between private and public space, with acceptance of homosexuality as long as it exists in the private sphere.

The most obvious examples of this position are statements such as: "Heterosexuals don’t flaunt their sexuality around” or “Do whatever you want in your homes, but why take pride in this?” Such positions adopt "liberal color-blindness" while ignoring heterosexism and society's inherent homophobia while ignoring the fact that heterosexuals share their sexual preference with society all the time: in weddings; while walking on the street without fear of violence; and in what they say in the family setting and in the workplace about couples and relationships without fear of hostility or discrimination. Every incident of this kind is a display of heterosexuality and an answer to the question of whom the person sleeps next to in bed.

A kinder, gentler version of liberal homophobia once took the form of a debate over the Pride Parade in Jerusalem, when many people said they were fine with homosexuals, but saw no reason why they should create a provocation, and in Jerusalem to boot. The debates for and against the Pride Parade in Jerusalem reflected that view, presenting the homophobic approach that wished to ban the parade as a “parallel” to the desire to march in Jerusalem as well.

After the deadly shooting attack at Barnoar, liberal homophobia surfaced along with support for the community. It took the form of a debate over coming out of the closet and “outing.” Many people said that a person’s sexual orientation was his own private business, and spoke out against the expectation that well-known people would come out of the closet. The debate ignored the fact that society considers only one sexual orientation a private matter. Heterosexuality is always public, and may always be talked about.

The most obvious expression of liberal homophobia after the murders at Barnoar was the one that sought to negate the relationship between the attacks and homophobia with the claim that the murders might have been committed for personal reasons — an assertion that is being made now as well. It was as if indiscriminate shooting at LGBT teenagers at Barnoar could be disconnected from the social structures of heterosexism and homophobia, even if it was committed by a person whose personal history fueled his hatred.

It takes the form of the current discourse about “crimes of jealousy.” For example, Dan Margalit, a reporter at Israel Hayom, writes: “A hate crime? No, it's humiliation and jealousy and hatred of individuals toward individuals.” Such denial is itself a form of homophobic injustice, of the liberal homophobia kind, which denies the existence of homophobia, usually from a place of privilege of one who never experienced that kind of group hatred.

One must look closely at the narrative published by the police so far to see this blindness. In this narrative, the murder suspect was told that his relative, a minor, had been seen several times at Barnoar and asked him what he had been doing there. His relative answered that he had been there, that a community activist had allegedly "sodomized" him and he wished to retaliate.

Without ascertaining what actually happened at this point, this narrative triggers a warning light for anyone who has experienced homophobia. The narrative is also a scenario for homophobia within the family. One relative asks another what he was doing in a gay hangout. The very nature of the question makes the respondent vulnerable to homophobia within the family and fear the response to being found out — a response that could consist of hatred of homosexuality and of gay people in general.

For example, a column in Yedioth Ahronoth written by Hagai Segal, who was convicted in the past for hate-based crimes, appeared under the headline, “It hurts, but less.” Segal explained that the gay community has fewer reasons for pride now that the details of the murder investigation were revealed, and it was a private act of hatred. But only one who does not understand what homophobia is can miss how the revelation of the facts of the crime does not minimize the pain or the trauma at all.

Nir Katz and Liz Trubishi, who were murdered in Barnoar, are still victims of an indiscriminate shooting attack on LGBT teenagers, as are the wounded who are still in wheelchairs. The police narrative does not lessen the pain but actually intensifies the dread felt by anyone who understands the nature of homophobia. It turns the story into one that does not involve only homophobia in the abstract, but rather homophobia that is personal and family-related. Denial of homophobia and of the pain only exacerbates the hurt and the trauma.

The reports that the activist allegedly had sexual relations with the minor also played a part in the liberal-homophobic dance. “Do you think the community will engage in soul-searching now?” a researcher for a television program recently asked me. Yes, I answered, soul-searching is needed, but everyone should do it. Why does the heterosexual society require it of the LGBT community without doing it itself? After all, most cases of rape, sexual relations with minors or abuse of power that we hear about — without knowing or ascertaining at this point whether the alleged acts in this case took place or not — are heterosexual in nature. Only last week, an increase was reported in the number of sexual-harassment and rape complaints in the IDF. Although most of these cases were heterosexual in nature, in liberal homophobia the story immediately awakens the negative stereotypes against homosexuals.

The gay community must also deal critically with questions of sexual harassment, exploitation and violence in its ranks, particularly regarding minors. But that does not justify the homophobic way the topic is treated as we saw last week, and this discourse has no legitimacy when it focuses exclusively on the gay community. When Segal writes that the gay community has “fewer reasons for pride,” he is taking advantage of the incident, as others have done, to smear it and absolve the heterosexual world of any blame.

This could be seen on Channel Two, which provided a platform for Adi Mintz, the former head of the Yesha Council, to voice his fear that members of the gay community were going to schools to “recruit” gay pupils. After posting an offensive status on Facebook in which Mintz asked whether members of the gay community were engaged in seducing teenagers, a television studio gave him a platform to spread his doctrine.

Dan Margalit expressed a milder version of that idea in his supposedly liberal statement that “members of the gay and lesbian community do not tend toward crime any more than others do, but if they had hoped to conceal, artificially, the strong emotions and jealousy and lust and intrigues and quarrels and prostitution and the use of force and the misuse of authority in their ranks, then the time has come for them to grow up and realize that they cannot appear in public looking like angels.”

Strong emotions, jealousy, intrigues, quarrels, prostitution, the use of force and the misuse of authority – that is the image of homosexuality in the liberal style of homophobia that now rears its head, even as it is busy explaining that it is not homophobic at all.

Demonstation at a memorial for the Bar Noar victims, June 11, 2013. The pink side reads, "Homophobia kills."Credit: Moti Milrod

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