Why Hypocritical Israel Has Stayed Silent on Homophobic Uganda

Although most Western countries have condemned the African state for its new, virulently anti-gay law, Israel has preferred to look the other way - at the asylum seekers it wants to send to Uganda.

Haaretz reported last week that Israel, unlike other Western countries, has refused to condemn Uganda for a new law that recently went into effect there. The legislation imposes long prison sentences (even life imprisonment in certain cases) on men who have sexual relations with each other, criminal sanctions for failure to report gay men, and stricter punishments on sexual relations between women.

Many Western countries condemned the new law, with some even announcing that they will no longer provide economic aid to Uganda.

But none of this is Israel’s business.

The State of Israel has economic and defense relations with Uganda and, just as important, is trying to reach an agreement in which Uganda will serve as its trash bin for asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea.

As part of the agreement, the asylum seekers will be sent along with money and weapons to the Ugandan government, which has a place of honor on the global Corruption Perceptions Index.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu never fails to mention on every international stage that Israel is a paradise for gays (though not necessarily for all members of the LGBT community).

He is also careful to emphasize the difference between Israel and its neighbors in this respect, to strengthen Israel’s image as a villa of culture in the heart of the barbarian jungle. But it seems that condemning countries that violate the human rights of LGBT people is solely a tactical matter.

But really, why should we be surprised? When it comes to black members of the LGBT community, Israel does not care what happens to them – no matter whether they are here or in Africa.

Even though every Western country recognizes that persecution on the basis of sexual preference or gender identity justifies granting protection according to the UN Refugee Convention, and have recognized many gay refugees, the State of Israel has not recognized even one LGBY asylum seeker to date.

It’s not as if none have sought asylum. In recent years, the Interior Ministry has dealt with an abundance of asylum requests from gay people who fled for their lives. These asylum seekers come from countries such as Nigeria, Sudan, Eritrea and Morocco, which have a rich record of persecution of gay people.

They asked Israel not to send them back to countries where their lives are in danger. So far, though, all these requests – without a single exception – have been either turned down or never even examined.

The minutes of the committee that discusses asylum requests in Israel show that the stance of Eitan Margalit – the Foreign Ministry’s representative on the committee – and that of Anat Tsin – the representative of the Interior Ministry – is that the Refugee Convention does not apply to gay people at all. In other words, they are invited to return to the countries where danger awaits them.

Other minutes of committee meetings show that Ariela Kalai, the Justice Ministry’s representative on the committee, believes that while the rape of a human being in an African country as punishment for being gay is an “unfortunate” and “negative” experience, it is not a severe enough violation of human rights to warrant protecting the person against deportation.

The Interior Ministry will always find a reason to turn down asylum requests from men and women claiming persecution on the basis of sexual preference or gender identity.

Sometimes, the officials responsible for looking into the asylum requests simply refuse to believe that the applicant is gay. Sometimes, they roll their eyes and claim that the countries with proven records of violating the human rights of gay people are actually wonderful places for sexual minorities.

Once they have run through all the excuses, they return to the point of origin: Israel is simply not willing to apply the Refugee Convention to gay people, so they are invited to return to places that are dangerous for them.

When it comes to Palestinian asylum seekers, things are even  worse. Israel, in a clear violation of the Refugee Convention, is completely unwilling to look into asylum applications of people who claim to be in danger in Palestinian Authority territory.

In several cases that reached the courts – cases where Palestinians claimed they had been abused in the territories because of their sexual preference – the state responded that, while the lives of gay people in the Palestinian Authority “were not easy or pleasant,” this did not mean the state had to refrain from moving them from a place where they faced danger.

If an asylum seeker from Uganda would arrive in Israel claiming that his life or liberty is in danger because of his sexual preference, the state will not hesitate to send him back.

So it is hard to be surprised that Israel has not joined the condemnation of the Ugandan government and mumbles vague utterances when asked to comment on the matter.

Such a condemnation would mix up the various functions that Israel has set for each one of the pieces in this game: LGBT persons are a propaganda tool for selling Israel as an enlightened country and portraying our neighbors as beasts in human form; Uganda is a trash dump for the black mass that darkens our visual field and a site for weapons trafficking. We must not confuse the two.

Attorney Yonatan Berman is is a volunteer for the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants.