Judith Butler's Statement on the Queer Palestinian Activists Tour
Dear Haneen, Sami, and Ghadir,
I wanted personally to thank you for your recent visit to the United States. I have heard from many parts of the country that your presentations were extraordinary and opened up new ways of thinking for many activists on the queer left.
I believe that your visit marks the possibility of change in the discourse here about queer activism, Palestine, and BDS, and I wanted just to say that your arguments and modes of presentation were compelling, complex, important, and persuasive (also, ironic and sometimes hilarious!).
As you doubtless know, many people in the LGBTQ community in the United States remain relatively ignorant about the conditions of Occupation. Your joint presentations made clear what the daily confrontation with Israeli military power is like, how difficult mobility is, and how important it is that any queer activism commit itself to the struggle against the Occupation - an insupportable subjugation of the Palestinian people that clearly abrogates international law and the basic precepts of equality and justice. Indeed, you made perfectly clear why allying with groups that are not clearly and actively opposed to the Occupation is impossible. At the same time, you showed us how absolutely important it is to struggle for greater freedoms for sexual minorities in Palestine at every level of society, including the movements that are resisting the Occupation and calling for Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment. In this time when Israel is actively engaged in "pinkwashing", that is, advertising its ostensible tolerance for gays and lesbians as a way of deflecting from the illegal and unconscionable subjugation of over two million Palestinians. It is quite monstrous that they seek to use us - gay, lesbian, queer, trans - in order to cast themselves as the beacon of democracy in that region, if democracy implies the equal treatment of the inhabitants of the land, regardless of nationality, origin, religion, race, and ethnicity! Indeed, the radical democratic movements we are seeing now in Arab countries are clearly immeasurably more democratic in their composition and aims than
anything we have ever seen emerge from the State of Israel. So where precisely is the beacon of democracy now? In the streets of Cairo, Tripoli, Tunis? We can only hope that these movements will undermine the support that the states surrounding Israel have given to the occupation. I see you as struggling for real democratic alliance in which the rights of one group will not be traded off against the rights of another, especially by those who belong to them both.
You also made clear why queer activists are, and should be, supportive of BDS. It is the largest non-violent resistance movement in Palestine, and all three strategies have been established as bonafide ways to compel a state to comply with international law. Israel should be no exception. What I appreciated most was how you made clear that you were unwilling to compromise with those who asked you either (a) to put your anti-Occupation politics second or (b) put your queer politics second. How brave, and how right you are to insist on both, and to ask that others do the same. I also appreciated how you laid out the complexity of "coming out" - a practice that is often regarded as the presupposition or even the goal of GLBTQ politics in the U.S. You relayed how the struggle with visibility is a complex one, especially where families are concerned, and you asked that we understand that activism cannot be equated with full, unprotected, visibility. That was a nuanced discussion, and one that activists here very much need to hear.
I am sorry to say, though also glad to say, that there were many in that room in New York who were starting to gain an understanding of the situation in Palestine for the first time. I hope they will take this opportunity to learn more, to join solidarity visits, and to find ways of making alliance with queer activists throughout the region. By the way, I love your irony and intelligence - and appreciate the way that you work with your differences from one another. I hope that we will be able to meet in Jerusalem or Ramallah in the Fall. It would be a great honor and pleasure for me, as it was last evening to listen to you all. I would like to know more what I can do to support you as well.