The Heffalump Trap

The Guardian fell into its own Heffalump trap on July 1st with the publication on CiF of Jasbir Puar’s polemic. The Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University who writes, speaks and lectures about the politicization of gay rights for a living penned an article in tortured prose designed to delegitimize Israel by employing the issue of its gay citizens as political ammunition.

When reading Puar’s article, it is of course useful to know where she is coming from and to understand the core stances which underlie this supposedly academic analysis. The fact that Puar is scheduled to lecture on the subject of ‘ Israeli pinkwashing’ (as she terms it) at an international conference to be held this coming December at Humboldt University in Berlin may suggest that there is a certain degree of career advancement to be had from this subject. The fact that she is a signatory (no. 321 on the list) to calls for a PACBI-initiated boycott on Israeli academic and cultural institutions suggests that her commitment to academic freedom and exchange of ideas is somewhat lacking.

Her signing of a letter to President Obama which describes Israel as an apartheid regime, accuses it of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and calls for a one-state ‘solution’ by stating that “[a]lmost certainly, the only hope of a lasting solution is a single state in Israel/Palestine, committed to the civil and human rights of all peoples within its boundaries, irrespective of religion or ethnicity” indicates that Jewish rights to self-determination (or even survival) are not numbered within her concerns. The fact that she lends her voice to organizations such as Queers Against Israeli Apartheid and events such as symposiums part sponsored by Faculty for Palestine ( a committee of the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid), indictate that Puar has nailed her colours well and truly to the mast of anti-Israel activism.

There is, therefore, no reason to afford her writings the respect usually due to dispassionate and objective academic research because Puar has chosen to become nothing more than a political mouthpiece with a mortar board. Her CiF polemic deliberately ignores two very basic and important facts. Yes, sadly there still exists some discrimination against gay people, among others, in Israel. Personally, I know of no country on the planet which has succeeded in completely eradicating such prejudices, including the ‘role model’ Western societies of the UK and the US. However, the rights of gay people are protected by Israeli law and constantly expanding to meet new challenges. Whilst by no means yet perfect, the situation of gay people in Israel is infinitely better than that of those in many other countries in the world, including many of the surrounding nations.

Puar is of course so blinded by her own anti-Israel rhetoric that she is unable to acknowledge these basic truths and instead resorts to the old canard of adopting a non-comparative analysis of cultures.

“This particular response, whereby a stance against Israeli state violence is advocated and sanctioned but accompanied by an additional condemnation of Muslim sexual cultures, has become a standard rhetorical framing produced by liberal supporters of the Palestinian cause. (Note the messaging of OutRage, Britain’s premier queer human rights organisation, at a Free Palestine rally in London, 21 May 2005: “Israel: Stop persecuting Palestine!” “Palestine: Stop persecuting queers!” and also “Stop ‘honour’ killing women and gays in Palestine”.) This framing has the effect, however unintended, of analogising Israeli state oppression of Palestinians to Palestinian oppression of their gays and lesbians, as if the two were equivalent or contiguous.”

However much Puar may try to dress it up in convoluted academic theories or smoke-screens of excruciating buzz-word language, her approach is basically that of ‘it’s their culture, innit?’.

One cannot but feel deep compassion for the countless gay people, women and those belonging to other repressed groups in so many countries around the world who have been betrayed in this manner by too many Western academics, intellectuals and feminists in the name of their ‘progressive’ political agenda. Years from now people will surely look back upon people such as Jasbir Puar and the editors of the Guardian and wonder why on earth, from their enviable position in the ivory tower of education and privilege, they willingly co-operated with the perpetuation of such archaic practices as the oppression of gay people and women in countries in which they themselves were fortunate enough not to have been born.

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