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Palestinian queer groups: "major BDS victory" as int’l queer youth group withdraws meeting from Israel

IGLYO, the International Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Youth and Student Organization, recently announced its decision to withdraw its General Assembly from Israel, citing “much debate on the proposed location of the GA by IGLYO Member Organisations and also by LGBTQ and human rights allies.”

Their announcement followed direct action by Palestinian Queer groups and solidarity activists who launched the “IGLYO Out of Israel!” campaign in early June. In an online statement on 29 July, Palestinian Queers for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (PQBDS) wrote, “We take this opportunity to salute IGLYO Member and Associate Organizations who took a principled and moral stand in support of our rights and heeded our calls.”

Nevertheless, PQBDS added that IGLYO’s statement was unclear in that it did not mention specific political reasons for withdrawing the GA — and that the organization is still planning on holding a youth leadership summit in Tel Aviv in December. They stated:

We, however, were disappointed by the vague reasoning and language used in IGLYO’s statement announcing the cancellation, and the complete ignorance of the calls and reasoning provided by Palestinian queer groups in opposition of the conference’s location. IGLYO cited ‘recent legal changes in Israel’ as a reason for their decision, but they did not specify the nature of these changes, or why they are problematic, and thus did not address the underlying issues at the heart of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and thus Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights. This kind of wishy-washy reasoning allows IGLYO to back down from an unpopular decision, under pressure, while avoiding taking a stance on Israeli violations.

The statement reads in full:

Palestinian Queer Groups welcome the decision by the board of IGLYO to withdraw their annual General Assembly conference from Tel Aviv, Israel. On June 1st, a campaign to get ‘IGLYO Out of Israel’ was launched by Palestinian Queer Groups to protest the organization’s decision to hold its General Assembly in Tel Aviv, and accept funding from the Israeli government, followed by a call to boycott the conference after IGLYO declined to change its location. We take this opportunity to salute IGLYO Member and Associate Organizations who took a principled and moral stand in support of our rights and heeded our calls, including NUS-LGBTQ, Kaos-GL and Pembe Hayat from Turkey; BelonG To, the Ireland LGBT youth organization;  Helem – Lebanese Protection for LQBTIQ, and IGLCN – The International Gay and Lesbian Cultural Network. This can only be seen as a continuation of the beautiful spirit of global solidarity, dominant during the South African anti-apartheid struggle and ongoing in solidarity with the rights of the Palestinian people, and oppressed people everywhere. We also call on other member organizations, and IGLYO to fully respect the Palestinian civil society call for BDS until Israel ends its oppression of the Palestinian people.

Palestinian Queer Groups launched this campaign in protest of the conference’s location, and acceptance of funding from the Israeli government, which directly implicates IGLYO in Israel’s occupation, colonization and apartheid, and Israeli efforts to ‘re-brand’ Israel. Israeli policies and occupation do not distinguish between queer and straight. All Palestinians—queer and straight— must deal with the effects of Israel’s apartheid system, illegal wall, colonial settlements, and military occupation. Furthermore, Palestinians in Gaza live under a medieval and illegal siege, and in the largest open-air prison in the world. Like all Palestinian citizens of Israel, queers are subject to institutionalized discrimination in all walks of life, and Palestinian refugees are denied their basic, UN-sanctioned right of return.

In light of this effective and commendable solidarity with our call for boycott of IGLYO’s GA in Israel, this decision by the IGLYO board can only be seen as a direct result of pressure from the IGLYO Out of Israel campaign and the strong moral stand taken by several IGLYO member and associate organizations, and other international groups. We urge other Member Organizations and the IGLYO Board of Directors to heed our call, and respect our picket line by boycotting all complicit Israeli institutions, and any events that are in violation of the BDS call.

We, however, were disappointed by the vague reasoning and language used in IGLYO’s statement announcing the cancellation, and the complete ignorance of the calls and reasoning provided by Palestinian queer groups in opposition of the conference’s location. IGLYO cited ‘recent legal changes in Israel’ as a reason for their decision, but they did not specify the nature of these changes, or why they are problematic, and thus did not address the underlying issues at the heart of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and thus Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights. This kind of wishy-washy reasoning allows IGLYO to back down from an unpopular decision, under pressure, while avoiding taking a stance on Israeli violations. A number of repressive laws have recently been passed in the Israeli parliament, including the anti-BDS law, and the Nakba law, which are part of an ongoing pattern of repressive laws that aim to further narrow the already dismal margin of freedoms available to those protesting Israel’s occupation, colonialism and system of racial discrimination, and to effectively criminalize Palestinian non-violent resistance and solidarity with it. These laws, however, are but a part of a 63-year old policy of systematic discrimination against the Palestinian people. It isn’t just recent laws that should raise ‘concerns,’ but all the patently racist laws that have been passed by the Israeli Knesset in the last 63 years aiming to maintain a system of domination of one racial group over another.

Furthermore, IGLYO’s encouragement of its Member Organizations to participate in the Israeli Gay Youth International LGBTQ Youth Leadership Summit to be held in Tel Aviv in December, is indicative of the organization’s blatant hypocrisy. By continuing to support IGY and encouraging its MOs to attend this summit, IGLYO is ignoring the demands of Palestinian queer groups, our rights to an end of occupation, colonization and apartheid, and is de facto crossing our picket line. The fact that IGLYO has moved its General Assembly from Israel is not enough while they are still encouraging their member organizations to violate the BDS guidelines and attend events in Tel Aviv.

We see IGLYO’s cancellation, under pressure, of its ill-conceived decision to hold its GA in Israel as a major victory for the BDS movement at large. It is particularly significant because this is the first time that such a wide debate around the boycott of Israeli apartheid has been initiated within queer communities. It is a victory in itself that the IGLYO Out of Israel campaign has encouraged international LGBTQ organizations to view gay rights in the proper, wider context of human rights, and facilitated internal discussions about these issues, with a focus on Palestinian rights.

Once again, we salute our partners for their principled, hard work, and reiterate our call to queers, academics, artists and activists, to take a stand and join the BDS movement against oppression in its many forms, and the Israeli policies of occupation, colonization, and apartheid impacting all Palestinians, queer or otherwise.

For more info please contact:
al-Qaws for Sexual & Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society: info@alqaws.org
Palestinian Queers for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions: info@pqbds.com