“A Queer Country”
Israel from the LGBT Perspective
I spent many years of my life living in Israel and can vouch that it is a complicated country to say the least and I am actually surprised that I stayed there as long as I did. I arrived in Israel long before gay liberation and along with many of my gay friends, lived a closeted life. We did set up the first gay liberation organization and I do not think that any of us thought it would get to where it is today. There is no such thing as pinkwashing in Israel and I am emphatic on that. Looking at Israel from the outside, it’s difficult not to see the divisions and conflicts; especially the secular versus conservative religion. Yet nowadays and against that backdrop, Tel Aviv holds one of the biggest gay pride parades on the planet.
British filmmaker Lisa Morgenthau’s documentary, “A Queer Country” looks at Israel from an LGBT perspective. We meet some of the more interesting and thought-provoking issues queer people in Israel face. The film contrasts the largely secular and open Tel Aviv with the more staid and religious Jerusalem, where gay issues are far more political and difference less tolerated.
We meet those who’ve faced difficulties due to the fact Ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities rarely accept LGBT people, and who have therefore had to find new ways to hold on to their beliefs outside of the world they were once part of. The film also addresses the accusations of pinkwashing that have been leveled against Israel. This is the allegation that the Foreign Ministry has promoted Israel’s acceptance of LGBT people to try and deflect criticism from allegations of human rights abuses against Palestinians.
We hear from a variety of people who show that things are often far more complicated than they first appear. With pinkwashing, we face whether it is a cynical attempt to gloss over the fact that not all minorities enjoy the benefits LGBT people do, or is it a legitimate way of promoting a nation that often finds it difficult to get positive stories on the international stage? I believe it is neither and does not exist.
In the early part of the film many participants talk about how Tel Aviv is a gay haven yet it was also the scene of a 2009 shooting at a gay centre that killed two and injured 15 others, while in 2015 Jerusalem Pride saw a fatal stabbing by an Ultra-Orthodox Jew angry the city had allowed the celebration. Some of the most interesting parts of the film are when it looks at the dichotomy of a country set up to be a secular, plural society, but where that plurality means they have to try and find ways for some very different and sometimes extreme views to live alongside one another.
“A Queer Country” does not come to conclusions. It presents a variety of thoughts and opinions. However, there is nothing about LGBT Arabs in Israel, as while the movie engages with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how that relates to LGBT people, it does so almost exclusively from one side of the issue. This means that some people, perhaps unfairly, will find the film is to be one-sided. Nonetheless, the film does a good job of including a diverse array of interviewees from within the Israeli Jewish community. We hear from a strict orthodox psychologist who thinks that everything that is gay is wrong. We also hear from gay Jews who are conflicted about their status compared to Palestinians, to a trans man and his family on a kibbutz where they’re trying to live their lives in a way that they feel honors God, although there are others who might disagree.
The one theme that comes up over and over is that of people trying to find synthesis between being gay and Jewish, something many people, and perhaps Israel as a nation, is still trying to deal with. This is an issue that seems to go beyond just LGBT issues, such as when one person talks about the fact religious bodies have complete control over marriage in the country and we understand that it’s not just gay people who can’t marry but also many of those who fall in love with people outside of Judaism.
The film helps puts context on issues that are often presented in rather one-dimensional ways. It shows that, as is so often is the way, things are more complex than they first appear, and that while Israel may be the most gay-friendly country in the Middle-East, LGBT people still face difficulties that are both relatable and very specific to living there, and that even within Israel there is division about how their status relates to other groups.