Tuesday, June 12, 2007
by Wayne Besen
The Israeli Knesset is about to make a tragic mistake with far reaching consequences if it votes to ban Gay Pride rallies. This anti-democratic action will alienate secular Jews - gay and straight - worldwide and force stalwart defenders of Israel to rethink their allegiance. American Jews overwhelmingly reject the intolerance of our homegrown Christian Right, so the notion that we will blindly support Jewish Pat Robertsons in Jerusalem is a dangerous miscalculation.
Recently, the Knesset proposed one amendment that would empower the Jerusalem mayor to prohibit Gay Pride and other parades based on religious sensitivities or alleged threats to public order. A first reading of this bill passed 40-23. In a second, more far-reaching bill, the Shas Party called for a ban on all pride parades throughout the country. This measure - which threatens freedom of speech and assembly - was approved by a vote of 41-21.
According to Ynet News
, final passage of the bills requires two more votes - which are unlikely to come prior to the June 21 Pride march in Jerusalem. Last year, authorities did not sanction the rally, claiming that they couldnâ€™t guarantee the safety of Pride marchers. The event was finally moved to an alternative, secured indoor location after right-wing zealots threatened participants.
This year, march organizers again have been met with threats of violence and intimidation by ultra-Orthodox Jews, who seem like Jewish versions of Fred Phelps. One extremist group even put a hex
on would-be participants and the police.
"To all those involved, sinners in spirit, and whoever helps and protects them, may they feel a curse on their souls, may it plague them, and may evil pursue them; they will not be [acquitted] of their transgressions from heavenly judgment," reads the curse from Eda Haredit rabbis.
Unfortunately, the actions of the Bush administration may have emboldened Israel's religious right and offered a fundamental misreading of American Jewry. The President has created a dangerous marriage between conservative Jews and the Rapture Right, who want to usher in the Second Coming. The point man for this unholy alliance is Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, leader of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews
. The Rabbi recently referred to
the late Rev. Jerry Falwell as a "mild mannered and wonderful person."
Israel's real power base in America, however, does not come from the outspoken Rabbi Eckstein, but from the quiet majority of moderately religious or secular Jews. Many attend synagogue. Some don't. Others follow kosher diets, while some eat bacon without so much as a pang of guilt. The Israeli right probably would not even consider them real Jews.
Still, American Jews, like myself, have long defended Israel's right to exist in bars, campus protests, over office water coolers and on talk radio programs. Without fanfare, we have battled against Anti-Semitism in rural America - sometimes with our fists. We have challenged misconceptions and fought stereotypes and in the process brought support and understanding for Israel.
Most of us would like to see peace, including a Palestinian state - but not at the expense of security. However, we fervently reject Messianic Jews that believe God intended for Israel to have all of the land. To us, this sounds very similar to extremists in Saudi Arabia who say God forbids "infidels" from intruding on Muslim lands.
To the secular majority, Israel is an emotional home, as well as an insurance policy. Each time we see an up tick of Anti-Semitism in Europe or America, we thank God for the existence of Israel. But most of all, we see the Jewish State as an oasis of liberty and hope in the Middle East. It is a nation where there are elections, a free media, and where people openly debate key issues.
Continued support, however, is contingent on Israel remaining a modern nation that respects human rights, diversity and religious freedom. If the ultra-Orthodox think for one second that American and European Jews have any intention of supporting the Jewish version of Iran, they've got another thing coming. It is inexcusable that people, who have felt the sting of persecution, now mimic the tyrants who drove them to the shelter of Israel.
While the Knesset humiliated itself debating this draconian measure, an estimated three million people celebrated Gay Pride in Brazil
. Perhaps, my Israeli "insurance policy" has expired, as I now feel safer in Sao Paulo than Jerusalem. If Israeli conservatives ultimately pass these bills, they may relish their small-minded victory, but they are about to find out what a small minority they truly are. If I can't march at Pride, maybe it is time for people like me to march on.
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
by Wayne Besen
With an approval rating hovering at Nixonian levels and Rush Limbaugh firing spitballs from the right over immigration, it didn't take a brain surgeon to guess that George W. Bush would try to appease conservatives by nominating a Neanderthal for Surgeon General.
Out from the cave ambled James W. Holsinger, the most homophobic doctor since Isaiah Washington - the Grey's Anatomy's star - had to go to rehab for dropping F-bombs. But Washington was a make believe doctor, while Holzinger is very real and has the potential to inflict great harm on the GLBT community.
The Lexington Herald-Leader reported that Holsinger started Hope Springs Community Church in Kentucky. Rev. David Calhoun, the pastor of the big aluminum trailer church said that Hope Springs has an "ex-gay" ministry.
"We see that as an issue not of orientation but a lifestyle," Calhoun said. "We have people who seek to walk out of that lifestyle."
Holsinger also served on the Judicial Council for the United Methodist Church where he opposed a decision to allow a lesbian to be an associate pastor. He was even so extreme that he endorsed a pastor who tried to prohibit an openly gay man from joining a church.
Clearly, Holsinger is an ideologue whose medieval medical views on gay and lesbian people resemble sorcery more than sound science. The last thing America needed was another deplorable nominee who isn't up to the job, but this is exactly what Bush delivered.
When this nation required a humble Secretary of Defense - we got Rumsfeld. When we wanted a legal scholar at the Justice Department, we got the "tort-meister of torture," Alberto Gonzales. When a soothing voice was necessary to repair America's tattered image, Bush sent John Bolton - a man with the diplomatic touch of Napalm - to the United Nations. Now, Bush is poised to make us the laughingstock of the world by nominating Dr. Discrimination as the nation's top doctor.
It appears Holsinger is the latest example of affirmative action for religious zealots in the Bush Administration. The President has stocked the ranks with fundamentalist Christian cronies, such as Monica Goodling, whose only notable achievement was covering a naked statue at the Justice Department with a drape. Indeed, The Boston Globe reported in May that 150 Regent University alumni had been hired to federal government positions since Bush took office in 2001. That's right, the fate of our nation has been put in the hands of graduates of Pat Robertson U.
Of Course, the fact that Holsinger is a person of faith is not the problem. The issue is his archaic views about gay and lesbian people that are rejected by every respected medical and mental health organization in America. Just because he is religious does not give Holsinger a "get out of reality free card" when it comes to outdated ideas that are incompatible with modern medicine. There are many highly qualified people of faith Bush could have nominated who choose to live in the 21st Century and reject religion-based discrimination - but he elected to nominate a retrograde relic who must be defeated in the Senate.
Holsinger's nomination has drawn howls from my organization, Truth Wins Out, as well as the Human Rights Campaign, The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, SoulForce and the Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project in Boston. This chorus of heated opposition will only grow in the coming weeks, as people learn more about Holzinger.
"For the last 20 years, James Holsinger has been the worst kind of bully inside the United Methodist Church," said Rev. Troy Plummer, Executive Director of Reconciling Ministries Network of United Methodists. "As a member of a sexuality study team in 1991, he used his position as a medical doctor to promote skewed and inaccurate information regarding gay men."
Holsinger's nomination will go before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, chaired by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) Presidential candidates Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL), Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Christopher Dodd (D-CT) sit on this committee. It will be interesting to see what they do about this troubling nomination and if they ask Holzinger questions about his anti-gay activities.
These senators must be made to understand how deeply offensive this nomination is for GLBT people. Our history is littered with those who endured shock treatment, lobotomies and other forms of torture in the name of medicine. At Truth Wins Out, I often deal with victims of "ex-gay" psychological abuse who are scarred for life by people who operate ministries - like the one reportedly run by Holsinger's church.
If doctors live by the dictum "first do no harm," Holsinger in no way can reconcile his suitability for Surgeon General, with the often-catastrophic consequences caused by "ex-gay" programs.