by The Queer Shadow Gallery Collective
Mideast Youth Blog
June 23, 2011
Part I – Delineating Differences
As queer Arab activists working on the ground in several countries in the Middle East, our initial disagreements with GayMiddleEast.com were political in nature. But rather than respond to them or engage in dialogue with us, GayMiddleEast.com resorted to playing the victim and shrugging off those concerns.
GayMiddleEast.com’s disingenuous response to what it sees as a “smear campaign” against it not only obfuscates the legitimate reasons many queer Arab activists take issue with its work, but also presents lies so blatant that a simple Google search is enough uncover the truth. It is duplicitous to claim that pointing out GayMiddleEast.com’s extensive ties to Israel is more dangerous than those ties themselves and its lack of transparency about them.
In its response, GayMiddleEast.com claims that the campaign against them began after they voiced skepticism over the disappearance of Amina Arraf, when in fact the tense history between GayMiddleEast.com and local activists existed long before that and centered around four issues:
LGBT organizations and activists in the Arab region have always approached requesting foreign intervention very carefully, and it has been the topic of much debate both within activist communities and between them and international organizations that have come to understand the complexities involved and possible backlash that such action would entail.
Meanwhile, GayMiddleEast.com seems to have an open door with the UK Foreign Office and do not think twice about asking them to intervene at any given opportunity. These issues were raised with GayMiddleEast.com by several people, but they refused to engage.
Co-option of queer Arab voices
While perhaps not as vile as Tom MacMaster, GayMiddleEast.com operates on the same principle: White men speaking on behalf of queer Arabs and white men as gatekeepers of queer Arab voices. We are not victims in need of a white male savior working in London, nor do we need a conduit for our poor brown oppressed voices to be heard in the West, which seems to be GayMiddleEast.com’s intended audience.
Over the past few years the region has seen an enormous upsurge of progressive queer activism, from North Africa to the Levant and the Arab Gulf. Much of this work is being done quietly on the ground, from lobbying parliamentarians to organizing support groups, establishing solidarity networks, working with local civil society organizations, and publishing in various forums both online and off.
MacMaster’s deception brought many issues to the fore, and the least interesting are the stories GayMiddleEast.com has been plugging about how, contrary to what MacMaster has portrayed, gays are actually really oppressed. Perhaps more relevant in this context is an honest discussion about how to do solidarity work in a way that is respectful of people’s lived realities. That includes knowing what the limits of solidarity are, especially when you are outside the community you claim to care about, and when you occupy a position of privilege.
Both MacMaster and Littauer have chosen the wrong path; they have both put themselves front and center, the former by actually deceptively adopting the persona of a queer Arab woman, and the latter by acting as a spokesperson and gatekeeper for queer Arab voices with a direct line to the Western media.
It is unnerving that GayMiddleEast.com has one white name, one white face, and a handful of nameless, faceless Arab queers behind it. One of the articles listed by GayMiddleEast.com as being part of a “smear campaign” is actually a discussion about the depoliticization and orientalist tropes evident in much western (and Israeli) gay activism, including GayMiddleEast.com’s. Disagreement and critique for GayMiddleEast.com are tantamount to smears, which in itself says a lot.
Pinkwashing aims to sell Israeli racism, colonialism and apartheid as democratic and gay-friendly. This happens through bifurcation: On one hand, Israel, and especially Tel Aviv, are represented as cosmopolitan and LGBT, queer and trans-friendly places. At the same time, war crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories and racist discrimination against Palestinians living in Israel are being euphemized and “pinkwashed”.
The use of LGBT rights in particular is not a coincidence: separating “gayness” from other forms of oppression and hiding behind claims of being apolitical serves this function perfectly. Ideology almost always calls itself non-ideological. Issues of racism within LGBT organizing have long been a source of tension between activists in the Global North and South, particularly as activism becomes more and more transnational and networks of solidarity are built across borders.
The idea that LGBT rights take precedence over other rights need not be stated outright: by claiming that LGBT rights and activism are apolitical, and by refusing to address these issues head on and recognizing that they are interconnected, that principle is made apparent. GayMiddleEast.com’s particular pinkwashing was first addressed here. If GayMiddleEast.com is indeed against pinkwashing as they claim they are, then it would have paid attention when Arab and Palestinian queers took issue with their supposedly “neutral” manner of reporting. Instead, it chose to ignore the questions raised completely. And again, they were characterized as “smears”.
GayMiddleEast.com claims that it does not have a position on any particular solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Fair enough – no one has ever asked it to comment on the borders, Jerusalem, or two-states vs. one state, and no one has held it to task for that. What GayMiddleEast.com was criticized for was its rejection and violation of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign to end the Israeli occupation – a strategy to end the occupation, not a solution.
As a “fair”, “honest”, and “apolitical” reporter on news in the Middle East, why did GayMiddleEast.com not even report on the very loud global call to boycott Jerusalem World Pride in 2006? If they are simply an apolitical news site, this would at the very least qualify as news. GayMiddleEast.com have failed to report all subsequent queer call to boycott or news related to it such as the disinvitation of the official Israeli delegation to the Madrid pride parade – one of the largest in Europe – following Israel’s attack on the Gaza flotilla. They did however report on everything else surrounding Pride in Israel.
Far from being “neutral” and “apolitical”, GayMiddleEast.com have taken very clear political stands – ones that privilege gay rights over Palestinian rights. GayMiddleEast.com has also patted itself on the back for sponsoring “Arabs of neighboring countries to participate in the march” in Tel Aviv, a clear and blatant violation of BDS. What is even more upsetting about the political stands that GayMiddleEast.com has taken is its refusal to admit that it has taken them.
That is the background of the problematic relationship between GayMiddleEast.com and many queer Arab activists, which it is very aware of and chose to completely bypass in its response. Far from being “smears”, these are legitimate political issues taken up by many activists in the Global South.
However, ignoring these critiques is not even what is most disturbing about GayMiddleEast.com’s response: the very blatant and sloppy lies it has presented about its extensive ties to Israel is cause for much concern. Being Israeli itself is not a crime, yet GayMiddleEast.com have gone to great lengths to deny these ties precisely because it knows that what it is doing, and has been doing since its inception, is dangerous.
Part II – Lies and Obfuscation
We invite GayMiddleEast.com to respond to the findings of our research, presented below:
GayMiddleEast.com claims that the website is not Israeli, then admits that it was registered by Assaf Gatenio – an Israeli (the founder and manager suddenly demoted to Israel Editor). If GayMiddleEast.com are so aware that links to Israel are damaging for an already vulnerable population, then why was it founded and why is it still owned by an Israeli? And why, in 2009, was it registered to an Israeli address?
It is highly improbable that LGBT Arabs would be afraid of being associated with homosexuality (the reason GME gave for Gatenio’s ownership of the site), but would see no danger in asking an Israeli to register a site on their behalf and be too naïve to know how to create pseudonyms for themselves.
GayMiddleEast.com claim that Assaf Shabi Gatenio is not the founder or manager of GayMiddleEast.com, and that he simply misrepresented himself in his online bio:
This is patently false. GayMiddleEast.com have articles dating back to 2003 (the year of GayMiddleEast.com’s founding) in which GayMiddleEast.com itself identifies him as a manager. He has also been quoted in numerous places as the manager, such as in this Asia Times report from 2005 and this BBC article on Egypt from 2010. If Gatenio really is only the Israel editor, and GayMiddleEast.com are as conscious of the security of queer Arabs as they claim, then why was Gatenio responsible for administering a safer sex survey in 8 countries in the region?
And why, in the GayMiddleEast.com-produced video presenting the results, is Gatenio described as the “manager”?
Why would a site with no links to Israel apart from having an “Israel editor” produce all its news broadcasts in Israel, and have pinkwasher Scott Piro, an Israeli-American, as its anchor? And why would Piro refer to Gatenio as his “boss” if he is only the “Israel editor”?
Dan Littauer claims he is only a German citizen and underplays his links to Israel. In fact, Littauer himself has stated that both his parents live in Israel in a post on his personal blog that has recently been removed. The screenshot below was taken on June 12, right before GayMiddleEast.com’s Israel connection began surfacing on twitter:
Source (removed by Littauer): http://danlittauer.tumblr.com/post/70425734/consensus-about-violence
His Hebrew language posts on the blog were also recently deleted. Littauer also has an online profile that suggests he was born in Israel:
Littauer also used to operate a tourism agency in Brazil in which he presented himself as an Israeli in 2008. Why would he present himself as such to Israelis but then deny it to Arabs?
Translation: “Dan Littauer, the agent who presents himself as an Israeli, once you transfer the money to him, it will take you days and sometimes even more to reach him. He has endless excuses. The computers crashed… the electricity was cut off… there was rain… no need to go into further detail”
Posted on April 14, 2008 by Rona60 on Israeli tourism site LaMetayel.
We are not exposing GayMiddleEast.com’s fabrications because we are out to get Dan Littauer or because we want to “fragment the gay community”, as has been claimed. We are disturbed by the lengths Mr. Littauer has gone to cover up the truth, especially given that he is very well aware of the consequences of his actions and particularly after the Amina Arraf debacle.
If some queer Arab activists choose to work with GayMiddleEast.com knowing that it is an Israeli organization with suspect politics, then that is their choice, albeit one we disagree with strongly for strategic reasons as well as on principle. But it is not acceptable by any stretch of the imagination, and for any reason, that Dan Littauer, Assaf Gatenio, and the rest of the GME team lie outright in the way they did.
Our issues with Littauer and his crew are political for the reasons outlined at the beginning of this post, they are not personal. Instead of engaging with the questions brought up repeatedly by queer Arab activists, they not only evaded the issues but then took to covering up their tracks and lying about it – sloppily. What GayMiddleEast.com has done through its repeated obfuscation is not only endanger activists it works with and contacts by lying to them and thus robbing them of choice, but it has also, like MacMaster, given our opponents more ammunition against us.
This statement was endorsed by the following organizations and initiatives:
MidEast Youth (MENA)
Abu Nawas (Algeria)
Khomsa Network (North Africa)
Palestinian Queers for BDS (Palestine)
Decolonize Queer (International)
Pinkwatching Israel (Lebanon, Palestine)
Engender (South Africa)
Bekhsoos: Queer Arab Weekly (Lebanon)
Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (Middle East, North Africa, South and Southeast Asia)
This statement was endorsed by the following individuals: