Xtra: You write honestly about your ignorance around Israel/Palestine as a queer Jewish woman (and activist) living in the United States. Why are so many North Americans ignorant about the situation in the Middle East?
Sarah Schulman: I can’t speak for North Americans, but many New Yorkers, like my family, were impacted on by the Holocaust and have surviving relatives in Israel, which is the basis of our attachment to Israel. It’s not necessarily an ideological belief in a Jewish state — since New York Jews are happy where we are — but, I think, based in family history. This is combined with very little honest information in the general media and public social discourse about the racial supremacy laws and the reality of the occupation in the lives of Palestinians.
Xtra: The word “apartheid” has been widely used to describe the political situation in Israel/Palestine, yet it’s been a major flashpoint in Toronto, especially in relation to Queers Against Israeli Apartheid and Pride Toronto funding from the City of Toronto. Why do you think this is? In your experience, can you compare what’s happening in Israel/Palestine to South Africa?
Schulman: There are a number of questions here. 1) Those who support [the ruling party’s] policies are constantly playing “I gotcha” politics where they fabricate charges in order to repress opposition to the occupation. I am currently dealing with being falsely accused of being “a pink anti-Semite” by Alan Dershowitz in the New York Post and of being called a supporter of Hamas in Tablet. The attempt to censor the use of the word “apartheid” when referring to the differing laws based on religion is part of this kind of tactic. I think that the reason that people who support the occupation use these extreme distortions as strategies is because they don’t have defensible arguments that can justify the system of racial/religious supremacy currently enforced by Israeli law. Because they don’t want to say the reasons that they support unequal laws based on religion, they make up other things to focus on.
Your second question has to do with South Africa. As far as I know, not only Desmond Tutu, but a significant number of South African institutions, including universities, consider the racial difference in rights in Israel to be “apartheid.”
Xtra: You write about your experience “coming out” in favour of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign against Israel. Why do you support it?
Schulman: As far as I can see, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions are the most potentially effective non-violent strategy for change in Israel/Palestine. That Israel is so enthusiastically trying to repress this strategy is evidence that they also consider it to be potentially effective.