- Israel/Palestine and the Queer International by Sarah Schulman
Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012
193 pages. isbn 978-0-8223-5358-4
One may expect an account that opens with diaspora, persecution, and trauma in a Jewish context to conclude with Zionism or “Jewish and democratic” as the circumventing script that counters past and prevents future violence. Accordingly, one may also expect diaspora and violence to be used interchangeably. That Sarah Schulman’s book opens with diaspora, persecution, and trauma but arrives at totally different conclusions is one of the significant contributions of her political journey and memoir. Schulman constructs a chronological account of her emergence as a supporter of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, which is enriched by the unresolved entanglement of contested identities, sites of accountability, and political struggles. Structured around two events and the moments that precede and follow them, the book opens with “Before” (introd.)—that is, before “Awareness” (chap. 1)—and thereafter leads to “Understanding” (chap. 11). “Before” delineates Schulman’s early biography and family history of persecution and migration, shedding light on the powers that shaped her Jewish-diasporic identity and ethics. Part 1, “Solidarity Visit,” then gestures toward her decision not to give the keynote address at the Tenth Annual LGBT Studies and Queer Theory Conference at Tel Aviv University in 2010 but instead to embark on a trip to Israel/Palestine to meet with Jewish and Palestinian queer activists. Her encounters with them expand her own knowledge of the conflict and of the queer antioccupation scene, shaping her position and potential contribution through negotiation and tension.
Part 2, “Al-US. Tour,” describes Schulman’s efforts to foster a US-based queer engagement with the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and with Palestinian queers by organizing a US tour for Palestinian queer activists, informing the American (queer) public about the Israeli occupation, and promoting the BDS movement as a nonviolent protest. More than a compelling story of transformation [End Page 111] and an alternative narrative for diaspora and persecution, this chronicle may serve as a reference for activists, for Schulman not only contributes invaluable experiential knowledge of social movements and social change but (unlike many who have undertaken political actions and activist journeys) carefully documents her strategies and tools.
One of the book’s most intriguing aspects is its treatment of normative scripts, such as the one connecting Holocaust trauma with Jewish nationalism. Instead of naturalizing the conjugation of genealogy and territorialism, Schulman’s narrative suggests a critical conceptualization of diaspora that is driven by a counterdiscourse of generation, place, and identity (Boyarin and Boyarin 1993). Her account unpacks the tensions and ethical dilemmas, some still unresolved, that accompany her coming to awareness. For example, she describes how supporting the BDS movement means withdrawing support from LGBT activities promoted by Israeli institutions. As a long-standing queer activist who has never failed to support LGBT causes, Schulman is forced to revisit her unquestioning stance once she adopts PACBI’s guidelines. She learns to engage queers in the struggle for Palestine by constructing what she calls “the queer international” and by soliciting public acknowledgment of this solidarity from PACBI.
Yet Schulman’s articulation of reciprocity through a rhetoric of recognition—a public “coming out”—is problematic. Such an approach both values and imposes a Western language of gay liberation that identifies LGBT struggle with particular forms of publicness. Thus, while Schulman criticizes the valuation of societies according to the visibility they grant gays and LGBT organizations, and criticizes the notion of coming out as a Western greed of comprehensibility, she occasionally employs similar rhetoric. She also makes the dubious assertion that Israeli antioccupation queers are marginalized as “freaks” in their society for transgressing both sexual and national norms, while Palestinian queers “are deeply integrated into the struggle of their nation and their families” (81). Such statements point to Schulman’s identification with national struggle as the trajectory for incorporating and indeed accepting LGBT people into their communities. Echoing a claim to exceptional citizenship (Puar 2007) based on the...