CAMERA criticized a recent New York Times report, In Israeli City of Haifa, a Liberal Arab Culture Blossoms, by reporter Diaa Hadid, for ignoring the fact that the liberal Arab culture she describes in Haifa could happen only in Israel, that there is nothing like it in any Arab country, nor has there ever been. Moreover, in the entire Middle East it is only in Israel, protected by the Israeli army and Israeli police and Israeli laws and Israeli courts, that Arabs can enjoy Western levels of tolerance, freedom and security.
CAMERA also criticized the article’s claim that Israel had been created by the 1948 war, pointing out that Israel had been formed by a resolution of the United Nations, and that the Arabs then went to war to try to destroy Israel in defiance of that resolution and of the UN Charter.
Hadid’s article was also criticized by some of the Arab Haifa residents she interviewed, for supposedly not reflecting that besides fun and singing in the clubs there is also political activity, part of the struggle against Israeli “repression,” etc., etc.
Responding to the criticism, Margaret Sullivan, the Public Editor of the Times, posted two pieces: More Context Needed in Article on Haifa Culture and Haifa, Part 2: Article’s Author Responds to Complaints.
The first post linked to and quoted CAMERA’s criticism regarding present day Haifa, while the second post went further and was built around Diaa Hadid’s response to her critics, including CAMERA.
Here are the main points from that second post by Sullivan:
Ms. Hadid also responded to criticism of her article by the group Camera. She said that it made one good point, but that she disagreed with some of its other arguments, including its main one: that in the Middle East, this sort of liberal, secular and gay-friendly scene could take place only in Israel, under Israeli laws and protection. Ms. Hadid, who has lived and worked in the region for many years, wrote:
Beirut has a fairly vibrant gay scene, including self-consciously gay bars and at least one gay and lesbian group. Damascus, even in wartime, still has a party scene; Egypt has an intellectual secular scene and those are just the places I know. Ramallah has hipsters and a far tinier scene, as does Nazareth.
Ms. Hadid did agree with Camera’s objection to the article’s statement that Israel was “established” by war in 1948. It should have referred to “the 1948 Mideast war surrounding Israel’s creation,” she said. The phrase was changed in the editing process and she did not notice it, she said.
It’s good that Hadid, and we hope her colleagues, agree that Israel was not established by war, but the 1948 war did not just “surround Israel’s creation.” It was started with genocidal intentions by the Arab states that “surround Israel,” joined by a number of Palestinian militias.
And what about Hadid’s claims that, contrary to CAMERA, a “liberal, secular and gay-friendly scene” exists in the Middle East in countries besides Israel?
Hadid first cites Beirut, claiming that “Beirut has a fairly vibrant gay scene, including self-consciously gay bars and at least one gay and lesbian group.”
Unfortunately, Beirut is actually not as gay-friendly as Hadid claims. First, Article 534 of Lebanon’s Penal Code prohibits “any sexual intercourse contrary to the order of nature,” which has long been interpreted and used to outlaw homosexual relations. While at least one Lebanese judge has recently ruled in a case that the law should not be understood in that manner, the law is still on the books and has since been used by other judges in Lebanon.
Moreover, there are numerous reports from Lebanon of raids on nightclubs and movie theaters frequented by gays, and of men arrested in such cases being subjected to forced “anal examinations” to check for homosexual activity. Below are just a few examples.
• Lebanon’s gay-friendly reputation challenged by abuses
Last year, a Beirut cinema was raided by police and more than 30 people believed to be homosexuals were arrested. They were each subjected to anal examinations by a doctor at a police station to ascertain whether they had been having “unnatural” intercourse…
In an empty bar on the outskirts of Beirut, a man in his 20s told me how he had recently been arrested for being gay.
He did not want to be named because he feared being detained again.
The man revealed that he had been subjected to an anal examination that was painful and incredibly humiliating. (BBC, 11/25/2013)
• Police raid Lebanon bathhouse, arrest 27 men on gay sex claims
Police in Lebanon have raided a hammam – or ‘Turkish bathhouse’ – and arrested 27 men after a report it was a meeting place for gay sex.
The raid took place on 9 August and was carried out by the Internal Security Forces, or national police, of the Mediterranean country.
It took place at the privately-owned Agha Hammam baths in the Hamra-Concord area in Beirut.
According to Colonel Tony Haddad from the Hbeish police station, the raid followed the arrest of an individual who pointed to the Agha Hammam as a gathering place for men who are seeking sexual encounters with other men. (Gay Star News, 8/13/2014)
• Cops raid second Lebanon bathhouse in gay crackdown
Police have raided a second bathhouse in Beirut, believing it to be popular with gay people, and arrested all the staff.
The raid of the Shehrazad Hammam or ‘Turkish bath’ in Burj Hammoud, a Christian suburb of Beirut, took place around noon yesterday.
It comes after a raid on Saturday (9 August)
on the Agha Hammam baths where 27 people were arrested. They have now been charged with homosexuality and could be jailed…
[Bertho Makso of Proud Lebanon] said LGBTI people in Lebanon were now afraid of raids against ‘bars, clubs and NGOs’ and was ‘asking the support of everyone to stop these kind of behaviors’.
He added: ‘People get scared and they go back in the closet so it is terrifying.’ (Gay Star News, 8/15/2014)
• Banned anal exams still being used in Lebanon to test if men are gay
Those suspected of engaging in homosexual acts by the Lebanese police are continuing to be subjected to humiliating anal examinations according to a new report.
The examination involves placing an egg shaped metal object inside the anus and caused uproar after it was used on 35 men who were arrested in a porn cinema in Burj Hammoud in July of 2012 resulting in protests by Lebanese LGBTI rights group Helem who compared the examinations to rape.
Lebanon’s Order of Physicians banned the practice in August of 2012 and Lebanon’s Justice Minister spoke out against it of September of that year, but this month’s edition of Legal Agenda has identified five instances of the practice since January this year. (Gay Star News, 7/16/2014)
• Lebanon arrests 36 men in gay porn cinema
Thirty six men were arrested yesterday (28 July) in a porn cinema in Beirut, Lebanon, Gay Star News can reveal.
Police raided Plaza Cinema, Beirut, which screens porn films and is famous for being a cruising spot, arresting 36 people including the owner, reported the Lebanese Murr TV (MTV) channel.
MTV’s report was written in a highly inflammatory language designed to stir up anti-gay feelings.
It called the men ‘shozoz’, a highly derogatory term in Arabic roughly translated to ‘perverts’ in English, and alleged the cinema was a ‘safe haven’ for prostitution and debauchery. (Gay Star News, 7/29/2012)
Does this sound anything remotely like the “fairly vibrant gay scene” Hadid claims to find in Beirut? Would a vibrant gay scene lead the gay activist cited above to say “People get scared and they go back in the closet so it is terrifying.”
Is there any reasonable basis for Hadid to compare this to Haifa?
Hadid also cited Egypt as having an “intellectual secular scene.” But as bad as things are in Beirut, they are far worse in Cairo. To cite just one representative example:
• Egypt proceeds with prosecution of 26 men arrested in bathhouse
A court in Egypt has proceeded with a case against 26 men accused of ‘debauchery’ – a term commonly used by the country’s legal system for any form of of homosexual activity.
The men were arrested in a traditional hammam bathhouse in Cairo’s Azbakeya district on 7 December.
Although homosexual activity is not explicitly illegal in Egypt, gay men have often been prosecuted under a sub-section of the laws governing prostitution relating to ‘debauchery’.
Police and members of Egypt’s Central Security Forces carried out the raid. Members of the media with film cameras accompanied them. The men were marched wearing just towels into waiting vans. (Gay Star News, 12/22/2014)
While Hadid may still find it difficult to admit, the point stands: Haifa as an oasis of tolerance in the roiling, war-torn Middle East could only happen in Israel. There is nothing like it in any Arab country, nor has there ever been. And contra Hadid, certainly not in Beirut.