Ethan Felson | Washington Blade
Courtesy of the National LGBT Media Association
Most mornings, we wake from our dreams. But on Oct. 7, Israelis and all who support them awoke to a nightmare. Hamas, the terror group that rules the Gaza Strip, viciously attacked Israel by land, sea and air, on the Sabbath and a Jewish holiday. Hundreds of Israelis have been murdered, thousands more are injured and many others have been taken hostage. This horrifying act of violence is personal to all Israelis, and to many other Americans, including me.
The very real issues that have caused division recently seem distant today — and even trivial — while our friends in Israel are locked in safe rooms, listening to sirens blaring and rockets exploding overhead.
Hamas’s attack was brutal, calculated and designed to inflict the maximum physical harm to the maximum number of innocent civilians. There is devastating emotional harm to ordinary Israelis. Hamas murdered elderly people in the street. They pulled families from their homes, including young children, and are keeping them hostage. They paraded young people and the elderly, dead and alive, through the streets of Gaza. The echoes of the past are deafening.
Dear friends of ours are in deep trauma right now. Funerals are happening. The injured are suffering. We are all distraught with worry about those who have been abducted. Their pictures fill our social media feed.
Please hear the pain that our friends and family are experiencing. And do something.
Many of us have condemned atrocities in Ukraine, Sudan, Myanmar, Iran and elsewhere. We have taken action, lobbied and posted our opinions online. While this may feel like just another hopeless horror in the world, please don’t be silent now. This is not a “both sides” situation.
Whatever the grievances of Israel’s Palestinian neighbors, this is an unprovoked act of war that will cause boundless suffering and devastation to everyone involved. There is no calculation by which this terror brings us any closer to peace or justice.
Sadly, this type of escalation and violence isn’t new. Since its founding, Israel has never known a day without threats to its very existence.
I know that many around the world look at Israel as a powerful player. Those who know Israelis well, and I hope every reader has had the opportunity to know some Israelis, recognize a different calculus. Israelis may be grateful for military strength, but they’ve always known that very powerful forces are aligned against it. Israelis feel that keenly right now. And those who connect with Israel, who have visited, or have friends and family there feel that now as well.
Your voice matters — on social media, in articles and op-eds and in your everyday conversations. Many people who are close to Israel feel isolated and unsafe, including in the LGBTQ+ community.
I can just imagine the pain that college students must be feeling on campuses where their connection to Israel is used against them. The country they love, and perhaps loved ones who live there, are under attack. Will they feel safe to share their pain without inviting harm from others? Can they come to queer spaces to find support? I am thinking in particular about what happened recently at Rice University. The leading LGBTQ+ group there decided to boycott the school’s leading Jewish group. Rice PRIDE falsely branded Hillel International as hostile to Palestinians — and singled out the main Jewish group on campus, Rice Hillel, for a boycott. In effect, Rice PRIDE was acting out a version of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, using LGBTQ+ Jewish students as a proxy to demonstrate opposition to the Israeli government.
This discriminatory act, like many others on other campuses and across parts of the LGBTQ+ community, leaves LGBTQ+ Jews feeling they have to choose between their LGBTQ+ and their Jewish identities — especially since national identity and connection to Israel is so deeply woven into how many Jews experience our faith. Imagine the isolation they feel on that campus, having once had a close partnership between the Pride and Hillel groups. Now imagine this against the rising tide of antisemitism and LGBTQphobia in our broader society.
It’s a daunting situation for these students, made even more acute and devastating after this latest outbreak of violence in Israel.
Imagine instead how those same students and other LGBTQ+ Jews might feel knowing that there are LGBTQ+ people who stand with them? That the LGBTQ+ community recognizes that it is wrong to ask people to put a core part of their identity into a closet in order to be accepted for another part of their identity? None of us should be forced to choose like that.
Much of what happens around the world can feel out of our control, and it’s easy to feel like our actions can’t possibly make a difference. Now is the time to put one foot in front of the other and take action on the things we can change. Standing in solidarity with LGBTQ+ Jews is one concrete action we all can take together.
May the coming days bring peace, justice, and understanding to Israel, the region and all of us around the world as we deal with this violent and dangerous moment.
Ethan Felson is the executive director of A Wider Bridge, an organization that builds a strong relationship between the LGBTQ+ communities in North America and Israel, advances LGBTQ+ inclusion in Israel, advocates for justice, counters LGBTQphobia and fights antisemitism and other forms of hatred.
The National LGBT Media Association represents 13 legacy publications in major markets across the country with a collective readership of more than 400K in print and more than 1 million + online. Learn more here: https://nationallgbtmediaassociation.com/