On Gay Marches, the Peace Process, and Others

Article excerpt

Some time ago, an interesting article appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle describing a 15,000-strong gay pride parade in Tel Aviv. The story also spoke about a gay Palestinian who grew up in the US, where he trained as an attorney. Khaled, who had just recently come to live on the West Bank, participated in an earlier, smaller march of Israeli and Palestinian gays. Waving a Palestinian flag through the streets, an almost bemused sense of wonder prodded him to ask, rhetorically, how this event had even been possible. At the head of this march a group were carrying banners in Hebrew, Arabic, and English: "ain ga'avah b'kibush/there is no pride in occupation." The participant's protracted astonishment was partly fueled by the literal, unfolding realization that he and other Arabs in the march were not being attacked. He was acutely aware that Palestinian flags were being lofted through the streets of Israel's most populous city, and that in addition he -- and his gay counterparts in Israel -- could openly manifest what for many had been a previously cloistered identity.

What is interesting to me about this article is as much what it did not say as what was in fact reported. Can you imagine a large, gay, Arab parade winding its way through the streets of Jericho, Hebron, or Nablus? Better yet, try to imagine the same parade, but this time, one in which Jewish gays too were participating, and waving Israeli flags to boot.

What has this point got to do with the peace process in general? How can the issue of gays asserting their identity have anything to do with Middle-Eastern politics, global machinations, and the Intifada? It seems to me that when viewed in a philosophical light, the march can ultimately have something interesting to tell us in general about why people can and cannot get along. However, rather than turning to political theory, I would like to talk a bit about morality instead, with emphasis on what both Artistotle and Sartre have to say about friendship.

The former describes three ways in which men can be friends with each other. The highest or most noble type of relationship is one involving challenge between virtuous individuals, and here each wishes his fellow well for the sake of what this friend is essentially. At one and the same time, friends strive to make themselves and their fellows more virtuous: for instance, Theseus and Peirithous sometimes goaded each other to acts of valor, while -- to cite a more contemporary case -- in the complex relation that evolved between Begin and Sadat, the point could be made that beyond pragmatic concerns, each encouraged or moved the other to be courageous and seek peace as an end in and of itself. On a less elevated plane, Aristotle tells us that there are also friendships based on mutual pleasure, as well as on mutual benefit.

Leaving the issue of the parade aside for the moment, the idea that "virtue" friendship could in any sense serve as a model for peace between Israelis and Palestinians is ivory tower-thinkng at best. Yes, certainly it is important that there is contact on a personal level between the two sides, and the fact that there are groups still trying to promote what amounts to the challenge of peace between Jews and Arabs -- through personal contact and dialogue -- is meritorious. Indeed, there is nothing to lose to the extent that each comes to see the other side as ordinary people, often with essentially similar problems, joys, and pains. However, to suppose that Israelis and Palestinians could support but yet also challenge each other forcefully to promote a viable form of political coexistence, to suppose that this process as such could serve as the basis for a comprehensive, political peace, is naive in the extreme.

So then, leaving aside the idea of mutual pleasure, what about Aristotle's third sort of friendship? Could a view of friendship as being based on mutual benefit serve as a model to help in promoting the peace process? …