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Accepted Paper:

Religious homonationalism? Struggles over homosexuality and Orthodox Zionism in Israel  

Author:

Sibylle Lustenberger (University of Fribourg)

Paper short abstract:

This paper draws on ethnographic research among Orthodox Jews in Israel to show how the struggles of LGBT people and their families over homosexuality are shaped by—and complicate—the association of homonationalism with the secular liberal West and homophobia with a religious conservative rest.

Paper long abstract:

Israel features prominently in scholarly and activist discourse on homonationalism and pinkwashing. When high-ranking politicians and lobby groups use LGBT rights to present Israel as the only liberal democracy in the Middle East, they not only downplay the state’s violent policies against Palestinians. They also mask the internal struggles over LGBT rights and how they relate to the binary image of the liberal West vs. ‘the rest’. This paper focuses on the still small but growing Jewish Orthodox LGBT community to address this concern. I suggest that the everyday struggles of religious LGBT people and their families over homosexuality are shaped by, but also complicate, the association of homonationalism with the secular liberal West and homophobia with a religious conservative rest.

With the Orthodox rabbinate frequently hitting the headlines for homophobic statements, political struggles over LGBT rights in Israel are commonly perceived as running along a religious/secular divide. This dichotomy has long rendered a religious gay identity virtually inexistent and impossible. In the last five years, however, LGBT people from Zionist Orthodox homes—often located in the Occupied Territories—have increasingly come into the open. I show how in painful daily life encounters, LGBT people, their families, and sympathetic rabbis carve out space for LGBT identities within Orthodox Judaism while carefully rejecting a liberal ideology of sexual freedom and individual choice. Discussing these encounters, I explore whether these encounters constitute a particular religious form of homonationalism and how they challenge our understanding of the homonationalism/homophobia dichotomy.

Panel P126
Interrogating the global geopolitics of homosexuality: state-sponsored homophobia as reaction to Western cultural imperialism? [European Network for Queer Anthropology]