Book Review: "Israel/Palestine and the Queer International," by Sarah Schulman
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Renaissance queer “credible” Sarah Schulman’s new memoir Israel/Palestine and the Queer International (Duke University Press) is part manual, part testament on how to learn from one’s ignorance. As the late, great lesbian literary critic Barbara Johnson explains,
If I perceive my ignorance as a gap in knowledge instead of an imperative that changes the very nature of what I think I know, then I do not truly experience my ignorance. The surprise of otherness is that moment when a new form of ignorance is suddenly activated as an imperative.
—Barbara Johnson, “Nothing Fails Like Success”
Schulman’s “willful ignorance regarding Israel and Palestine” is both acknowledged and interrogated through her own self-questioning and activism in this concise yet powerful activist-roman. The “queer international” — “a worldwide movement that brings queer liberation and feminism to the principles of international autonomy from occupation, colonialism, and globalized capital”—is established as a counterpoint to the many layers and machinations of homonationalism (a term appropriated from Jasbir Puar’s Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times), such as pinkwashing, that Schulman identifies and experiences during the course of the book’s narrative, specifically the years 2009-2011.
Schulman’s decades of queer activism, and her Jewish “background…soaked in blood, trauma, and dislocation,” did not prepare her for the sequence of events—beginning with a seemingly innocent invitation to give the keynote address at a LGBT Studies Conference at Tel Aviv University in 2010—that revealed not only her own ignorance about the complexities of the Israel/Palestine conflict but also how the LGBT community has become implicated in, and even complicit with, it. After a series of conversations with her friends and colleagues (who she refers to as queer “credibles”), Schulman declines the invitation because Tel Aviv University was under the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI, and instead ventures on a solidarity visit to meet with both Palestinian queers and “queerim” and “queerite” (“Israeli queers who do not identify with the nationalist and assimilationist Israeli LGBT movement”) at alternative venues in both Israeli and Palestinian territories. In the touching, sometimes humorous details of her solidarity visit, Schulman comes to understand that the LGBT community’s implication and/or complicity is a product of homonationalism, which she,